Rachel Lee, Design & Innovation Lead, EPIC

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As part of the effort to ICAD Design Days to stimulate deeper discussions with the design community on the nature of being a design professional and the values of our work as a collective, we reached out to various industry practitioners and stakeholders, seeking their perspectives on a series of thought-provoking questions on current issues in relation to the core values professionalism.

Rachel Lee, Design & Innovation Lead at EPIC Communities shares her thoughts with us.


What should the relationship between the academia and the industry be? How are we able to bridge the gap between what the academia is producing and what the industry is demanding (skills/traits/attitude, etc.)?

I think both academia and the industry need to have mutual respect towards the values each bring to the table. There needs to be space where both are able to challenge the thoughts and processes of each other but at the same time also leveraging and balancing each other’s worth.

Bridging the gap can get very complex and messy as there is no one right answer. We could say that internships and placements are bridging the gaps but that is only one straightforward aspect out of the greater scheme of things for the field as a whole. Academia has wealth in research, vision and theory whereas industries have wealth in practicality, standards, economy and even politics. This is not even taking into account sociology and other aspects that impact a field of work.

To bridge such a gap is entirely necessary to create holistic people who are able to be adaptable, action-based while also able to dream and be creative with how the future could look, however, it will take both academia and industry heavyweights to make decisions to work together for the collective good in not just the surface aspects of things. Creating spaces for open conversations, programs for both sides of the fields to learn together, projects with governments or privates that focuses on working in diverse teams of both academia and industry experts… The list and methods are endless, but where it begins is when people believe that there is true value among all players in the field.


What does “multidisciplinary” mean to you? In your practice/industry, do you think it is more important to be a “generalist” or a “specialist”, and why?

To me, multidisciplinary simply means what it says in the word itself, multiple disciplines. It’s where people from various background, skills and knowledge come together to achieve something. In the work that we do in Epic Communities, we strongly believe in a cooperative world where the voice of every stakeholder matters and we usually work in partnership with different groups. I guess that in itself is being multidisciplinary as our stakeholders range from clients, to consultants, to government bodies, to neighbours and communities where a project is located.

In my work, being multidisciplinary is inevitable and in fact, a very valuable asset. We are community developers that look at holistic development within different context and communities. This requires our team and partners to have the knowledge and skills that range from research to community engagement to place making to design and build to town and vision planning, and even capacity building.

In regards to being a generalist or a specialist, I think it’s more important to know the purpose of your mission. You are the specialist of your mission. Why I’m saying this is because the words “generalist” and “specialist” is very hard to determine, it requires a context to mean something. For example, to an architect, a glass manufacturer is a “specialist” in glass, whereas a hardware shop is a “generalist”, but to someone outside of the building industry, a hardware shop is seen as a “specialist” in building materials. Because of this, so long as you have a clear purpose and vision, there is no need for any labelling. In fact, you will always, by default, be a specialist.


How has your industry incorporated ethical practices, if there are any? Do you think ethical responsibilities fall on the shoulders of the artist/designers or the client, or both?

We (Epic Communities) are community developers that focus on encouraging and stimulating cooperative, sustainable and resilient communities in every project that we take on. The work that we do heavily involves people and communities on the grassroot level to get involved with developing their own spaces. Though it may seem big and challenging to achieve, we have broken it down to practical steps within the journey of a project, starting even before the first meeting with a potential client. Due to the nature of our work, the people that come through our doors tend to already skew towards some of the values we believe in, however, internally, we also have impact value assessments and feasibility studies to ensure the projects we take on or carry out do fulfil the ethical practices we hope to see in the larger industry. I believe ethical responsibility falls on the shoulder of every individual regardless of their title.


Are the nature of awards and competitions still relevant today and why?

Yes, I think there is value in awards and competitions as it provides many people an avenue for challenge and creativity. Especially with competitions where we are able to set a context that challenges the boxes we create and allows us a space to find crazy and alternative solutions to what we would usually provide in a typical workday context. However, I think that too many awards and competitions does dilute the value and also waste quite a lot of resources that could actually go into further research and development to new and innovative solutions.


What do you think is important for the arts practitioners/designers of the future to think about and challenge?

If we’re talking about majority of industry students, fresh graduates or new professionals, I’d say the most important thing is to learn and practice critical thinking. Once people are equipped with the ability to ask questions and reason, they are able to understand what they really want and care about, and from there, able to decide for themselves the environment they want to create or challenge. Secondly, I think as arts practitioners and designers, start thinking about and challenging industry norms and standards. Yes, I don’t doubt that there neds to be some standards and rules to follow, but don’t let that limit what you want and can do. Find creative ways around it, that will set you apart. Don’t let “bureaucracy” limit your capabilities. Dream big but start small, only then things can get moving, if not you will be too overwhelmed to even start. Only when you can start doing, then you can start challenging.