Redesign your perspective

As a designer, what do you gain by taking a chance in your life? Creative Director Lisa Hastings is finding out. Like most designers she puts in time and effort to get into the minds of the consumers that she’s designing for.

But she has gone a big step further, by moving to the very country that she’s designing for.

There have been many benefits to Lisa’s move from Sydney to Shanghai, and indeed a good few ‘what have I done moments’. Lisa hails from the UK where she spent 8 years working in London, before moving to Sydney, Australia 5 years ago. She recently decided to move to Cowan Shanghai and has been there for just 5 weeks. Already she admits that “maybe I bit off more than I could chew, or more than I was prepared for culture wise but the team are fantastic, as are both the work and belief of the agency in the power of branding.”

So what benefits has Lisa experienced from the move to Shanghai? “By throwing myself in at the deep end I’ve grown both personally & professionally. I’ve seen a side of China I never saw when designing for the Asian Market in Australia. It’s one you can’t experience from your hotel room or on a business trip.”

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“You can see, hear and feel what is consuming people’s lives. For example, the sharing culture of eating out. Rather than cook, people in Shanghai will order in together, and share the experience of the meal. Coming to know this by living it, creates a whole new take on questions I have to answer as a designer such as ‘How do I sell a frozen packaged meal?” This also goes for the culture at work, in particular, colleague relationship building.  “Lunch is a big deal, desks are empty bang on midday, everyone heads off to a shared restaurant table. They spend time looking at their iPhones or checking media but it’s done in ‘packs’. Understanding this behaviour means you re-address the question, ‘How does the brand I’m working on reach out to people?’”

For Lisa, designing in a new place has created a valuable point of contrast and a fresh perspective on her work. “It sharpens your awareness of where you were previously. If you return to it, you return better, or at least more informed. “I’m a creative”, says Lisa, “curious and always in sponge mode, watching and absorbing the surroundings, watching and soaking up how it feels. It’s rebooted who I am, made me question, what do I want to take and give? It’s made her look inwardly too and ask “who am I supposed to be”. It’s given Lisa a clearer idea of her strengths and weaknesses, what she likes and what she doesn’t like, “almost made me both humble and proud to be different. And to admit to my own vulnerability, that I can’t adapt to this long term but I’ll live it for the moment knowing I will take knowledge from the experience.”

It has reshaped how she learns. “I wasn’t sure I could do this to begin with, but day by day, though, I’m learning, often not in the ways I anticipated. Each day is leading to something new. For a gut instinct decision maker, this is new territory. It has made me rethink how I build relationships with my clients.”

It has also made Lisa rethink her relationship building with colleagues. “I’m developing a deeper understanding of just how to ask a question so that it provokes enquiry. Previously I would question routine based behaviour, with ‘why’ but now I’m starting with ‘where does that come from?’ I’m the stranger. I’m the one that’s out of step.”

What advice would you give to anyone who feels they want a change of scene?

  • Take a small step: “If an opportunity comes along and it’s beyond a safety level, seriously ask ‘what do I have to lose’. If nothing comes to mind and you’re happy then fine you’re ready. But if it looks impossible for now, always seek new experiences however tiny they are. It doesn’t have to be moving country. It’s about what’s new to you. If that’s simply going to a newly opened cafe to work instead of your standard Starbucks, or in a new neighbourhood to see who goes there, do it. Fine and explore possibilities to get outside your comfort zone.”
  • Stepping away leads to rediscovery: “I know I’ll go back to Sydney and rediscover the city I admit I’d become tired of. The different perspective will help me to see what I miss. You sometimes need to step away to rediscover what was so ‘you’.”
  • Small steps can un-stick: “Use stepping stones to create movement, one call, one connection, a workshop in something you’ve never done before. Try, or you never know. You chose design because you knew it wouldn’t bore you. So don’t let it become that way.”
  • Test- assess- move forward: “If it’s not right for now, maintain ties, build bridges, be up front and honest and who knows maybe you’ll get a compromise or ‘dangled carrot’ option down the line. Don’t always go for the softer option- test your mettle…go on, no regrets.”

And finally, don’t listen too much to what other people say- test by experience. Lisa says: “I’ve taken roles my peers suggested not to. What’s right for one person is not for another, timing, and personal wise. Do what YOU feel is right for you.” Sounds like good advice.

Thanks to Lisa Hastings for her time in the making of this article and also for the title image.

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