Sharing My Conference Experience

I could use many words to describe my experience presenting research at conferences and seminar.

On the day my PhD proposal defence was approved back in 2014, my supervisor spoke to me about presenting my preliminary work at the 1st International Conference on Creative Media, Arts & Technology (REKA) in Penang, Malaysia. I followed her advice – to expand my exposure in the field of research. The next thing, I found myself presenting at the main hall feeling nervous especially during the Q&A session. Receiving questions from the audience gave me extra drive to address the gaps in my research.  I have also learned to start connecting the dots by listening to presentations by other researchers.

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Sharing research work – Labelling for Good: A Descriptive Study of Nutritional Label Format and Design to Help Consumers Make Better-Informed Choices (October, 2014). You can also find my full writing here

After the first experience, I attended the second international conference on Local Knowledge (ICLK) held in Bandung, Indonesia. Although I didn’t get as much constructive feedback as I expected at the conference, but it taught me to see a deeper value of my multi-disciplinary research from a different perspective. More specifically, I learned that choosing the right conference would be beneficial.

It was only 10 months later that I received an e-mail from the chief editor of USM Press, acknowledging the acceptance of my paper to be published in their upcoming Local Knowledge Book entitled Dynamism for Local Knowledge – Revisiting History and Culture. The publication is still in progress, but I can’t wait to receive a copy of this book.

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Sharing research work – Tracking the Past: The Local Culture of Malaysians Eating Habit and Lifestyle (November, 2015). 

While I continued to work on the second phase of my research, I also shared my progress at the Postgraduate Colloquium in Penang, Malaysia with many other postgraduate candidates. Apart from receiving positive comments, having other Asian postgraduate candidates sharing their methodology with me was something quite unexpected. Never before had this generous gesture felt more true for me as a learner/researcher. I finally understood that disruptive learning only happens when people no longer work in a linear (self-absorbed) way.

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Sharing research progress at Postgraduate Colloquium (October, 2016).

At the end of 2016, I relentlessly working on the last phase of my research by meeting and conducting interview sessions with 12 policy makers, health advocates and design experts in Malaysia. During one of the interview sessions with the President of the Nutrition Society of Malaysia (NSM), the Chairman of the International Life Science Institute (ILSI) SEA Region, he was intrigued by my research work and invited me to share at the 9th Scientific Seminar on Drivers of Consumer Food Choices at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I was overwhelmed with his interest in my work, and at the same time distressed just by thinking about speaking to a room full of science and nutrition experts, yet, I’m nowhere in between as a designer.

Just as I was contemplating with making the decision to present at the seminar, he bought me in with a comment, “There will be many policy makers in our country attending this seminar, and it is time for others in this field to see things from a different perspective. So if you want your work to be heard, you need to be in it to win this.” Till today, I was thankful that I did not back off. Not only I was able to learn more about the science research from industry practitioners and academics, I managed to pick a few important name cards and invitation for future collaboration in research and publication. Despite the lack of common topics with the science delegates during lunch, this experience provided an opportunity for others to eventually acknowledge my research as a viable integration between the field of science and social science.

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Sharing research work – Rethinking Nutritional Labels Design to Make Better-Informed Food Choices (November, 2016). You can find the summary report of the seminar here

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While I often have to sit back and reflect on my conference experience to find a few key moments worth sharing, the 11th International Conference on Design Principles and Practices in Toronto, Canada was indeed the most fulfilling. I always knew my intensity for working out loud on my research – obsessively discussing about the process – and had envisaged the end results in multiple design outcomes. I just never realized who was really listening, and how much influence my interactions could have on the people who are into design research so far. For the first time, I fully recognized the experience and new gains from presenting my work and speaking to many professionals in the same design field across the world. It was so much more than just knowledge sharing. In fact, my involvement as an Emerging Scholar opened up more understanding in the field of design research. More importantly, this experience strengthens my belief more in why I do what I do.

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Sharing research work – Design For Visibility and Wellness: Looking Into Design Elements on Nutritional Labels (March, 2017).

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 10.13.26 PMAlthough the entire process took almost five taxing months of advance planning (getting the acceptance into the conference with a full paper ready, competing for Emerging Scholar Awards, long process of visa application, working around the restricted budget and the tedious planning for inconsistent weather and limited duration of stay), still, I’m very looking forward in the run for the next design conference!

Note to self: Be the person who decided to go for it, even if others think you’re not ready for something bigger.

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Finding My Ground

At the end of year 2012, I have held a one-week infographic exhibition with a group of my students. The theme was Malaysiaku, The Unforgotten Negara. The objective was to celebrate love and sense of appreciation to fellow Malaysians in conjunction with the National Day through contemporary vibrant infographic design.

That was also the first time such exhibition was held to display the journey of Malaysia’s independence, the wonders of the 13 states and federal territories, the amazing infrastructures as well as cultural heritage and social interests in the country. Within 14 weeks, students went through the journey of researching, collating data, conceptualising ideas to executing their individual final piece. It was a bittersweet journey because the exhibition received wide exposure in the media.

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Ever since then, my interest in information design has inclined. Through many conversations on how I can best put this interest into reality and benefit my career in a long-run, my partner has encouraged me to consider doing a PhD in this area while staying aligned with my design background. I had a really hard time deciding what exactly I can do with these 2 areas.

After much readings, I was excited about numerous of topics that I can tap into. It is when the sharing sessions with my partner that often placed me in a speechless position to realise that, I do not have a concrete understanding of what I would like to further research in. Points and ideas fell all over the place. For months, those discussions were indeed devastating and left me with many doubts and sleepless nights. Many times, I came back to square one, again and again seeking a clear topic in both information and design.

One day, a suggestion during our casual conversation shed a light – to look into the nutritional label design on food packaging!

“Why do they always look the same in most applications? Do people really read them? The information seems redundant on such nice packaging.”

She immediately posted another question: “Does that consider information design or data visualisation, to be precise?”

If you are a nutritionist – you’ll look at the label to see if the nutritions are healthy for consumption; or as a health consultant – you’ll be asking what should consumers be aware of when buying a product; or as a marketing strategist – you’ll want to know how do consumers make their purchase decision with the labels.

I, would love to play the role as a designer to re-look at the nutritional labels design – the design elements, the terminologies used and the way the data is presented. In short, to give a serious facelift to the current nutritional label design so they can be better informed or even better, with the enhancement it will work as an everyday practice for them.

Seems like a doable topic that I’ll be able to make contribution in this area. Back to an earlier question, is this an information design or data visualisation?

Time to do more, and more readings to be grounded!