Text: Jens Persson, November 2017
Akansha Aggarwal has rushed to our interview after a
presentation at Humlab X. Her ongoing project is targeting new
solutions to assist underprivileged fishing communities in India's
coastal regions. "I asked myself, what will the future look like
for these people dealing with climate change?" she says. Her
ambition to design things that offer genuine value and have a an
impact on "real" everyday needs of people is what initially brought
her to Umeå.
Born in a small town near New Delhi, few will have guessed that
she would one day end up in Umeå. As a design student though, odds
are that you might consider it at some point, regardless of your
native country. For Akansha, it began when talking to fellow
students at the school where she did her Bachelor's in Design, the
National Institute of Fashion Technology in New Delhi. She started
getting recommendations about UID, which prompted her to seek out
fellow Indian students already at the school.
"I reached out to a lot of people, also people who were studying
here at that time. I got so many recommendations to apply. I then
started to look at the projects coming out of UID and I could
really see myself doing similar, exciting projects".
The projects that were popping up shared some key traits that
caught her eye, there seemed to be a common thread. Many of them
had a strong social component and were pragmatic in their approach.
To Akansha, they were aiming to meet authentic needs, to solve
"From an interaction design perspective, the projects were
balanced in their attempt to understand people, carrying both
societal relevance and at the same time working with the
possibilities and consequences of technology. I saw that projects
focused on a future where technology is dictated by the needs and
wants of people, where technology can be used to strengthen our
Akansha is now in her second year at the Master's programme in
Interaction Design. Reflecting on her studies so far, one
particular aspect of life at UID seems to excite her especially,
the collaborative and creative nature of the learning experience.
In fact, she believes it is making her into a different designer
than she had expected to first coming here.
"Here, I don't just learn the skills and crafts that is demanded
by a designer, but also how to communicate, collaborate and team
work with other people. At UID, the collaborative aspect is real,
people truly depend on one another, all the time. It is a healthy
environment which nurtures you to grow and whenever you're stuck
you just run to someone to seek advice and help."
The collaborative aspect of the school's programmes does not
only serve to create a lively work environment, it is also an
educational tool that drives students to examine ideas from a
variety of viewpoints. In essence, all projects are filtered
through a constant feedback machine made up of students with widely
different academic and cultural backgrounds. In Akansha's words,
the result is "bullet proof".
"Your friends, your peer group, are from different countries.
This is a great way to bring a lot of diverse sensibilities into
your projects. You're not just designing in your own bubble
anymore, it becomes much more holistic in terms of approach and
outcome also. It's almost like a bullet proof design in the
end, because it has been exposed to so many valuable opinions."
While Akansha is now mid-semester, wrapped up in new projects
that occupy her for most of her waking hours, it is not long since
she spent her working days at Google at Kings Cross, in Central
London. Her three-month spell at Google was her third internship
during a year spent away from UID. First, she spent a few
months at Samsung in New Delhi, India, before she did a
six-month-internship at designaffairs GmbH in Munich, Germany. A
vast majority of Master's students at UID take a year to experience
working in the industry. It is an opportunity to broaden your
horizons and gain some clarity as to where you want to take your
"This is something that is not only allowed at UID, in fact it
is encouraged. My year away gave me a lot of new insights into
interaction design as a field. It has polished me as a designer,
but at the same time it made me realize that the skills I've
learned here at school really has prepared me for the challenges
waiting on the outside."
Where Akansha is headed after graduation in spring is still to
be decided. Yet in the past couple of years, she has begun to
realize what kind of designer she wants to be.
"I would like to work on projects that involve people, where I'm
contributing in a meaningful way, hopefully on a larger scale. To
build a future where technology is less visible and more
integrated, a future that is more aligned with what we need and
want as people."
Written by Jens Persson