People & Culture

The DFM Global Program—the 10 most intense, life changing months of my degree.

Lucy Cilia, DFM Alumni

25 August 2017

When my friends ask me what I did in the Design Factory Melbourne (DFM) Global Program, I have a bit of a hard time putting exactly what does happen at DFM into words.

I often start by explaining that I spent the year designing a new space saving shopping experience for the Portuguese retail company Continente with a team of DFM and Porto Design Factory students. However, this only begins to describe the experience—it’s not just about the course work, but how the learning environment, people, and hurdles you face change you

The ME310/SUGAR family together for the program kick off at Porto Design Factory.

By far one of the most life changing skills this program gives you is empathy. Sure, we all know what it means but what this program excels at is teaching you how to apply it to design and human centred problems. Empathy is the key to great design, as you can’t begin to create a solution without first truly understanding the problem at hand. What‘s more, innovation involves diverse teams whose overall success depends on each team member’s ability to understand each other’s differences. It’s our differences that make working in diverse teams so powerful for innovation and empathy is the key to turning your team mates annoying habit of extreme planning for example, into an awesome organisational tool for the project. Now that I’ve learned this skill I find myself judging less, understanding more and connecting better with everyone and everything around me.

The ME310/SUGAR students working together to question and assess each others projects.

Going hand in hand with empathy is communication. Communicating ideas that are often not clear in your own mind to your team mates overseas, with an unreliable skype connection is incredibly difficult. It challenges you to improve how you communicate to others, this often happens organically as you test and try new methods on your own. In doing so, your interpersonal skills rapidly develop and soon what was a seemingly impossible task becomes increasingly easier. Complimenting this, the DFM environment enables you to learn how to quickly identify the best way to articulate an idea with different individuals, enabling you to communicate and connect with others on a much deeper level than ever before.

“Completing this program gives you a sense of empowerment that anything is possible, and you find yourself taking every new opportunity regardless of how challenging it may be.”

The Design Factory Global program This program isn’t easy. It’s a year that you’ll never forget but as a past DFM student told me “you’ll absolutely love it but probably won’t want to do it again”. The mental strength you find yourself mustering up in difficult and stressful situations throughout the project is remarkable when reflecting back on it. Completing this program gives you a sense of empowerment that anything is possible, and you find yourself taking every new opportunity regardless of how challenging it may be.

Lucy and the Continente team showcasing their prototype at the end of year event Expe, at Stanford University

Upon finishing the Design Factory Global program one thing has become very clear. I, nor my team mates, are the same designers or people we were on the first day we all excitedly walked through those doors. We are now able to empathise with and understand the world around us clearly and without judgement. We can communicate an idea and connect with those around us with much less difficulty and openly seek new and challenging opportunities.Completing my honours year through DFM was one of the best decisions I have ever made. It is a challenging and life changing experience that doesn’t just teach you how to be a great designer, but also shows you how to be a better person along the way. It’s not only a space of extremely hard work but is also full of creativity, great conversation and free food.

So how exactly do you summarise such an amazing place and learning experience without making it sound like you just had fun for 10 months? The truth is, it can be described as having fun for 10 months, only it’s fun that will completely change the way you think about not only design, but the entire world around you, without you even knowing that the change has occurred until you finish. You see, the biggest lessons you get from DFM don’t always come directly from your teachers, they come from your team mates, the amazing learning environment that is the Global Network, the hurdles you face and overcome and surprisingly, believe it or not….from yourself.

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