Our alumni Alexandra Fruhstorfer shares her thoughts about studying at Design Investigations and how the experience prepared her to face a complex and uncertain world with confidence.
Where do you work now? What is the nature of your work?
I have my own studio in Vienna, which I share with friends with whom I sometimes collaborate on projects. Since my graduation I tried a lot of different things and work modes, but I definitely like to work self employed BUT! not alone 🙂 I enjoy taking responsibility for projects and to shape the trajectory, but also want to bounce and proof ideas with others.
Within my creative practice I aim to question prevalent political and cultural paradigms, while trying to embrace phenomena of accelerated technological and ecological change. I use design as an experimental tool to not only make ideas, but alternative ideals imaginable and discussable for a broad audience. Some of my later projects revolve around ideas on how to deal with the implications of the Anthropocene – and ways those ideas and interconnections could manifest in our material culture. Also I am obsessed with the way emerging technologies might radically change our conception and understanding of ‘work’ in the future. Automated systems have huge sociopolitical implications on power structures within society, an issue that needs creative explorations on many levels.
My design approach is investigative and research driven. To truly understand complex matters and interconnections I am convinced it is inevitable to work across the invisible boundaries that separate us from science, technology, sociology, anthropology and economy. This might mean you have to fight for your credibility in non-classic design disciplines on the way.
How did your education at DI prepare you for professional life?
I think the course really makes you think about the bigger picture of what design could be nowadays and encourages you to ask the right questions. You have to fight for your space in the field and also for a proper messy design process. Clients or collaborators often expect very traditional and/or predictable projects. Diplomacy and communication are key abilities in that case. But it definitely feels as if we are on the forefront of things. To learn to flourish within uncertainty and constantly develop your skill set further is a mode that’s clearly inevitable for a future proof designer. And of course the ability to tell and visualize stories in various ways is the hard skills you will carry away from the course. There is lots of freedom to feed your personal interests and talents.
How did that very particular / specific education bring you opportunities?
It’s a fact that studying at the Angewandte is really a privilege students in other countries would kill for. If you do not fear to get in touch with other institutions and present your work or work in progress to people, then you might stumble upon potential clients or collaborators, already while studying. So it is quite a lot about personal commitment and to go out there and be visible. I also carried some projects further, which started at the Angewandte. A good project can really be an entry point into something bigger. You can build up a convincing portfolio if you work hard and responsibly.
Why should young people study this form of design?
I think the world had and has enough designers creating beautiful chairs or fancy user-friendly interfaces. That’s just not enough anymore nowadays. On a planet at the limits of its resources, a drastic loss in biodiversity and a globalized world that’s mainly still desperately counting on the concept of capitalism. So yes I think ‘this form of design’, which I would describe as a more holistic and imaginary approach to design, is exceptionally nourishing as well as challenging on many levels and for me the only form of design that’s worth investing in.
What was the element you found most nourishing about studying at DI?
I really enjoyed the lecture series, where designers and researchers presented their work and shared their experiences. Also the short hands-on workshops with external designers were fantastic, it’s really amazing what can be created within 3 days sometimes. And of course working within teams is extremely nourishing. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like it, but although the team dynamics won’t work out sometimes you learn a lot on other levels – communication, debate, shaping arguments, using your creative tools to communicate, and also how to deal with conflicts.
What was the highlight of the course, and what did you find most challenging?
My highlight and the most challenging was one and the same thing. It was my third semester. It was a really playful project, in which I learned so much about quite everything. We played a lot, designed a lot, built a lot, worked a whole ****ing lot and in the end our project turned out highly political and is now more relevant than ever. Back then it took me a while to really understand what we created. I think in this semester we really managed to surprise ourselves and the audience, and I think a lot of this came through a constant process of making and prototyping. We also fought a lot and didn’t sleep much, but: quote “no one said design was easy”.
What are the skills and knowledge you learnt that proved most beneficial?
Aesthetic communication through film, objects, installations, or any other visible or sensory medium on the one hand, but also the verbal communication and how to frame a certain topic or issue in different ways. Protoyping and materializing ideas. People out there are often amazed when they see you creating a convincing prototype in a matter of hours or days.
Where do you imagine yourself in 5 years time? What are your aims and ambitions?
I hope to settle in a bit, become calmer and a bit braver in the things I’m doing. I definitely want to continue to work on design & research projects – preferably in larger collaborations with institutions, scientists, anthropologists and other experts, but also companies. Also I’m very much interested in curating and developing formats for knowledge transfer.
How is actually studying at Design Investigations different from what you expected it to be?
It was 180 degrees. I expected it to be quite classic industrial design, but the course really managed to challenge me on an intellectual level. I grew a lot from it in many ways.
What is the mix of students like? Is it international?
Definitely international, I think now more than ever.