Note: The text below is translated from Sin Chew Daily’s original feature article, published on 24 January 2021.

There are various study programmes within the field of design, with Product Design being one such example. The Product Design programme in particular not only teaches students the basics of sketching and models, more importantly it cultivates their Design Thought and Creativity. This is because a successful product is not only beautiful in form, but is also able to meet the consumers’ actual needs.

Behind every successful product lies the designer’s meticulous handiwork. When creating a product, the designer would consider factors such as the product’s aesthetics, marketability and ergonomics. Only by having a deep understanding of the consumers’ needs and likes, can a designer truly create a product that resonates with them.

In Malaysia, some colleges do offer Product Design study programmes. Some may think that students studying for such programmes are usually from the Art Stream, but this is not necessarily the case. At First City University College however, a good number of students from the Furniture & Product Design programme do have a Science Stream background.

First City UC’s Faculty of Design & Built Environment Deputy Dean Asst. Prof. Chua Huwi Huwi explains that while a product’s aesthetics is essential, its practicality should not be overlooked. By considering what functions a product may serve, a designer is able to add value to the product. Therefore, a product is not only about its looks but should also reflect its designer’s thoughts and creativity.

Asst. Prof. Chua adds that while the faculty teaches students basic painting techniques, there are many software to assist students in drawing and design tasks. This opens the students from a non-artistic background to enroll in the Furniture & Product Design programme.

“Overall, one’s thoughts and creativity are more valuable, hence we choice to focus on developing students’ Design Thought. It would be a waste if someone’s is good at drawing but is unable to elaborate on the thinking in regards to the work.”

First City University College’s BA (Hons) Furniture & Product Design programme places equal emphasis on the Furniture and Product aspects.

The term “Product” from the programme name refers to household and commercial products. Asst. Prof. Chua gave examples of students’ previous works which include stationary sets, toys, backpacks and trophies. There were also students who collaborated with the renowned Pewter Manufacturer Royal Selangor or even designed a Balancing Sensor for senior citizens. Regardless of the product type, all students’ design concept always emphasised on meeting the needs of society.

Asst. Prof. Chua added that in view of the growing Consumer Awareness, more people now pay attention to the product’s design sense. Therefore, product design students will enjoy higher chances of employability. Their jobs may not even have to be design related one. For example, some home lighting businesses would hire Product Design or Interior Design graduates in marketing positions. As these graduates have a design background, they are the ideal people to meet customers to discuss design options.

Furniture Design isn’t offered by most local institutions, yet our local furniture industry is showing great promise. In 2019, our country was listed among the 10 biggest Furniture Exporters in the world. 80% of Malaysia’s furniture exports went to the USA, Japan and Australia.

Asst. Prof. Chua pointed out that students not only learn about design theory, but are required to create actual furniture samples, in order to prove the feasibility of the design schematics. In fact, students’ work samples are displayed at the campus lobby.

“You will be surprised to know that our female students’ are really good with wood work!”, Ms. Chua adds.

First City UC provides students a workshop that has the necessary equipment. Should they be unfamiliar with operating the equipment, they will receive guidance from a nearby faculty staff.

“Students are not learning to make furniture that is already available commercially. Rather, we emphasise on developing originality and creativity, with the hope that our students can present fresh ideas into the industry”, said Asst. prof. Chua.

In the past few years, students have proven their mettle at furniture design competitions. Previously, First City partnered with Nottingham Trent University to offer the programme before transitioning it to home-grown status once the partnership ended.

Product Design vs Graphic Design

Other than the Furniture & Product Design, the Faculty of Design & Built Environment offers 7 other study programmes such as Graphic Design, Fashion Marketing, Interior Design and also the Master of Design Management, the first ever programme of its kind in the country.

Graphic Design is offered in many Design Faculties across Malaysian Universities and Colleges. According to FDBE Deputy Dean Asst. Prof. Dr. Debbie Gan Siew Siew, while Graphic Design may go by other names in different countries, such as Visual Design, they are in fact one and the same.

With the advancement of technology, multiple different design platforms are emerging, such as the User Experience (UX) Design and User Interface (UI) Design.

Many think of Graphic Design as limited to only 2-Dimensional (2D), but it can involve 3D too in areas such as animation. Previously, when one mentioned Graphic Design, many would only conjure up images of advertisements and illustrations. However, with the evolution of the design platforms, with Graphic Design now encompassing the digital platforms.

In regards to the difference between Product Design and Graphic Design, Product Design emphasized greatly on a product’s practicality and appearance, while Graphic Design relies on the Visual Packaging aspect to market the product. In reality, product designers and graphic designers have to work closely in order to create an attractive commercial product.

“Be it Graphic or Product Design or even Interior and Architecture Design, there will be frequent overlaps between these fields. So a designer should have an understanding of other fields of design. If you have a dream of designing something that will truly benefit our society, then you should definitely consider the product design programme”, said Asst. Prof Chua.