#49 The in-between design researcher

I met Lena Blackstock at University where she studied a Masters in Design Ethnography. Since then, I've gotten to know Lena and her family through the magical window of Instagram. I love following her journey and I hope you do too. She is a design strategist at Idea Couture and a mama of two. Here's what she has to say...

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What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt over the last year?

I think this past year I re-learned to trust my gut and keep moving…sometimes things that appear to be a burden are actually things that can propel us forward. For example, there have been environments and situations where I felt that having two young kids (1 and 3 years old) would put me at a disadvantage as I am also in a phase of growth in my career. I have come to realize that for me, having children forced me to consciously separate time out for play and family time but spend the time that I am working more intentionally as well. I am very purposefully thinking about how to make the time that I have in between raising two human beings about action-driven work and deep thinking. Henry Thoreau wrote in an entry in The Journal of Henry David Thoreau, 1837–1861 about confusing productivity with purposefulness and the urgent with the important: 

The really efficient laborer will be found not to crowd his day with work, but will saunter to his task surrounded by a wide halo of ease and leisure. There will be a wide margin for relaxation to his day. He is only earnest to secure the kernels of time, and does not exaggerate the value of the husk. Why should the hen set all day? She can lay but one egg, and besides she will not have picked up materials for a new one. Those who work much do not work hard.

I also re-claimed being a generalist and in-betweener in life and in my career and I'm finding pride in it. Sometimes it is easy to get sucked into other people’s ideas that one must focus on one thing and become an expert in one industry, but in my work, I think the ability to connect the moving pieces in a constantly changing environment, to bring empathy to our system-thinking, is where I can bring value. How can we move from an empathy toward individual people and things to an empathy toward complex systems?

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We must learn from multiple streams of information and approaches simultaneously by connecting platforms. The focus in this state of constant change and transience needs to shift on developing connecting and bridging systems & tools rather than re-creating different versions of the same solutions and insights. (I wrote some more on this here).

What’s your burning question of the moment?

How do we encourage a stronger focus on supporting women and families as they nurture their children growing up? As a mother, it is amazing to see your children grow and change into these thoughtful and empathetically-engaged humans in just the first couple of years. I think a lot of the larger systemic-challenges we face are directly affected by challenges our children and struggling families are facing (for example a lack of maternal and parental leave and community support for new parents, especially those in low-income communities).

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I believe that in a time where there is so much polarization and a time where many people seem to tie their self-worth as a person to how right or wrong they are about something we need to focus on empathy more than ever. Empathy coupled with a good sense of critical-thinking skills. And a focus on building systems and environments that allow our children to develop a growth-mindset and the adults who nurture them to navigate the world with a scout-mindset. Julia Galef does a wonderful job introducing the concept of the scout mindset in her TED talk but the basis is to try to get an accurate picture of reality, even when that’s unpleasant or inconvenient. The 4 key qualities are: curiosity (feeling pleasure when you learn new things), ability to be intrigued when you encounter something contradicting, face different values, virtuous to test your own believes and being GROUNDED, meaning your self worth as person isn’t tied to how right or wrong you are about something. How is that for building empathy...

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What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve seen/ heard/ read in the last year?

I recently saw this exhibition at our local art museum and it was one of those experiences that transports you and stays with you. It is incredibly hard to describe or to share what it is like, its one of those things you have to go experience…If you have the chance to see The Visitors, an installation and video art piece created by Ragnar Kjartansson, GO! More details about Ragnar and his works around repetition here!

What would be your one piece of advice to students out there?

In this world, I think it is more about collecting experiences that shape you as a whole person, that allow you to be comfortable with change and ambiguity, that allow you to immerse yourself in new and different cultures and environments to gain empathy and understanding, to develop skills to navigate the new and unfamiliar and communicate with people from different backgrounds and with different approaches. Sure, education and work experiences are incredibly valuable but don’t choose things simply for a line on a resume, choose them if you think the experience of that project, or working with a specific team or moving to another city will give you valuable life experience, because those skills in the end will be what future employers will be looking for more than that line on your resume…or you might realize that you like to make stuff happen on your own terms and go the entrepreneurial route…

Again, I think having an awareness and empathy for each other and the complexities in which we function, is the very basis for creating solutions and approaches to navigating said complexities…and taking on different opportunities will give you those tools through experience. These experiences also pave a path to a growth mindset. 

One last thing to consider, if these are the skills needed in 2020, what can we do to provide our children and those going through the education system with the experiences to gain them? How can we start thinking about the skills that will be needed in 2030, 2040 and beyond...?

You can read the rest of the profiles here: 

#48 The Chaos Wrangler

#47 The Honest Designer

#46 The Ethical Fashion Designer

#45 The Designer of Power

#44 The Designer of Communities

#43 The Transition Designer

#42 The Drawing Designer

#41 The Ethical Futurist

#40 The Actor-Coder

#39 The Motherhood Designer

#38 The Zoo School Designer

#37 The Thinking Clearly Designer

#36 The Accidental Designer

#35 The Workwear Designer

#34 The Designer of Vulnerability

#33 The Graphic Designer

#32 The Design Graduate

#31 The Service Design TV Host

#30 The Change Maker

#29 The Learning Designers 

#28 The Human Interaction Designer

#27 The Full Stack Strategist

#26 The Design Writer and Doer

#25 The Behavioural Designer

#24 The UX Leader

#23 The Behavioural Researcher

#22 The Service Designer

#21 The Local Government Designer

#20 The Start Up Designer

#19 The Human Centered Designer

#18 The Strategy Designer

#17 The Interaction Designer

#16 The UX Designer

#15 The Data Designer 

#14 The Experience Designer

#13 The Design Teacher

#12 The Creative Technologist

#11 The Creative Generalist

#10 The Hyper Island Designer

#9 The Conscious Designer

#8 The Business Designer

#7 The Networked Designer

#6 The Speculative Designer

#5 The Digital Maker

#4 The Craftsman

#3 The Storyteller

#2 The Dreaming Maker

#1 The Go Getter