LASALLE Dean of Faculty of Design Nur Hidayah on nurturing talent and creativity: Leading Women #4
Design educator Nur Hidayah spent her 18-year academic journey questioning the role of design in our everyday lives. She started as an agency copywriter and did freelance design work on the side, which soon became her focus. Nur eventually segued into education, where she initiated several research papers and collaborative partnerships in the region on design education while promoting a more inclusive design culture.
Currently working on two global projects with various institutional partners that build on Nur's fascination with city living, she shares with us her learnings and more in this 'Leading Women' interview.
Landing the job
What makes a good teacher? Do you think qualities differ for a teacher of design?
Teachers today are expected to juggle multiple roles. He or she is a leader, a facilitator, an instructor, a mentor, a counsellor, a positive influencer, and sometimes a good friend. A great teacher of today must be able to wear different hats. It also helps to stay positive, energetic yet calm at all times. Of course, there must be passion for teaching and design for anyone who wants to be a design educator.
The role of a design educator evolves over time, and is driven by technological shifts and social and cultural transformations. It requires a responsive attitude. We have had to respond to quickly in terms of curriculum delivery to different learners and a new generation of young aspiring designers. So, design educators must be ready to embrace change and be open to take on different challenges with the best foot forward.
How did you land your first teaching position and what are the questions you now ask when hiring for your faculty?
I started teaching part-time 18 years ago while still working in the industry. I felt that there was much I could do to contribute to design education as I enjoyed sharing and working with the students. I must have aced at it to have been asked if I wanted to do teaching full-time. Soon after, I made that career switch.
What I look for in hiring faculty: a commitment to education, the tenacity to nurture and bring young people into new terrains, and an undying love and eye for good design. I look for people with the energy, patience, endurance and calmness to inspire students. I often ask what they think is the role of designers today and tomorrow. That question gives me good insights.
You are in the business of teaching and nurturing design thinking. What would you say are the most vital skills a designer needs to be good at their craft and find success?
Designers of today must be open, flexible, and ready to take on different roles and challenges. The creative sector is fast-paced and changes dramatically in a short span of time. As such, designers need to know who they are and what roles they play in a saturated market. Being agile, a willingness to take risks, dabbling in different disciplines are beneficial.
The role of the designer is also to inform and educate their audiences. Having an awareness of trends, shifts in the marketplace, current affairs and popular culture always helps.
The design world is still very male-dominated. Why do you think this is so and how can we narrow the divide?
It is important that female voices are heard and female designers should play bigger roles in the industry. Exposure is key. We should also have more publicity on Women in Design. This has been a pet project of mine and one I hope to develop in the next few years. The student population also suggests that we have more females. However, we need to push them in the right direction. More can also be done to help women to build their confidence and form a collective voice in the development of the creative landscape.
You currently sit on several different boards like The National Gallery and Singapore Design Council. What have you found to be the most effective ways to be heard and change policy?
I hope to contribute by making critical recommendations to frame the creative and cultural landscape of Singapore. It is important to have great ideas but it is also important to listen. I think a lot of what we do at the national level must be focused on alignment and connection. I would also advocate community participation and allowing for public education and engagement.
What have you found to be the best way to nurture creativity?
The best way to nurture creativity is to indulge in the process and make mistakes along the way. We learn from failure and that can help to build character, grit, and confidence.
Being the boss
You started out as a teacher and now you're a Dean. What was the transition like for you in becoming a boss?
The change was not easy; it took a lot of patience and dedication. I spent a lot of time in personal reflection mode to connect the dots and evaluating specific decisions I had to make. I also invested time and effort in getting to know and working with different individuals in the faculty. I was involved at different levels, listening and considering everyone's opinions. I also adopted an open door policy and never acted like a boss. That helps to develop a positive work ethos in the team.
What is your management style like and who did you learn most from?
I spent a lot of time having conversations, rolling up my sleeves and just working with the team. I still teach today as I think it is important that I stay in touch with what's happening in the classrooms and studios. My late dad was my go-to in the beginning of my dean-ship and I read a lot of leadership articles to get inspiration. There was this quote by Jack Welch that framed my early days in being the Dean and it is still something I align with: "Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you are a leader, success is all about growing others."
Saving and investing
Designers being creatives may have less of a head for finance. What has been your personal relationship with money?
Designers are victims of their own occupation. I have had impulsive buys and spent money on tiny luxuries. Over the years, I have learnt to prioritise and do ample planning. I save up for the well-deserved holidays and the little designer treats. It's less painful this way.
Living the dream
Do you have any bucket-list projects or endeavours in the past that you would like to further develop?
I am working on a cook book. It's a personal creative project on the concept of slow living. I use cooking as a way to destress and unwind after a crazy day or week at work. I wish to share some of my own recipes to others.
In the future, I hope to do some teaching residencies overseas and collaborate with other educators to develop new pedagogical approaches to design education.
When it comes to planning and dreaming success, what tools and tips have proven useful so far?
I have a five-year career plan and I design key priorities yearly. I am quite obsessed with planning and like to work on a list. I think this has helped me in my career so I have enough time to consider every aspect of the projects I handle.
People often say that my calm demeanour is a strength and I use this to my advantage to tackle issues and cope with uncertainties. I am also blessed to be surrounded and supported by so many great individuals. My family and friends have been inspirational and dependable. They are my backbone and, at times, great shoulders to cry on or faces I can whine to. I think it's important to share your thoughts and have different opinions thrown back at you. Also, having a courage to try new things and being open to your own weaknesses have been helpful in getting me this far.