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Alanna Kho

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Personal Background
I was born in 1987 and have lived in Vancouver since then with my mother, father and two sisters. Today you may find me a conscientious student and earnest designer, but deep down inside I’m still just a little kid dreaming of dragons and spaceships and laser-equipped unicorns.

Educational Background
I came to SFU’s SIAT program straight from high school with the intent of learning video game development, though I eventually learned my passions lay elsewhere. I am currently an Interactive Arts & Technology major with a dual concentration in Media and Design.

Why did you apply for ItaliaDesign?
Since first year I’d vaguely heard of the ItaliaDesign program, but never imagined that I would ever even think of participating in it. It was always a distant, alien thing that other people did. But after taking more design classes, it began to materialize as something that I could potentially be a part of and learn significantly from. Seeing Russell’s clear and intense passion for Italian design also helped convince me to apply.


What did you learn…

…about design, design process and innovation?
One of the most memorable things I learned about design processing emerged during our interview with Park Associati: how the best ideas are the ones that, later on, we cannot remember who came up with them. I’d never thought about the process that way before. Usually there is a lot of pride associated with the ideas we come up with personally and we wish to be credited for it. But I like this loss of ownership of ideas within a tight-knit team. I admire the humility, fluidity and openness that comes from this attitude and it is something I now strive for in my processes.

…about cities?
In Italy, I discovered these hidden sides of the cities we visited. We were given enough time to explore and find the places unknown to most visitors; we were motivated to go out in the hours when the rest of the city slept. I now see how every city has these quiet facets hidden in plain view that can be found if you know where to look. The graveyards, the forests, the alleyways have a strange tranquility to them.

Upon returning home, I was able to see Vancouver in a new way. I’ve lived in this city my whole life, and now I find myself moving and understanding the city differently than before, drawn to these veiled and unremembered places. I’ve learned how to see my home with new eyes, and I like this landscape of the city that I am now getting to know.

…about living away from home?
I found that living away from home was liberating and empowering in that I myself became responsible for my own experiences and well-being while in a totally foreign place.

…about group dynamics?
I appreciate how the field study provided me with ample time and opportunity to discover what makes each member of this group unique. Living with these people and learning their little idiosyncrasies taught me more about them and the group’s dynamics than any team project ever did.

Favourite moments or interactions…

…in daily life?
One of my favourite moments was during our last night in Florence. After our seafood dinner together, we slowly wandered our way back home and I strummed the few songs I knew on my ukulele as we went. It ended on the Ponte Vecchio as we stood right in the middle of the bridge and I played one last tune. Standing there, surrounded by friends and uninterrupted by the rest of the world, I said my silent goodbye to the city.

…during course work?
In Pitigliano, Jackie and I conducted interviews with some locals as research for the Tuscan Hill-Towns project. My favourite one was with a group of high school students who were hanging out by a park whom I communicated with in my stilted Italian. As simple as the conversation may have been, it was reassuring to me to talk to these kids halfway around the world with the same hopes and dreams as the rest of us. I was initially intimidated by them but they were incredibly friendly, and it was meaningful to feel this simple connection and discover how different and similar we could be at the same time.

…in an interview?
My favourite moment from an interview was actually not within an interview itself, but afterwards. Following our conversation with Danese’s Carlotta de Bevilacqua, she invited us into the studio’s backyard and showed us the handicapped dog she had recently saved and adopted. As she laughed and played with her dog, I was finally seeing her not as a designer, but as a whole person – a person with many beliefs, many values, and many cares. It was inspiring to see that it is possible to be a successful designer without sacrificing the ideals we fight for and the people we care for.

Favourite place or space:
One of my favourite places was the large clearing by our accommodations in Dolciano. The night sky was incredibly clear in that countryside, far from bright city lights, and some of us watched the stars from that field. It was also a beautiful place to see dawn or dusk and watch the sunlight slowly creep over the trees that surrounded the area. The serenity of it was an incredible contrast to the bustle of city life with which we were usually surrounded.

The difference between studying abroad and studying at home:
Being able to physically be in a building or area you’ve studied gives you an infinitely deeper and more embodied knowledge than anything that can be learned from a book. The act of being immersed in a different culture is incredibly valuable too, especially for designers. I believe design is fundamentally about understanding people, and studying abroad widened this understanding of mine, allowing me to gain unexpected perspectives from citizens living in a totally different culture than my own.

An unexpected challenge that you overcame during the field school:
A few weeks into the field study, I began to realize I wasn’t finding enough opportunities to have time to myself. I hadn’t thought that it was going to be an issue, but it was at times difficult to find quiet and solitude in the midst of everything else that was going on. I learned to just become comfortable with telling people honestly when I needed time to myself. It was worth the effort to have that, because it helped me maintain a positive attitude and well-being.

Can you comment on the value of the full semester of contextual, cultural, and historical studies prior to in-field work?

…about language?
Learning the Italian language obviously helped in field as we communicated with locals and attempted to set ourselves apart from the ordinary tourists. But I also believe that learning a country’s language is a step into understanding the frame of mind of its people. The nuances of a language can reveal more than just a mode of communication, which I found interesting and valuable to observe.

…about Italian history?
There were two major things I gained from the semester of contextual studies. One was a much more profound understanding of the things I would later see in reality, which really deepened what I learned once in-field. The other was the opportunity to work with all the group members and being able to familiarize myself with their working habits and personal interests, which helped me become comfortable with them before we even left.

Can you comment on the legacy project of the ItaliaDesign field school?
The legacy project, to me, is an incredible learning experience in communication. In field, we (the group) gained something for ourselves. With the legacy project, we produce something of value for others. It has proved integral to the success of the field school, because without this legacy project, we would not have been able to build on the work of previous groups. If not for that, the field school would not have come as far as it has today.


Career goals, aspirations, and interests post-field school?
I’ll be happy if I find any career that allows me to be creative. Right now my interests lie in information modeling and visualization, but after living in a different country and visiting a range of studios and firms, I can see that there’s a place for anything in this world, as long as we have passion and dedication to it. I am alright with not knowing exactly where I’m going to end up.

Did you meet your pre-trip goals?
Yes. I went there with the attitude of pushing myself and making myself do things that I was consciously uncomfortable with. I wanted to get used to going beyond my comfort zone and that’s what I tried to do at every available opportunity. Even things as small as trying new foods or talking to people who intimidated me would turn into a rewarding experience and memory.

What impact has the field school had on you?
Upon returning, I realize that I feel more confident in myself and more comfortable with who I am. The trip has also made me want to travel more – not just back to Italy, but to all these other places in the world. New cities hold so much promise, and so much opportunity to try and understand the lives of people who live in worlds so distinct from my own.

Do you have any advice for upcoming ItaliaDesign students?
Do things that surprise yourself. Let people know they are appreciated. And get enough sleep.

italiaDesign is an undergraduate field school and research program offered by the School of Interactive Arts + Technology (SIAT) at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. italiaDesign is a sister program to