that moment about us

The study blog of Shanshan Zhou for MDDN 211, at School of Design, VUW


Project 3: Summary

This project again is a very valuable learning for me: it was a reflection on my own experiences of learning and transforming at design school, and I was really happy to inform high school leavers of this opportunity to study at Victoria University School of Design.

To be honest, before I got into the School of Design, and started my studying, I didn’t have any idea about the wholesome education I am now enjoying; neither was I aware of the life-changing personal development that is happening in me. “I came to the right school for the wrong reasons.” (Direct quote from Francis) Therefore, I genuinely wish potential students can learn about what is it like to study at the School of Design, thus not to miss out this wonderful opportunity for their study, life and career.

I have several core messages that I consider useful for high school leavers:

1.       Design students are very different from most of students of other tertiary disciplines

2.       Design study is the study which allows you to explore, challenge, dream, follow your passion

3.       This study experience is not just about designing, but also a process of learning about the world, as well as about understanding yourself

This project is a research on different ways of communicating this message effectively and interestingly.

Key learning points in this project are

1.       Rapid prototyping and constant developing

2.       Harnessing the energy of improvised performance for filming

3.       To be or not to be cheesy

The process: Part 1

Developing  ideas

I. The first idea

I did not want to make this ad a show case of students or their works at the design school, but to show what we learn from the school.

Primary ideas for this project started to form as I reflected on my own experience of studying at Victoria University School of Design. I wrote down the key messages that I want to send to the high school leavers. The messages are as I have mentioned in the summary:

1.       Design study is the study which allows you to explore, challenge, dream, follow your passion

2.       This study experience is not just about designing, but also a process of learning about the world, as well as about understanding yourself

These messages are quite abstract, therefore I chose to summarise them in words, and use relevant images to enhance the message. The ad would was supposed to be a collage of shoots relevant to the key words I mentioned above, connected by the narrations of design students talking about their study experiences.

Storyboard: draft 1

Script: draft 1

II. Adapting for shooting

As I work the storyboard, and revisiting the idea of storytelling/narrative arch in the lecture, the original idea of making a collage of abstract aspects and disconnected bits of design study started to evolve into a compact and continuous single scene.

1.       multiple characters replaced by one single narrator

2.       multiple scenes are condensed into one setting

3.       the collage changed into a continuous sequence of showing actions and objects relevant to the narration

The narrative arch

Storyboard: several draft after

Script: several draft after

III. A constructive disruption

A discussion with my team and Alyx made me realise an important thing about studying design—it is our thinking process makes us designers, not what we dress up like or what fancy designy products that we use.

This also made me realise how people have a stereotypical image for design students. Once observed by Kah: “Not anyone who owns a fancy camera is a designer, not anyone who use Mac is a designer”. Yet people so often would assume designers are just people who dress up weirdly, using Mac, iPhone, and owns a hard core camera.

If I play with such stereotypes on design students, and with a dramatic turn-around I reveal what design study is really about, and what design students really are, it would be really effective to get my messages across.

Storyboard: a rough draft for the changed idea

IV. A documentary

But how do we compare and contrast the stereotypical design students with the real design students? My solution was to use a third person narrator—which makes it sounds like documentary.

I got excited by this idea of documentary, and the potential of making a comedy under the cover of seriousness. I started to research into the framing and narrations for animal documentaries made by BBC documentaries, Discovery Channel or National Geographic.

V. Come to Live

With my script and stroyboard ready, we started to rehearse and test it out.

Frances improvised acting not only brought the scrip to life, but also added in many more layers to it, this unexpected excited me greatly. I decide to go with Frances’ performance, alter the script to harness and capture this life and energy, rather than asking my actors to stick to the script.

VI. A Steve Irwen style mocumentary

As I ask help from the team to come up a serious narration (referring the narrations in a typical animal documentary), Frances acted out the lines as though a journalist talking right beside the camera. We immediately decide to have a Steve Irwin figure to guide us through the life of design students. Having Steve Irwin as a common childhood hero for all of us, with ease, we recalled his characteristic passion in commenting on crocodiles and addressing to the audience.

Speaking of Steve Irwin, I remembered another great Aussie: Chris Lilley. I also draw inspirations from his brilliant mocumentaries “Summer Hights High” and “We Can Be Heros”.

VII. Prototyping and developing

Even though the improvised acting turned out to be very good, and we had finished the majority of the film, there were still bits of the plot hard to fit together. And as the plot had evolved, we couldn’t come up a proper way to wind up the ad with the core messages get across smoothly at the same time. The puzzle of ending the comedy with a serious message buffered me for a few days.

This is what I want to say at the end of the ad, but it doesn’t fit the rest of the mocumentary tone.

I used the footages we got, cut them up, and played them around trying to figure out something that makes sense and works with the communication purpose. I used title or dub to test out lines that may work. In the end, among the message scraps I put together, there emerged a more consistent story. I know I’m getting there.

I was moving the footages around to pull out a story, a lot of the sound and image was not synced, or just subbed by titles.

The team cracked the ending while we testing out and playing around with the lines.

With the rough edit as prototype or sketch, we managed to reshoot parts of the film with ease.

The process: Part 2


As mentioned in the idea development section, this project again involved several times of shooting and reshoot, and interestingly, shooting itself played a huge part in developing the story and advancing the project this time.

A shot list

Shooting progress tracking

Shooting 1

Shooting 2

Shooting 3


Generally editing is much more efficient than last time. I also realise editing allows me to keep develop my story after shooting; a rough edit can serve as a prototype for a better crafted story and reshooting (I’m talking about parts that wasn’t coherent).

Using title to edit the narration before actual recording

Cutting in Premier

Colour adjusting, title effects, masking in After Effects

After editing— please compare and contrast with the original footage shown in the Shooting section

Team work

Our team was not based on a very strict structure, but a rather organic one. We are friends, supporter and idea-pushers. Such structure may not seem to be very sustainable and transferable, but it worked really well for us as a small team. We were able to help each other in many different respects, from idea development, shooting, to emotional support.

A team meeting minute

My lovely team mates

Wait.. you know what, this is just so cheesy

As an ad, I thought, it better be “selling”—everything should look nice and pleasant. “Image is very thing” for advertisement.

But, “you know what, this is just so cheesy.” This is a comment from Alyx.

Haha! I know! And I couldn’t agree more! I just thought this is what I have to do sooner or later as a designer, so thanks you for telling me Nooo silly girl! It is not what you have to do!

I will always remember this line as a whip on me (this is a Chinese metaphor about inspiration as a whip and the person as a horse)—it spurs me to gallop, to run free. It reminds me to think independently, challenge the existed ways, give honest calls and make your voice heard out loud.

It is one of the most precious lessons I got out from 211, and it is a perfect example of the cool thing we learn from this School of Design.

Here is a brief summary on the conversation with Alyx:

1.       Cheesiness is not necessarily selling. I’m showing just another stereotypical design student, “who cares.”

2.       We are selling the design school, the bachelor of design innovation degree, the identity as a design student—our products are way cooler than a smily idiot using Macs and iPhones. It’s not our looks make us design students, but our thinking process makes us who we are.

3.       We are designers after all—what’s the point of repeating other people’s style? Our job is to innovate, to challenge, and to question the already existed ways of doing these stuff!

4.       Our design can be raw or course, even dark or aggressive. It should have its edges.

P.S: Thank you Alyx, Caleb and Jason, all the guest speakers, as well as everyone in this course. I learned so much from you guys!

Best wishes for everyone!