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Meet Ruth Guerra, an MA Future Design graduate

by Larissa Petryca, on 10 July 2024 10:29:42 CEST

Can you describe what led you to pursue an MA in Future Design at PCU?

I was a digital marketing professional with over six years of experience. I initially decided to get my Master's degree because I wanted to be more involved in the development of products and services.

I was accepted into other design programs in Europe, but I ultimately chose PCU because I liked the flexibility of the Future Design programme. It's made for working professionals, so it allowed me to work while I studied. I feel like most graduate design programmes are very specific in disciplines (product design, graphic design, etc). I wasn't quite sure yet what I wanted to specialise in, so I needed a programme that was broad enough to allow for exploration in different areas within design. I had some indirect experience with design managing creative teams at startups, but it was always under the framework of digital marketing. I would have never called myself a designer before the MA programme.

I think the most impactful aspect of my time at PCU was learning that design can be many different things. My biggest strengths are my soft skills like critical thinking and foresight. I learned that I can use those skills in design research — and those are the skills that make better products, services, and experiences.

How did you find the programme?

I liked the program a lot — particularly the flexibility! The lecturers are very supportive in exploring areas that you are passionate about, while challenging you to think beyond your biases and assumptions. It's really designed for independent learners; people who are self motivated to work independently on projects and are open to feedback. I was also pleasantly surprised how much the global aspect of the university influenced my studies.

I'm from the USA, and it was nice to be able to get perspectives from people with different backgrounds and identities. This is incredibly important when designing solutions for global problems.

How did the programme influence your professional development and career trajectory?

At the start of the programme, I wasn't sure which area of design I wanted to focus on. The programme encouraged me to explore unknown territories like speculative design and transition design. At the end of the programme, I became more confident in calling myself a design researcher — exploring and developing alternative methodologies that include diverse communities in the design process.

How did the advice of lecturers and assignments help you to develop?

I liked that my lecturers all had different experiences; some were researchers and others were entrepreneurs. It gave me a well-rounded perspective of design from both the academic and business approaches. The assignments were similar in that sense, as we were expected to create real-world solutions but always back it up with research. This allowed me to consider not only the viability of a solution within a particular market but the impact it might have on our society and the environment.

One story I can share is when I created a novel participatory design tool for a first semester project. It was a game that enabled the co-creation of alternative concepts for planetary care. My lecturer for the module, Lenka Hámošová, encouraged me to apply the tool as a workshop for conferences. To my surprise, I was accepted into conferences in the UK, Spain, and Finland, where I facilitated workshops with designers and academics from all over the world. In my second year, another PCU lecturer invited me to run the workshop with her BA students. Since then I have continued to run co-design workshops and further develop the tool to be marketed for cross-disciplinary teams.

Has your work situation changed after completing the programme?

Yes! After graduating, I interned for an innovations team at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It was surreal because I’vealways been interested in international relations, and it was an eye opener that I could use my design thinking skills for international development. Now, because of that experience, I work as a consultant for social innovation organisations. I get to collaborate with global teams on a range of programs — such as regenerative futures — leveraging research and design for systems change.

What advice would you give to someone contemplating a Master's degree? What key benefits do you believe come with making that decision?

I think a graduate degree is useful for two reasons: one is if you’re looking to specialise in a specific area in your field, and two is if you’re looking to transition into a new field. For me, I was always interested in design and wanted to explore where I fit in that industry. Going back to school made sense because it allowed me to freely learn and experiment with my interests. I worked on strengthening my skills as a designer and researcher, while getting ready to enter the job market.

My advice for someone deciding if they should pursue a Master’s degree is to ask yourself: why do you want to go back to university? Is it because you want to go all in on a specific career? Or is it because you want to explore an interest for a future career path? Whatever the case may be, once you’re clear on what you want out of it, it will also be clear which programme is right for you. And once you’re in, make sure you’re building a portfolio that has relevance to the jobs you’ll eventually be applying for. In the design world, it’s not always the training that will land you the job but the quality of work and thought put into your portfolio.

To learn more about MA Future Design, visit the MA Future Design programme page here. For insights into Ruth's work, read her interview on Canvas Rebel.

Topics:Research & Creative PracticeGlobal EngagementAlumniSchool of Art & Design