Taylor's Case Study: Designing an Experience-Filled Career

Have you ever had a dream or a passion that you knew you just had to pursue? 

For Dr. Noorhayati binti Saad, Senior Lecturer at The Design School at Taylor’s, her dream was to build a career in design. Now, her dream has definitely become a reality! With roughly 30 years of being immersed in the world of design, whether during her years as a student or a design practitioner, she’s now a member of the Malaysia Design Society, Malaysia Design Council (MRM), the Design Thinking Association of Malaysia, and the Asia Digital Art and Design Association Japan.

Dr. Noorhayati shares her ups and downs of growing as a student, practitioner, and an educator in the ever-progressive design field.

Q: How did your journey in the design industry start?

A: I always knew I had to make full use of my creativity and pursue a career in design, even though my father wanted me to become a lawyer! 

I was interested in Industrial Design but, because my boyfriend was in that field, I decided to venture somewhere else to avoid any work conflict. That resulted in me taking up a degree in Graphic Design. With my passion to explore further and upgrade my skills, I took the opportunity to complete my Postgraduate Diploma in Digital Media in Japan which was funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture. 

Dr. Noorhayati work experience in Japan shaped her successful career.

When I came back from Japan, I was one of the pioneers in Digital Design when it was still transitioning from the analog phase.

Q: Wow! That must have been pretty cool to be funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture to go to Japan! I’m sure you’ve had many fond memories back in the days. Could you share some of them with us?

A: As a student, learning a new culture, a new language, and experiencing a totally new environment was definitely a highlight. Especially since it was in a totally new country! I believe I was able to articulate well too because I was working at 3 different places a week after my classes, really exposing myself to the society and their way of life. Being a Monbusho scholar, I’d normally finish my classes pretty early in the day. So I’d quickly rush off to work once my classes are over.

Now, the work I did wasn’t just to get money. The different work that I went for were all related to my studies. I worked as a set designer for a children’s programme at Fuji TV. Everything back then was hand-drawn and hand-painted. Then, in the later part of the day, I’ll be in another company where people would produce anime production. Every Friday, probably around midnight, I’d be involved as a graphic designer with Tokyu Hands and do different work from being a prop set designer to a classical animator and even colour printing! 

That sounds like a lot of work for one person, right? It was but I enjoyed every second of it! I loved obtaining the knowledge from my student life and gaining relevant skills through practising design professionally.

Q: That sounds like a lot of work for one person, right? 

A: It was but I enjoyed every second of it! I loved obtaining the knowledge from my student life and gaining relevant skills through practising design professionally.

Q: It seems like you had a huge head start in your professional career. Your working experience as a student in Japan must have helped you tremendously in this field! 

A: Definitely! I didn’t come from a rich family when I was studying in University Technology Mara (UiTM) in the 80s so I did many freelancing projects not only to get some experience but also as a means to survive.

Q: What are some of your memorable moments in your professional career?

A: Looking back at my whole working career, one of the most memorable moments would probably be when I was working in advertising as a junior art director. I remember I was holding a Japanese account for a Japanese brand where I had to speak Japanese and meet many celebrities. The best and most interesting part of the experience was when I managed to convince and secure an account with them.

Travelling to various places around the world while attached to the institution I was working at before, like the Middle East, Indonesia, and even Australia, to promote Malaysia as an education hub for Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (MATRADE) was also an interesting moment in my career.

Q: Sounds like you had a lot of good experience practising design. What made you switch to academia?

A: What they say about the advertising life being hectic is true! Our working day ends normally around 10pm and sometimes we would even stay back till 2 or 3 in the morning. I decided that moving into the academic world would allow me to spend more time with my family while still being able to practise design. 

I started off by lecturing part-time at UiTM and then going into full-time lecturing while running my own design consultancy company. In fact, I’d consider myself a practising academic. Although my company was headed by my nephew after I decided to pursue my PhD, I’m still the advisor and still have my foot in the design world.

Dr. Noorhayati's most memorable work experience was when she landed a Japanese client!

Q: I heard that you recently proposed a research project to the Malaysian Design Council (MDC). Do share with us about this research and what inspired you to venture into it.

A: In 2019, I attended the Asian Design Sharing Conference and was slightly embarrassed that we didn’t have enough data regarding the design cultural competency in Malaysian product manufacturing and services. Even MDC acknowledged the lack of data! 

I used to evaluate and look at how the UK design council acted as a mediator between the industry and academic. During my time in the MDC, I noticed that missing gap which may be caused by the insufficient support by the management or government. Realising that no public university was offered to do this research, I took it as a personal initiative to lead this project. 

The project aims to collect data on how design is valued in putting forward a company’s brand as well as how designers in the industry put forward their practices. With targeted objectives, we want to determine how companies value design in promoting their products, how they put forward original brand manufacturing capabilities, and the design itself.

There are two instruments we use to measure this. One by targeting manufacturing sectors. Here we’ll get decision-makers more involved in research. The other instrument is meant for practitioners in the field. We’ll get designers across all disciplines to get very diverse data.

Q: What’s the significance of conducting this research?

A: This research is for the nation, for the country. It’s so that the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) and MATRADE can have this kind of data to understand how design is embraced by companies and the challenges faced by practitioners in producing convincing designs for branding. This will support MDC and promote the country’s growth. 

To a certain degree, it puts our culture on the map as it showcases and promotes a Malaysian design outside of the Malaysian market. Our design and culture can also be embraced by all users for different products and appliances.

Q: What are some of the most memorable aspects of your current research project?

A: Bringing young researchers together to conduct this research. None of them are PhD students at the moment and they’ve never done a big-scale research during their Master’s. 

During this MCO, we used to meet every Thursday through Zoom and, now that the semester has started, every Friday morning. We’ve definitely bonded and I feel a great sense of commitment and discipline being together with them. 

There were many challenges that came about because of the MCO that we didn’t expect but we managed to overcome them together.

Dr. Noorhayati wishes to give the students in her team the experience handling a big research.

Q: What were the challenges you had to face with your team and how did you overcome them?

A: One of the main challenges faced while collecting the data was definitely sticking to the timeline that was set. Because of the MCO, getting our samples from participants based on our database was difficult. Most of the companies in our database provided default information instead of personal ones — think office number instead of mobile phone numbers. So, for the first 3 months, we faced much struggle getting through to our participants. Emails were bounced. Calls weren’t entertained. This was simply not their priority. It was frustrating because we had all instruments ready but no respondents.

Instead of sulking about not being able to collect our bigger data, we brainstormed and looked through our strategy again. Instead of starting with manufacturing, which was our first priority, we started with designers that we were already in contact with through the Advertising Association and also individuals in the creative industry, regardless whether they’re in interior or manufacturing companies. We even reached out to a bigger scope of our target audience through different online platforms like LinkedIn. 

This repositioning allowed us to reach a wide range of designers in the market. Although we didn’t get all our bigger data first, we managed to have everything in order at the end of the day.

Q: Finally, what’s your end goal for this research?

Other than contributing data to MITI, I hope that researchers would want to use the data for their own publication. I also hope that we’re able to highlight the data found in different conferences and webinars as well as sharing the knowledge gained with different organisations. Because of the rich data received, I’m also planning for us to have some publications based on this research.

Aside from the immediate goals, I also hope that, together with my team members, we’ll grow to be competent researchers and accurately analyse the data we have.