Get a high distinction choosing a great topic | TIP137

Graduation Day

Wether you study Industrial design for 3, 4 or 5 years, you might end given a project to carry, defend and promote yourself for several months. The main obstacle you shall meet is the choice of your topic. Make sure it has a great potential, and that you love it !

I remember for my last year of Design school (5 years – Master degree), wether we pass or not would be judged on ONE project only. We had to create and drive that project from A to Z for the whole year and we had Carte blanche.

-“Carte blanche ?” I heard.
-“Awesome !” I told myself.  “I am free to choose whatever subject I want !”
So I though:  If I am free to choose the project I like, it’s going to be easier ! But I was totally wrong !! There was nothing more difficult and stressful to find a topic worth a Master degree. Which subject to choose
Feeling lost, wondering which topic to choose.

We had support making sure we are in track sharing with our teacher about our evolution, but :

  • How to start ?
  • How to know the project will interest the jury ?
  • Should I do something realistic or conceptual ?
  • How to know in advance that the outcome will be super cool and meaningful ?
  • Even questions like: Does my sketching skills or 3D software will be good enough ?
  • What if I choose wrong ?
  • What if I can’t find the answers I need ?

“We may have carte blanche,
it was so challenging to find a topic.”

I had to go through that level of stress and responsability. I
couldn’t choose a project, and change it 2 months later right ?!  I took about 3 weeks to choose carefully and commit.
Let me share with you some TIPS that may help you start with more confidence than I had.

Go for niche

If there is one advice I would give is go for a niche. That will unlock a lot of answers, and help you keep going along your project.

Green Target
Target a niche like a sniper.

Common mistake 1
Create something for Everybody. You want to help as many people as possible – but you actually go nowhere. At the end you don’t really know to whom you are creating for – and have no clue about what to create ! Do you see what I mean ?

Common mistake 2
Planning from start your end product or service.
e.g. You love roller blading, and you have already decided that your product would a be a pair of roller blade. –.-U
When you start the project, it’s natural to have yet NO IDEA of the end product yet. We had 7 months to go through a creative process that all start from Sociology, human behaviours. The project may end proposing solution about anything: Sound system, urban furniture, sports good, photography… or maybe a mix of them !

Forest Gump
Back in time:

Last time, we used to create a product then look for a suitable market. Competition and human behviour was much more predicatable. Time change, people are now more complexe, interesting and demanding. A designer now look for people’s needs first, then imagine and create a product or service that fit them.

“A lot of time,
people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

– Steve Jobs

3 Tips to excite your jury interest

A- Be special !
If you target everybody, you might target average people.
I am tempted to say that: Average people may give you a boring project. There is little chance you interest your jury with an average product or service answering average needs.

B- Be avant-garde !
People from a niche are pioneer and early- adopters.
They have needs that no average people is ever concerned (yet). A niche is often demanding of innovation as they often meet specific problems or feel unsatisfied.

You may wonder if they worth the effort as your project may touch such a little number of people. True, but if you serve them well, you are succesful. Plus, there is a positive side effect at targeting them. Remember, they are early adopters. As soon as your project has given a clear benefit to them, your project may start expand and give awareness to average people. These people may be influenced and start being concerned as well. This is what I call Resonnance. Drop a stone in water, and the waves may expand to a lot more people.  When an innovation come into the market, it’s a full eco system that is created.
e.g. of innovation that started from a niche: Go Pro, drones, DVD, Walkman (MP3 player now), Facebook, Carpooling…

Q/ How much avant-garde can I be ?
Does it matter if your project is not faisable now or in a near future ?
I tempted to say no. As long as you are student, have fun, dare, provoke! You will have all your professional life to settle with the realistic stuff. Remember that it’s easier to bring a crazy project more down to earth than the opposite. 

The STAR - Singapore Shopping mall
The Star, Singapore – Be avant-garde. But know how to dissociate Futuristic from Fiction.

But do your homework that are: Justify your project with coming technologies, brevet that make your project plausible. We may not be ready for teleportation (even though some studies goes toward that competing with airline companies…) Make sure to dissociate what is futuristic and fiction.

C- Be unexpected
Look for niche with multi-identities
People are getting more complexe and tend to have a multi-identity. Let me explain.
Last time, we could predict the behaviour of a 50 years old house wife, same for her husband. People’s life was predictable. The market is now more fragmented where all categories and interests are now mixed and matched.

Through the infinite abondance of information from Internet, we tend to have multiple identities behind the screen. This phenomenon is pretty new as we can now explore multiple facet of our personality and multiply our interests.
You may go through forums or blogs learning how to play punk music and yet learn how to cook a Duck confit in an other. To be active in a froum about punk music, you don’t have to be a punk and behave like a punk yourself. This constantly bring “new type of players onto the scene”.

Look for niche or even extreme Niche
There is plenty of niche such as Old people, handicap, sport, babies… They are niche, yet generalist. You may target deeper for example:
– Old people who need to take care of babies
– Blind people who want to practice running.
There is plenty of subject you can find around you. Purposely set up some constraints that will help you build your project. Each time you face a question, go back to your user’s needs.

It’s seams to be super challenging. How to keep going ?

May I share with you a bit of my story.
For my Master degree, I was tied toto my project for 7 months. I took ages to start and decide on my subject. I had a rough idea but scared of the outcome. I needed to told myself: JUST DO IT – and follow my guts. I had to accept that I don’t know everything yet. But I gotta trust myself. To make sure I could keep going for so long I took a subject I care about.

After my Master presentation, for the Q and A session, one of the jury asked me:
– Why have you chosen this topic ? (My subject was The influence of the Otaku in Japan)
– I told him that during my internship in Japan, all Japanese people was nice to me. Everybody looks happy and careful. However, Japan has an other side of workaholic, pressure, stress, high standard of success… this is where I wanted to look at. The behind the scene, the weakness, and maybe “a fracture” that I may help to heal ?!
I have never been fond of history at school. But, because I care, it was a exciting to read at all these Samurai history and World War II ! That explain the phenomena of Salary men (The modern samurai who protect the family and nation). Everything was linked !

”Don’t rely only on statistics.
But human behaviour, and attitude that are meaningful.”

Know how to interpret data to avoid cliche.

Note: My 2 flatmate was Japanese – including my ex girlfriend. She was my insider eyes of Japan. I non stop questioned her. I discovered a lot of things I couldn’t find on Internet, TV or library – especially updated information ! Knowing my niche so well helped me to get my degree with honours.

Choose a topic you heart.
”You don’t have to date someone more or less closed to your topic.” If you care of your project, you will always explore further like a detective. You will meet your niche and interview them with a true interest. e.g. You can’t possibly do a subject for blind people without meeting any of them.

A designer is not only about beautiful sketches. That’s the tip of the iceberg. He feels, speak, meet, interact with the environment. Believe me that the love you give to your project, you will naturally translate it in your boards and oral presentation to the jury.

Tip of the iceberg
A sketch is the TIP of the iceberg.

ChouTacCHUNG at Master Degree
Me during my Master degree presentation at Creapole-ESDI, in Paris.

Let me know about your experience and leave your comment or questions below.

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About The Author


If the sketching methods I’ve acquired aid me in my life and in my career, I believe that they can also help you to learn, and help you with your projects. Whether Design is a job or a hobby it doesn’t matter, so long as you do what is important to you.

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