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April 2, 2020

iX Teacher Spotlight — Duncan Stevens — Visual Design 2020

Written by

Duncan Stevens

Duncan grew up in South Africa and began his student career by studying a Bachelor of Commerce before switching to a more creative field, then getting a degree in Design and Animation. He also holds a BTech in Industrial Design from CPUT and a diploma in Jewelry Design from the University of Johannesburg.

His career and education span many years of working in various creative fields. He has worked as a Creative Director in publishing, has been an Art Director in advertising agencies, designed music atmospheres for the likes of Soho House, built installations for retailers in the UK, run his jewelry brand and worked in the fashion industry. His work has been exhibited in London, Las Vegas, New York, Paris and across South Africa.

Duncan lives in Johannesburg, where he's built his design empire - picking up skills in a vast array of fields with a broad arc of design needs. He's plugged into how design influences change depending on who the audience is, and what makes a design successful in one area and not others.


Duncan Stevens, iXperience 2020 Visual Design Head Instructor

[Audio clip from Duncan]: My background, and what to expect from this program

More Q&A with Duncan:

What are you working on now?

I am currently focused on helping companies improve their process and system efficiencies by conducting work-in-motion studies, looking at how they manufacture their creative goods and analyzing areas of waste in human capital and manufacturing. Outside of that, I am completing several certificated courses focused on sustainability through various international universities and putting together my MA in Design proposal where I will look at finding ways to absorb waste from a specific industry’s manufacturing process and finding a way to create a new material from it.

I’m also part of an international research group looking at designing biomimetic interventions to address various interconnected UN sustainability goals for communities in Zimbabwe with a focus on hunger, agriculture practices, food resilience and aquaculture.

What do you enjoy most about the Visual Design industry?

It’s the universal language which connects everyone. There is something we term 'universal design', and this usually is used within the context of wayfinding (signage) for large public spaces. The idea is that you have to design for the lowest common denominator - like the impaired - but also any person from any background.

Here is where the power of visual design and communication comes into its own. How visual language has developed across the globe connecting almost every person on the planet so that some symbols, iconography or imagery evoke similar responses in the viewer excites me. It is this mass effect that gives it the power to shape and change the culture around it which will be especially important in the coming decades. We are at a pivotal point in our history as a species where if these mediums are not used for good, they could contribute to irreparable consequences for future generations.

Why did you decide to get involved with teaching and how do you continue to keep things fresh?

  • I believe that education should be carried out by not only academics, but also by working professionals. The insights from within an industry can be illuminating. I really believe that each person has something of value to add to the narrative, whether that be life experience or learned things; they can help guide and inform young minds and inform their values.

What are you most looking forward to about iXperience this summer? 

Students, especially those that are fresh into university aren’t afraid to explore. They are bold. Ignorance here can be an advantage, as it stops them from over-editing themselves.
Working with people at this stage of their lives opens my own eyes to possibilities. The older we get and the more we know, the more we edit ourselves. We stop believing that almost anything is possible based on experience and knowledge. But sometimes it is possible, it's just changing the lens a little, or just going for it boldly.

How do you see the Visual Design industry changing in the next five years? What skills will professionals need to hone?

It’s tricky to predict what will come in the future or what you will need. Some of the technological and cultural movements haven't even happened yet. But we are at a point in our culture where there is an explosion of mind-blowing technologies and materials, the birth and proliferation of AI, AR, VR along with quantum computing, which could all push expression in many directions.

As with other sciences and professions, there will be a need for more and more specializations. But ultimately, those with broad creative and strategic experience and skills will be fundamental in businesses going forward.

One thing I do believe will become more and more necessary is for creatives be able to work remotely, be versed in immersive experience design (such as tactile/haptic feedback design, emotionally responsive technology), be able to design for mobile technologies and be familiar with - if not expert at - the moving image. Underlying all this is a responsible approach to design which has to factor in Planet, People and Business.

What skills will iX students have after graduating from your class?

They will have a broad overview of design vernacular as a whole, coupled with several design methodologies which underline ethical principles for designers. They will also be introduced to some sustainability concepts which should help guide their decision making when creating things that will go out into the world. These areas will be balanced by core skills in creative software, hands-on experience and real-world exposure to working environments.

What’s one piece of advice that you have for the iX class of 2020?

I have many, but in a nutshell, it’s the following: Take responsibility for your learning and your work. But also, enjoy the experience.

What would students be surprised to learn about you?

I make paper art, I grow my own vegetables, have been featured in Vogue a handful of times and am obsessed with dogs.

What are your ‘desert island’ books or movies?

On a desert island, I don’t think there’d be electricity for movies and I’d probably have to burn the books for warmth, but not before reading them first that is. My reading list could contain: Cultural Amnesia, Being Wrong and any long-form fiction that I struggle to read without falling asleep (so anything by Tolkein).

What song do you know all the lyrics to?

I’m ashamed to say, none off the top of my head, but if I am driving and something comes on that I know, I could probably sing it for you.

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