Design your own future

09 May 2023

profile image of Emily Choi with bright orange background

Emily Choi

Systemic Designer
Bachelor of Design in Visual Communications and
Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation, UTS
Graduated in 2019

It was by chance that Emily Choi stumbled upon the Creative Intelligence and Innovation degree at a university open day. The course was still in its infancy at UTS – no one had even graduated from it yet – but talking with current students and listening to a presentation had her hooked.

‘The idea of studying futures, systems and innovation was amazing to me and I was sold instantly,’ Emily says. ‘The fact it was a double degree and I could study it alongside design, my other passion, also really helped!’

She’d looked at more traditional fields such as law, business and architecture, but Emily decided that choosing the ‘safe’, stable career option would not necessarily bring her happiness.

‘Ultimately, I was truly interested in becoming a practitioner of both design and innovation. I wanted to have a career I was passionate about and in a space that I genuinely wanted to keep learning about forever.’

Not your average uni experience

Looking back, the highlight of Emily’s time at university was undoubtedly the people – not only the lifelong friends she made, but also the lecturers she listened to, and the peers, educators and professionals she spoke to in and outside of class.

‘In my degree we were exposed to so many different perspectives and people. Some who were changing their industry, others who were making new ones. And we could just talk to them, have conversations about their practice and what they were doing, and learn new things about the world.’

For Emily, uni was a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ chance to explore and experiment with her passions. Because her studies were multidisciplinary, she was already exposed to teachings outside of design, but she also took the chance to participate in electives, short courses and other opportunities to explore areas that interested her – ‘even if it was only for a week or a couple of days’.

While the degree was exciting and unique, one of the biggest challenges was the inability to define – or even imagine – what a career in innovation would look like.

‘The Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation (BCII) is not something you can just easily slap a label on. I think a lot of students in my cohort struggled with that. We all wanted to continue to pursue it and solve these complex problems, but none of us knew how to actually get those jobs. You couldn’t easily throw those terms into a job search and come up with results.’

Internships, international placements and talking with her mentor helped Emily clarify her goals. By the end of the third year of her degree, she knew she did not want to pursue a career in traditional design: her focus was now on innovation and complex problem solving, using design as the tool to make it happen.

‘I still loved to design things, but I didn’t want to be just a designer, I wanted to be more. And I knew that BCII was the path to do that. It gave me the opportunity to solve problems in new ways and exposed me to the roles that I would ultimately pursue.’

Working in (and working out) systemic design

After interning with strategic firm Snowmelt during her studies, the freshly graduated Emily landed a role as their Junior Systemic Designer.

The company uses systemic design – a combination of systems thinking and human-centred design – to help its clients with strategic thinking, decision making and strategic execution. But what does a typical day as a systemic designer actually involve?

‘My days are always changing. Snowmelt is a small team and the job titles on our profiles certainly do not define or limit the work we do,’ says Emily. 'It depends on what projects we have on at that time – I can go from liaising with clients, helping facilitate workshops, researching for projects and creating visualisations, to working on content for our website and articles and attending meetings with potential new collaborators.’

While it’s still early days in Emily’s career, she is relishing being exposed to a wide range of industries, businesses and careers and the complex issues they face. ‘Our work often looks at strategic problems that have system-wide impacts and require a new perspective to understand. I love that we can be that perspective,’ she says.

‘My work challenges me to constantly think about the world as a system: how do the relationships and activities of a business work both internally but also with the industry, the market and the world? How can we solve the strategic problems of today in ways that build resilience for our ever-changing and complex future? I don’t need to know all the answers yet, but I need to be open to learning them.’

Advice for Year 12 applicants

  • Attend university open days. ‘Open days are incredibly helpful when you’re making decisions during the application process. I was able to talk to students and get a proper understanding of the courses I was interested in, and I definitely had an easier time selecting my preferences.’
  • Be open to learning things differently. ‘If you pursue a BCII, you aren’t going to have a normal or traditional study experience. It’s intense and vague at the best of times. A lot of people struggled to understand how this benefited them alongside their "core" degree and career. It takes time to see how everything fits together. I found it helpful talking about this with the faculty staff, guest lectures and my mentor, who did this as a career and helped me find the right places to look once I’d graduated.’
  • Pursue internships. ‘Internships were so important for me! I think it really cemented the career I wanted to pursue and helped me understand that I just wasn’t interested in being a designer anymore. They helped me see what potential roles could look like for me and what I would be doing. It gave me perspective that assignments and uni couldn’t.’
  • Go global. ‘I recommend international programs such as Unbound and global opportunities led by UTS or whichever university you attend. These were amazing experiences because they took me out of my comfort zone and the familiar territory of the Sydney market into places where I had to relearn and understand the unique and different perspectives of these new cities and the people who live there.’
  • Embrace the complexity. ‘This career can be uncertain and confusing. But you will figure it out, and you can rest assured that many other people have gone through the same thing. It’s not always easy, but pursuing this field will enable you to work with and help people who are creating impact. That’s my goal: to support organisations that are purposeful and want to change their industry and the people around them.’