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Mutual inspiration: Diane and Izabela

Diane Simpson-Little and Izabela Duszenko

To celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 March, female academics and students describe what they admire in each other.

Diane Simpson-Little, Senior Teaching Fellow and Head of the BSc Product Design degree

I get very excited when I meet students like Izabela at interview. As a mature student, she hadn’t come through the more traditional route. She had a diverse background in photography, art, accountancy and economics, which was very reminiscent of my own varied background and path into the world of design. Izabela was a self-taught artist/designer and I was extremely impressed by the artistic skills shown in her innovative portfolio. I felt that she would benefit greatly from our degree. Not only would it develop her creative and abstract thinking skills, she would also learn about the more technical aspects of design.

Product design is a competitive discipline and is an industry notoriously low on women. Most people have heard of heavyweights such as James Dyson and Steve Jobs, but there are few women who have leadership positions in design. We need to have these female role models so they can help reshape and inspire designers such as Izabela.

New roles are, however, constantly emerging in design as it becomes more of a holistic practice. The designer is no longer just a generator of ideas but is more of a facilitator of the generation of ideas. I am impressed that Izabela has taken this on board throughout the degree, particularly in her final-year project, which she is co-designing with a group of young children from a school in Eastbourne.

Throughout the degree I have admired and been inspired by Izabela for many reasons: firstly, her strong work ethic, her imagination and her unique and creative approach to a design brief; and secondly (as English is not her native language) and just as crucial, overcoming her belief that her strong accent and verbal delivery of information was a barrier to people taking her seriously.

Having a variety of jobs before attending university can be a real asset for students, as design is a subject that requires many diverse skills  -  some of which aren’t tangible as it moves between concrete and abstract thinking. Izabela has demonstrated this in the innovative solutions she has designed by not only drawing upon what she has learned on the degree but also incorporating the many skills and experiences she previously acquired. 

I feel that it is my responsibility to make the field of design more visible and accessible to all people and not just women. It is also my role to teach the bigger picture of creativity – the value, the possibilities of design - and to help students like Izabela to flourish and find their creative voices to the benefit of themselves and society.

Izabela Duszenko, final-year Product Design undergraduate

I met Diane at an applicant visit day. As an artist, designer and creative educator she immediately inspired me with her approach to design and design thinking. She explained with clarity how the Product Design degree at Sussex, with both its creative and technical elements, could guide me towards my dream of becoming a professional designer.

As a teacher, Diane has been a great role model and is an inspiration to all of us. Her creative and engaging seminars are always delivered with the enthusiasm that Diane has for the subject. Over the past three years her energy has really helped to motivate us. She has continually encouraged us to enhance our own learning through self-discovery, experimentation and professional practice.

Bringing in experts in the field of design is an extremely important part of our education and in all of her modules Diane endeavours to do this. We have had the chance to work on live project briefs with designers from all areas of design, from John Lewis to the Royal Pavilion and museums in Brighton.

For my final-year project I am currently designing an educational toy that introduces children to the unknown world of deep-sea creatures, with the aim of creating empathy for marine conservation. Diane, as my supervisor, has continually been both supportive and encouraging. She has also given me the confidence and freedom to focus on and utilise my strengths and experience in design.  

I am so pleased that it was Diane who interviewed me and gave me the chance to grow in confidence and develop as a designer. Her vision for the course has always been forward facing, which has really benefited us all on the degree. Diane often comments that I remind her of herself when she first went to art college and that, after all that she has achieved, makes me feel very proud of myself.

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By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Thursday, 8 March 2018