Alumni profile - Arda Awais
At Identity 2.0, the company I co-founded, we create accessible spaces for people to explore the data that they give away online because we’re fed up with people feeling powerless about the misuse of their data.
(Design, Innovation and Creative Engineering BEng, 2017)
Why did you choose to study BEng Design, Innovation and Creative Engineering at Queen Mary?
At the time of choosing my degree, it was really a chance to start figuring out what I wanted to do with my career. I knew that the degree I chose would be able to help me unlock doors once I graduated. On a basic level, I wanted to find a degree that combined subjects I had enjoyed studying previously. I did Electronics at GSCE level, and this was all about making things. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the option to continue this for my A-levels and so I opted for Product Design instead. I was able to still make things, but the element of making something that actually works was gone. I didn’t get the chance to build circuits, do logic, or create something that had a ‘purpose’ for example. I was discussing this with my tutors and Design Engineering was recommended to me as something that combines everything that I like to do.
When I was looking at different degrees, I found Queen Mary’s DICE programme interesting because it combined so many different elements. It had core design modules, engineering modules and creative coding modules. I felt most Design Engineering courses at other universities were pretty static in what they offered, whereas DICE was a lot more varied.
What did you enjoy most about your time at Queen Mary? Do you have any memorable or stand out moments?
It is hard to choose one moment as I had a great time at Queen Mary; I met a lot of friends and enjoyed the overall “uni experience”. Even spending late nights at the library with my friends was an experience that I loved.
I really enjoy UX and building products that feel right for the end users. I thrive off finding out what works for them and their expectations for a user journey.
What does your role as Experience Designer at UNRVLD involve and how does this role allow you to explore your passions?
At UNRVLD, my role is to work with our clients to build the best experience for their audiences. I really enjoy UX and building products that feel right for the end users. I thrive off finding out what works for them and their expectations for a user journey. Something I also really enjoy doing is thinking about how I would want someone to feel or think in an experience and designing with this in mind.
In 2018 you co-founded Identity 2.0 which ‘empowers people to explore their digital identity’. How do you do this?
We create accessible spaces for people to explore the data that they give away online because we’re fed up with people feeling powerless about the misuse of their data. By accessible, I mean that our tone of voice is easy to understand, and we exist in creative mediums. When you speak about digital identities, digital rights or data privacy, a lot of people tend to shut off because it is perceived as a complicated topic. But it shouldn’t be. We all have a digital identity, and it directly affects us.
So, we create work in creative spaces such as exhibitions and zines (magazines), which allow our audiences to explore the choices they have when sharing personal data. We feel passionately that you don’t need to be from a certain background or possess a certain knowledge to engage with art – it is accessible and speaks to everyone. By using a tone of voice that is easy to understand and which has humor, it allows people to want to engage with the topics that we explore. We also use memes and pop culture references in our work to open it up to wider audiences.
What are some of the projects and/or exhibitions that you have worked on so far at Identity 2.0?
So far, we’ve created three exhibitions and our most recent was launched in Leicester last year (August 2021). It was called This Machine Is Black and it explored the relationship between race and technology. This body of work took us a year to curate, and we are continuing this work in different ways. We recently had an online festival called The Open Garden which was a collective learning space about this exhibition and we most recently launched a digital adaptation of a timeline we created in the exhibition for Mozilla Festival and RightsCon. The timeline explores how Black bodies are completely invisible or hypervisible throughout history and how the technology we build continues this paradox.
Alongside our studio projects, we also work directly with clients. We created a digital installation last year (April 2021) for Childs Right International Network (CRIN) and most recently we were part of the DesignKind programme, curated by British Council, Pentagram and Do The Green Thing, where we worked on a project that explores the intersection between racial justice and the climate crisis. Browse more of our work via our website.
How has your degree remained relevant throughout your career and to your current roles?
My degree was very multidisciplinary, so it taught me how to utilise different skills and transfer these skills across different disciplines. During my design modules, we focused a lot on how to best design for your audiences and this is really relevant in UX and also how I was able to start working in this career. My degree has also taught me the importance of being innovative and that we can try to understand and explain the world in creative ways that are accessible to all.
Huge congratulations on being featured in Elle Decoration UK as a Young Voice in Design. What have been some of your career highlights to date?
Thank you! I would have to say everything we’ve achieved with Identity 2.0! I was also recently awarded a BIMA Award in the Designers and Creators Category, and it was so nice to be recognised in the industry.
Last year (March 2021), I also got to meet Sir Tim Berners Lee when Identity 2.0 were awarded Web Champions and I got to be part of an amazing group of people who are working to build a better web.
At Identity 2.0, we create work in creative spaces such as exhibitions and zines (magazines), which allow our audiences to explore the choices they have when sharing personal data. We feel passionately that you don’t need to be from a certain background or possess a certain knowledge to engage with art.
What role do you think younger generations have in developing the future of AI?
Shaping it for the better. We must remember that a lot of these technologies are new, and we have the space and tools to change and adapt these emerging technologies. We don’t need to continue the current trajectory if we don’t feel it’s right (from an ethical or practical standpoint) and younger generations are currently the target audience for how many things can be adopted for the future. So, these generations have the power to ask for something different and to be part of building AI differently as they progress in their careers and as their knowledge develops.
What is it about AI that excites you and/or what are some recent AI innovations that you find particularly interesting?
I wouldn’t say AI excites me, maybe because I have seen so many cases where AI has failed people. However, there are some interesting explorations around AI art that I’m keeping an eye on and I always try to keep up to date with what’s happening in this space.
Finally, outside of work, what do you do in your spare time?
I try to enjoy time with my friends/family, travelling, keeping active and taking time to rest!
- Find out more about studying BEng Design, Innovation and Creative Engineering at Queen Mary.
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This profile was conducted by Alumni Engagement Officer, Nicole Brownfield. If you would like to get in touch with Arda or engage her in your work, please contact Nicole at firstname.lastname@example.org.