After TEDxUNYP: Jason Nam (CEO, Design Disco)

During the past five years, TEDxUNYP has curated and produced over 40 excellent TEDx talks, with some reaching over 1 million. In anticipation of our next TEDxUNYP event, which will happen on November 21st, we have decided to launch a series of interviews with TEDxUNYP speakers to find out how this experience has impacted their careers and personal lives, and what their current projects and endeavors are. 

We are delighted to introduce you to Jason Nam (Founder of Design Disco, Design educator, and TEDxUNYP 2019 speaker). In 2019, Jason shared his design education journey with the TEDxUNYP audience and explained his belief that everyone deserves design education. Its been one year since his appearance on the stage, and Jason is already preparing for his second TEDx talk and about to begin his Master’s degree in design research at Bauhaus – the world-famous school of design, architecture, and applied arts. 

Jason, could you please introduce us to your career and share the way that your passion for design developed? 

It’s a rather unorthodox path. I studied architecture, and most of my friends who studied architecture with me ended up becoming architects, which is not what happened to me. I guess my interest in design began before I even knew it would develop into a passion. A long time ago, at the age of 17, I went to the Harvard Graduate School of Design summer youth program, where I fell in love with architecture. I didn’t know what an architect’s job consists of, and I didn’t know that I could become one, so this program was an eye-opening experience. It made me decide on studying architecture and become an architect for a little bit, but right now, I consider myself as a design educator more than anything else. I think I came here because, in the back of my mind, when you’re a kid and you experience something exceptional, you cherish it and want to hold onto it for as long as you can. That was my experience at Harvard. While studying and later working as an architect, I always wanted to give back what I received at Harvard to young students. Being able to inspire young people is essential for me too. I’m fortunate that I discovered this passion in design education, and I’m just going to keep going for it. 

How did you start Design Disco? 

The USA has a lot of art and design programs for youth. After returning to Prague, I continued my education, and I realized that such initiatives and programs are missing here in Prague. Together with my friends from the architecture program, I started the Design Disco initiative. My friends and I were giving design workshops to teenagers for free, through various schools in Prague. At some point, teachers from the Riverside International School in Prague saw the workshop and were very impressed. They invited me to consult with their school principal on how to integrate design into their curriculum. One thing led to another, and I got recruited to work for them, and I was teaching design to high school students for three years, while simultaneously developing Design Disco. 

How did you decide to continue your education?

We started Design Disco in 2013. After seven years on this project, I felt that it was time to bring it to the next level, and for this, I will need to acquire more knowledge of design education. I wish to conduct more in-depth research, improve the articulation of my thoughts, and create a more effective structure. Of course, it is excellent that our initiative has grown over the years, but I need more specific knowledge, so I have decided to take a step back and pursue a Master’s degree in design research as education in Bauhaus. Of course, I will continue to manage the project remotely while I am in Germany. 

Did your 2019 TEDxUNYP talk influence your work in any way? 

Most certainly! It allowed me to look back at everything that I was doing up until then. In a way, it was nice to be forced into reevaluating my life and work experience, to be pushed into analyzing – what do I believe in? Of course, I panicked at one point: imposter syndrome, the feeling that I do not know anything, and have nothing to share. But this changed as I started drafting, and I had to rewrite the talk three times because I had too much to say! That experience evoked a new thirst for knowledge in me. I have to say that it was a bit strange for me to know that this video will be online forever, even as my perspective changes and as I grow professionally. But I think that it is good to look back in time and remember where you started from. 

2019 was a pretty great year for me, with the TEDxUNYP talk, our first Summer Design Camp, and finding a graduate program that suits me. It was tough to find something that would focus on both design and education – and I didn’t want to continue with architecture alone. It was a big deal when I found out that I had been accepted. Many students from this program end up staying to continue research as Ph.D. students, but you know, one step at a time. This year has taught me not to plan too much in advance. 

What advice would you give to someone who is preparing to become a TEDx speaker?

That’s a great question! I am preparing for my next TEDx talk right now in fact, so this will be a piece of advice to myself as well. Do not stress yourself out, thinking that the whole world is going to see your talk and that it has to be life-changing for millions of people! It is much better to believe that you’ve been invited for a reason and that some people will find what you have to say interesting and meaningful. Try to chill and enjoy the process, and don’t lose your authenticity. During your preparation, there will be a lot of people trying to put words in your mouth. Make sure you take their advice into consideration, but stick to what you believe in and stand for.

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