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Denise Lai

Denise Lai’s research focuses on contemporary design and politics in Malaysia. She is currently producing a dissertation exploring the design of Malaysia’s Wawasan 2020 (‘Vision 2020’) campaign. The retro-futuristic imagery of this programme reflects its audacious goals; to bring Malaysia rapidly to the ranks of the ‘developed nations’. The aim of her research is to understand how these designs underpin national development blueprints in the Global South, and to provide an insight into how they are understood and mediated by the citizens they affect. 

Prior to the History of Design MA, Denise studied History of Art at the University of Oxford. Alongside her studies, she assisted designers such as Jimmy Choo and Kai Yin Lo in addition to internship in museums and galleries such as the British Museum, the Ashmolean Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Edge Galerie. These experiences reflect her general interests in museum archives, fashion and jewellery design.  

Featured image: First-day cover celebrating the opening of the National Planetarium, Malaysia (1994) 




Degree Details

School of Arts & Humanities

Denise is currently focusing her efforts on public-facing projects through digital volunteering archival programs, as well as collaborating to build a physical and digital archive of Wawasan 2020 paraphernalia with the Malaysia Design Archive in order to preserve and promote the visual history of Malaysia.  

Featured image: Excerpt from Rileks! magazine (Majalah Rileks!) (1 May 1997)

Screenshot 2020 07 02 at 16 04 10 — Digital Discomforts team, History of Design MA

Quarantine, lockdown, social and physical distancing, pandemic: words we usually only encounter in dystopian literature and movies have become the defining motto of our lives. As we adjust to life under new rules, we, as the Royal College and Victoria & Albert Museum’s History of Design programme, like everyone else, have had to radically alter our approach to studying and working.

As first-year students, our contributions to RCA2020 form a work-in-progress encounter with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. This serves as a springboard for collecting, discussing and sharing ideas on the topic of Digital Discomforts. The project explores issues brought about by the impact of digitization and the web, such as structural inequalities in digital access, the design of sites and content encountered online, user experiences in the internet and evolving conversation channels.

Resulting from intense weeks of collaborative work, the following diagrams are representations of our practice as design historians, intended to reflect real-life corridor-conversations we would have usually had in person as part of our studies. Impromptu, spontaneous and intellectually unpredictable these conversations embrace spelling mistakes and thematic jumps as characteristic of the method of communication. Our diagrams show the twists and turns of such informal, creative encounters.

You may find them sometimes difficult to navigate, or even difficult to read. This is a deliberate dramatisation of the experience of digital inequality, bringing with it digital discomfort.
coronavirusCOVID-19DecolonisingDigitaldigital discomfortsDisabilityHistoriesLockdownRemote WorkingSurveillance And Privacy
Launch Project

Decoloniality Map

This discussion examined the ways in which the digital creates and reinforces acts of colonisation. Concerns that were raised include: algorithm suggestions that amplify or silence the cultures and identities of minority groups; the sources from which dominant systems are produced (often from the Global North); how digital laws facilitate the growth of alt-right communities; and the blanket model of ‘the user’ for whom tech companies design their codes. In probing the discomforts and violences brought about by digital design, students’ texts foreground the importance for design historians and researchers to demand and contribute to actionable change at both a micro (altering open-source codes) and macro (targeting large tech conglomerates) level. As viewers of this map you may experience exclusion - the English language translations may be too small for you to read, for example - in this way we aim to evoke the digital discomfort of minority groups.

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