Meet the graduates: the Royal College of Art’s Christian Pugsley

As part of our coverage of 2021’s graduate season, we’re spending five minutes with a selection of graduates from around the UK to talk about their work, practice and future plans.

Christian Pugsley is a 27-year-old MA/MSc Global Innovation Design graduate from the RCA and Imperial College London. His final project is called Ego. 

Design Week: Can you explain briefly what your final project was about?

Christian Pugsley: Ego is a platform that gives people direct control of the ads they see online. In its simplest form, Ego displays individual ad interest groups as they are added to a user’s account in real-time, giving them the choice to accept, remove, or set their own schedule for each interest group. Ego then automates the process of pushing or pulling those groups from their device, directly influencing the types of ads a user would see.

For ad platforms and data aggregators, Ego allows users to close the feedback loop, confirming or rejecting interest groups, and providing a clearer vision of what each individual is actually looking for. For the advertisers, Ego provides a higher level of assurance that the money spent on advertising is reaching the correct audience. And for people, Ego creates simple, flexible data options to match the complexities of everyday life.

Ego. Simple data options for complex people.

DW: More generally, what would you say your biggest inspirations are in your design practice?

CP: Since I started at the RCA and Imperial, I’ve found myself fascinated by the underlying principles that govern digital product development. Less about how these products are built – in terms of architecture or innovation in code capabilities – but why each system is built the way it is, how that drives specific experiences or interactions, and how that directly affects individual users.

The problem is by calling them users, designers tend to forget that they’re people.

I left my undergraduate degree with an interest in understanding how social media is affecting the mental health of people, but my scope quickly expanded to include the concepts of “big data” and privacy – seeing as the two are inextricably linked, data being the key driver for every major interaction that takes place on any digital platform – when I realized I had no idea what “data” even was. And if I didn’t know, then I was sure that the large majority of people had no idea either.

The more I work to understand these systems myself, the more I can see both the potential for harm and the potential for immense good but without people, none of it matters. We’ve failed in educating our “users” about what their personal data is, how it works, and how it directly affects their individual lives.

My design practice is focused on creating transparency and control in large-scale systems for the people who use them, because when mutual trust and understanding fade, it’s replaced with fear. And by simply watching the news today we see the consequences of what happens when those same “users” lose all trust in a system that governs their lives. I believe that we as designers are the key to rebuilding that trust.

DW: What would be the ideal job for you, and why?

CP: I’m fascinated by the data industry, a field that has the rare opportunity to observe people as they truly are, and I would love to work in or around that space to find opportunities for innovation and impact. But this has always been a tricky question for me as a design generalist because the digital design world today doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for systems thinkers looking at the big picture – with most entry or mid-level jobs looking for experts in UI or front-end coding, whatever it may be.

My ideal job is one that gives space for asking bigger questions when trying to solve problems, not just “should we use mockup A or B?” There’s value in those focused questions, but they can be restricting in finding answers to real problems. This is why I’ve been looking for opportunities in consulting and product direction, hoping to find someone who sees the value in big questions, and value in someone with a wide range of skills to get the job done, no matter the medium.

You can view Christian’s work, as well as his RCA and Imperial peers’ as part of the RCA Graduate Showcase.   

Read our full 2021 graduate show guide here. 

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