Living a Creative Life – Beyond University Michelle Chan and Allison Chan

August 27, 2021

People go to art school for all sorts of reasons, and coming out the other side, the creative lives recent graduates carve for themselves are as varied as the motivations that got them there to begin with.

In the age of the Internet, new forms of creative thinking drive much of what we do. From websites and mobile applications to game design and physical devices, interactive systems are easy to take for granted – they’re everywhere! But behind each search and swipe lies a plethora of imaginative innovation. 

This week, we speak with two ECUAD alumni who’ve embarked on digital careers in interactive design. Amongst other things, they discuss how they balance their new day jobs with a need to make fun, fulfilling art.

Michelle Chan is a gifted service designer who has a passion for health design. Last year, her project hi.lo (pronounced ‘high low’) and the community sourcing that created it caught the attention of the awards jury and she was the recipient of the ECUAA Community Engagement Award. 

I’ve known since I was a kid that I really liked drawing, painting and designing. I loved arts and crafts and fashion design, so embarking on a creative life was natural, but I didn’t know I was going to take this route. I had no idea what interaction design was! 

When we’re in school we have this impression we’re going to come out and do whatever we want, but something that’s been tough for me is when we work nine to five, Monday to Friday, it might not be as creative as we’d hoped. It’s after hours that I really do my fun, no strings attached creative work.

For me, a creative life is thinking with a design mindset. I like creating things on my own, so if a print goes on my wall, I’ll make it myself. 

Right now I really like arts and crafts – shrinky dink, stickers, crochet, drawing, painting bird houses, printmaking – it’s all simple, cute stuff that I like collecting. For months, I’ll focus on one thing, like pom poms. I’ll make bucketloads before moving on to the next craft, say keychains, which I’ll create exclusively for 6-8 weeks. I think a big part of these intense explorations boils down to the cost of investing and buying materials, but that’s okay, especially now I have a job!

You could call my home office a studio. It’s just one room where I do everything, but I can create anywhere. Sometimes I’ll crochet in the car.

Art is the thing I look forward to at the end of the day. After hours, I can create anything I want – I can be a graphic designer or make playful objects. I don’t have to pick one route. What makes me the happiest these days is making small things that don’t seem professionally artistic. It’s part of the enjoyment and how I live my creative life. 

Allison Chan is a talented interaction designer who pushes the limits of what can be considered design and what is considered art. Her immersive and interactive piece in the ECUAD 2020 grad exhibition caught the attention of the Moment Factory and she was the recipient of their prestigious award. 

A creative life to me is creating things you need to express but being genuine to yourself, and because creativity is very intimate, being genuine to yourself in that moment. If you don’t feed the creative fuel in you, the other parts suffer. 

When I was a young girl I loved doing visual art – painting, specifically painting portraits. In high school I moved on to communication and graphic design. When I began university, I thought I was going to study visual arts, but then I found out about this thing called interactive design and it sounded challenging. I learned about UI / UX*, started designing apps, and then thought, ‘I want to bring it up a notch and try using code and sensors to see what I can make’, so I went back to what I was first interested in – creating art. It’s funny it came full circle but challenge is a big part of my personality – I want to keep pushing what I can do. 

I try to make creativity a priority. It’s part of my self-love. I have to give myself time to make art. I love to sketch on my iPad and draw cartoons. I don’t have a studio and work mostly from my desk at home. Just having my art on my wall reminds me of the things I’ve already made, and not to brag but I love the things I create and I love seeing them in front of me! 


At Emily Carr my head was in the clouds – I was able to do anything I wanted. Now that I’m working, even though I’m not able to be very creative here, I’m learning all the tools I’ll need later on. When I move on from this job I can combine the freedom and creativity with a structure. It’s balancing me. So transitioning to a nine to five isn’t that bad, but eventually I do want to get back to making big, interactive, public installations. 


* User interface design / user experience design


Watch and Listen to Allison and Michelle’s Full Interview in the Opus Visual Podcast