He elaborates: "We're more into the specialist role here in Singapore. The roles of the product designer and the product developer for both software and hardware are usually held by different people, the engineering guys just do the engineering stuff and the creative guys just do the creative stuff. But today, we need to create products at a rapid pace, so you need a person with both skillsets." Thus, was born the creative technologist role.
"A creative technologist can see how feasible a design concept is, and the best direction to take it into reality. And this person would not take no for an answer and find a creative process to solve engineering problems. Basically, you put the engineer and the designer inside your head. Sometimes I argue with myself. Depending on the people I interface with, some refer to me as a designer, some refer to me as an engineer – I'm actually both," Akbar shares.
His journey to become a creative technologist was organic and mostly guided by personal interest. He started out in engineering. His initial proposal for his final year project at Singapore Poly was rejected because it didn't solve enough engineering problems; in short, it was deemed to be more of a design project than an engineering project. The feedback stuck with him. After graduation, he decided to pursue Industrial Design at NUS.
"Two years after, a guy in the UK won an award for coming up with a solution that was similar to my rejected proposal. That bolstered my conviction to trust my gut," he shares. Coming from engineering, his first year at NUS was tough, but he excelled in the subsequent years. "Thanks to my engineering background, I discovered that I have a knack to make prototypes that actually work, as opposed to just nice-looking models."
For those who are keen to pursue a career as a creative technologist, Akbar recommends going to an engineering school to pick up the skill, and then building up your design thinking. "The path will not be straight but trust your gut and your interest. The government has been doing well in implementing design thinking, and today we have SUTD. During my time, it was very new, and there was no place where you can go for four years to become a Creative Technologist."
After getting his BA, Akbar set up his own company, which made working prototypes for design students, professors and start-ups. He joined Stuck Design late last year.
"The best part about this role is you use different combinations of skills to solve problems, and that builds you up as a person. I wouldn't want to sit with the same knowledge for 10 years." He recently completed a Master programme in Information Systems at NTU and plans to expand his software engineering skills.