Meet the alumni: Radina Doneva (Manchester school)

Hailing from Bulgaria, with a background in business, economics and digital marketing, Radina Doneva’s wanderlust saw her travel six different countries before landing in Manchester. Here she tells us more about her interests and experiences as a Hyper Island student on the Digital Experience Design MA.

Hi Radina, thanks for chatting with us. Could you tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to study at Hyper Island?

Hi! I’m originally from lovely Bulgaria, but wanderlust made me move six different countries before I settled in Manchester. During my studies with Hyper Island, I completed an MA in Digital Experience Design. Outside of that, I’m interested in mental health and designing positive systems and approaches to support it. I’m also concerned about the human impact on the environment and enthusiastic about self-sustaining communities and the concept of circular economy. I source a lot of my inspiration from nature and the principles of natural ecosystems.

After traveling around so much, what made you settle on Hyper Island and how did it meet your expectations?

I was looking for a hands-on course to build on my business knowledge with a practical understanding of design methods (as well as UX, agile and lean principles). Hyper Island did not disappoint. The course was relevant to business and covered a real blend of research, design thinking, prototyping and lots of ideation. It really met my expectations in this sense, and the methods I learned apply not only to digital but also very much to service and strategic design. What I didn’t expect were some of the most valuable takeaways from the programme: team development, culture building, and leadership skills.

For anyone who hasn’t had the Hyper Island experience, how would you describe it?

It’s an intensive practical Master’s programme, more like a professional training course or boot camp. You get to learn about experience design while working on live projects with real clients. It’s a mix of group work (team development and management is an essential part of the learning process) and individual projects (around the theoretical background). There are no academic teachers. Instead, the school invites practitioners and leaders from the industry to share insights from their own practice and mentor students throughout their projects. This is really important as in digital design, trends and practices change so quickly.

There’s also the cultural side. As a crew, you develop common language and values that allow you to break down interpersonal barriers and create a culture of openness. That way you get to focus on the work and minimise conflict.

You mention the culture, which feels really important. What else can you tell us about this and your fellow students?

I expected the class to be full of cool kids hyped up on the latest tech and was worried I might not fit in. What I actually joined was an amazing crew of 60 brilliant, warm, inspiring people from all walks of life and all over the world. This richness of diversity, experience, and characters is what makes Hyper Island such a unique experience. It’s a place to belong. I learned so much from the crew members and I’m happy to have shared this experience with all.

I still keep in touch with a lot of people who stayed in Manchester and also work around time zones to catch up with people who live on the other side of the world. We look out for each other and support each other by sharing experiences and advice on various project and company situations. It’s challenging to leave such a close crew and venture off to implement these innovative methods in traditional settings. For sure the crew spirit does not end with the end of the course. Hyper island has a strong extended community around the world making it easy to reach out and connect internationally.

‘if you want to change your mindset and have the courage to challenge yourself then Hyper Island is the right choice.’

What does a day in the life of a Hyper Island student look like?

There is no standard day at Hyper Island. My day usually starts with a morning run or yoga to get a fresh start. Then I arrive at Hyper, make myself a coffee and check-in with my team where everyone shares how they’re feeling and what they got on this day workwise. Any blockers are discussed at this stage. Then there’s a quick agenda planning and jump into work. We usually facilitate ideation or prototyping by using tools to avoid endless discussions and produce actual outputs faster. Each team is responsible for creating and managing their team culture – by agreeing on ways of working and responsibilities. At the end of a work session, we check out by reviewing what’s achieved that day and planning for the next. Then we move on to fun activities in town or hanging out with the crew on our rooftop garden.

What about outside the Hyper Island walls? How did you find studying in Manchester?

Manchester is a very dynamic city with vibrant culture, rich history, proud character and strong community spirit. It’s very diverse and there are events and festivals taking place throughout the year. The music scene is one of the best in the world. It’s also very easy going and relaxed – there’s even a Buddhist center right in the city center! The peak district is only 1hr away offering excellent getaway options. It’s on the uprise in many regards and I’d expect even more opportunities for designers will be created here in future.

A lot of the people we’ve spoken to mentioned how their experience changed them. How did your time as a Hyper Island student influence your path?

Before coming to Hyper Island, I was working at a Silicon Valley-based e-commerce company as an SEO and digital marketing analyst. I moved to California in 2014 when the field of UX was exploding. It was the top of ‘The Golden Age of UX’ as some experts call it. I became very interested in the role of design for not only crafting products and services but also for determining the success of a whole business. I saw UX as a perfect fit for me as a multidisciplinary field blending tech, business and psychology and, at the time, I thought I wanted to become a UX designer for a tech company. During the course, I realized that design methodology can be applied across so many fields to generate innovation, and I really wanted to use it for social purposes. I now work at the strategic design studio Common Good as a behavioral designer, looking into people’s existing thinking and decision-making patterns to optimize products and services for their benefit (not to be confused with using persuasion to create users addicted to clicking buttons!). I made the connection with Common Good through Hyper Island and I’m extremely pleased with the transition from DXD to my current role.

So nowadays, what are you most excited about when it comes to design and digital?

Impact. I’m excited about the massive impact you can have by applying design thinking to existing organizations and also seeing the disruptive innovations that come out of design-driven companies. And it’s not digital – it’s the ability to take a holistic approach, collaborate across silos and consider the real users’ needs that bring about change. And it must be practiced with high ethical responsibility.

And finally, if you could give potential students one reason to come to Hyper Island, what would it be?

Change. There’s a pattern in people coming to Hyper Island, and it’s that they’re all seeking change. It’s usually for different reasons (disappointing job, the need for international experience or the urge to get of your comfort zone), but if you want to change your mindset and have the courage to challenge yourself (sometimes to your emotional, intellectual or physical limits) then Hyper Island is the right choice.

Hyper Island is a challenging experience, but if you’re open to diversity and can work without the need for stability and routine, the rewards are high. This isn’t a place for rigid mindsets, come here with a positive, proactive and open mind.

To hear more student stories, why not check our film A day in the Life of Hyper Island.