By Steve McAdam, Founding Chair, Product Design
Over the last half century, mechanical functionality has been replaced by technological achievement, enabling designers to create things they could only once imagine. Change and opportunity go hand in hand, and it is very much in the spirit of Otis College to develop a new program to produce the hybrid designer for the 21st-century creative economy. In the fall of 2004, the Product Design (PD) Department began as a career-focused program with the mission to produce a new type of product designer with vision, creativity, multidisciplinary design skills, and the ability to integrate information, technology and business strategies that address not only user needs but also complex, interconnected markets and industries. The emphasis of the curriculum is on developing creative Thinkers who are self-inspired and capable of generating lots of ideas; creative Communicators who can effectively articulate their ideas in 2D, 3D, written, verbal, and multi-media presentation; and creative Integrators who can synthesize information, technology, materials and methods, and business strategies to design with intent and create innovative solutions that address cultural, social and marketplace needs. The curriculum shifts away from the conventional industrial design approach of specific-industry focus and the development of specialized technical skills. Experience taught us that this approach
We knew early on that we had the opportunity to create a unique program that leveraged the strengths of the type of student Otis attracts. These students use technology, but are not technicians or engineers; they are creators, artists and makers who thrive on diversity and engaging in design challenges.
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Designer: Shaun Redsar
Designer: Nathan Woods
restricted the creative, aesthetic and career potential of the student, and rarely brought forth creative designers of importance. At best, it produced skillful technicians or super elves, and not the creative visionaries, strategic thinkers and design leaders who will lead industry and fuel the creative economy. Product Design has enjoyed continuous growth of student enrollment since it began five years ago with 12 students. There were 80 students in 2008/09. The program boasts an average of over 87% placement of its students in internship positions in furniture design, fashion accessories, consumer electronics, design consultancies, shoe design, sports and medical equipment, home dĂŠcor and entertainment. Graduates work for Apple, Guess, Wet Design, Disney Consumer Products, Disney Imagineering, Inter-Pacific Corp., Nectar Design, Warner Brothers Consumer Products, Lanard Toys, Target, and Anthropologie (among many others). Alumni have also entered graduate school as far away as the Design Academy Eindhoven in the Netherlands and as near to home as Cal State Long Beach. âž¤
Designer: David Lean
At no time in history have designers had the range of technologies, materials and information from which to create products. But thinking about product design today means thinking beyond the product and recognizing the complex issues of business, technology, sustainability and user experience.
Ultimately, we’re striving to create an educational experience in the program that achieves parity with the global professional world, but also to expand product design beyond products and market imperatives. We train our students to research, develop and design products for 5, 10, 15 years into the future rather than to become slaves of industry or trendsetters.
The program focuses on a holistic and simplified approach to product design, and focuses on the issues that are at the core of supporting user experience and therefore likely to withstand social forces, economic trends and technological invention over a long period of time. In the sophomore year, students “deconstruct” the world to focus on developing a heightened sense of aesthetics. They learn to design with intent through the practice of applying the unifying principals of design and the aspects of color, surface texture and form.
They work in wood, metal, ceramics, plastics and fabrics and the process of object design and development. In the junior year, students “interpret” the world. Through sequential courses, they refine their studio skills to develop a personal vision, creative practices and design methodology. Students develop multidisciplinary design skills in two broad product categories: “soft-line” non-durable products (fashion accessories, shoe design and home decor items) and “hard-line” durable products (furniture design, consumer electronics, medical devices). Throughout the sequence, issues of sustainable design are considered. In the senior year, students “revolutionize” the world. The emphasis is on designing for the future; preparing for their careers as professionals and developing a thesis project that reflects the culmination of their training. In fall of 2008, Otis product design students collaborated on a project with Loyola Marymount University Business School’s Entrepreneurial Department, with the goal of creating a synthesis of design and business to explore new business models that will drive innovation and
bring design solutions and services to a rapidly changing global market. Otis students took a university-level business and entrepreneurial class and jointly participated in a real-world experience of forming a product, business and media plan for a small company. Engagement with the corporate community is an essential part of the student’s development in the program. Corporate sponsors collaborate with faculty and students to identify the design opportunity, define deliverables, determine resources, and evaluate design outcomes. The emphasis in each project is on innovation. In a recent corporate-sponsored research project for HRI, the intra-group think tank of Omron, students were challenged to project what will be the potential products and services needed for society in 2025. Where product design will go in the creative economy of the 21st century remains to be seen. Yet while many of the same questions our students ask today about product design they will ask again as professionals, we as a faculty feel confident that their answers to those questions will always reflect their own unique creative voice and vision. ●
The successful product designer of today must be multifaceted like a diamond. The larger number of facets, the more brilliantly it shines. This requires that the Product Design curriculum must continually be assessed and enriched with educational opportunities and real-world multidisciplinary experiences that will better prepare our students to be the design leaders of the future.
Designer: Yoonah Bae
Designer: Jung Mi Na
Designer: Arron Au da Silva
Designer: Michelle Pak
Designer: Maxine Wong
Designer: Tyler Haggstrom
Designer: Joon Han Lee
Designer: Kevin Melchiorri
Designer: Rebecca Reisman
“The Otis/LMU project allowed students to experience an environment that approximates the reality of business and partnerships. They learned that integrating their design skills with the skills of negotiation and mutual respect refined their vision of how success in the future will be measured.” Designer: Judith Uribe
— Michael Kollins, Assistant Chair, Product Design
Designer: Joon Han Lee
Christopher Paterno, Instructor
Materials and Methods/ Green Design
“I believe that tactile qualities of a material inspire ideas and design more than book or Internet research alone.”
By George Wolfe
The Product Design student saunters along the library aisle, stopping to peruse the characteristics of green materials. She runs her fingertips along the cardboard shelf, the cellulose shelf, the copper shelf, and the cotton shelf, before hitting the Ds — dandelion?! She eyeballs the explorative display. Could she use the stems as part of a new composite building substance? Could she incorporate the flower’s ubiquitous yellow into a systemic design scheme? Devin Week, 100% wood surfboard; no resins or fiberglass
She makes a beeline to the nearby research hub and quickly brings up a list of projects and resources related to dandelions and other weedy raw materials. She likes what she sees and prints out a few pages. She returns to the shelves, picks up the dandelion display, and eventually checks it out at the front desk. Welcome to the brain of Christopher Paterno, who teaches the Materials and Methods/Green Design course. This is the future that excites him, and the present he offers his students each week. “I believe that tactile qualities of a material inspire ideas and design more than book or Internet research alone,” he says. Meeting outside on the verdant lawn alongside the Ben Maltz Gallery is apt for his class. The students air eco-ethical examples culled from recent news: bio-based plastics and fuels … untapped uses for seaweed … bamboo paneling … elephant grass … hempy stuff … hay sugars compressed and made into furniture, etc. Fortunately, there is no shortage of innovation, and Paterno digs into the considerable questions: What’s the real motive for jumping on the green bandwagon? It really doesn’t matter why they’re doing it as long as they are doing it. Green design becomes a bottom-line issue: businesses aren’t going to change ways just to save the world — mostly you have to design knowing how to source it out and do it in smart ways. OMAG 6
In the end, does going green really pay? Yes, but you’ll need to think of the whole system — how it’s made, distributed and disposed. That means you’ll have to consider the environment, the economy and the consumer. InterfaceFlor, a carpet company, was failing and was a toxic nightmare. The owner, after rethinking the way he did “carpeting,” went very green, redesigned his product into snazzy, eco-friendly interchangeable carpet tiles, and saved his company. In some ways green design can mean more expensive, but not always. Some companies just can’t see past the initial costs of re-tooling for long-term savings. For it to work, we’ve got to get beyond the mentality of: ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ How are green-leaning, well-meaning designers supposed to work within the parameters of the corporate world, where there may only be the desire to portray a green image? Green Responsibility brings up the chicken or the egg question. Is it the consumers’ or the government’s responsibility to demand green products and manufacturing, or is it the manufacturers’ responsibiity to educate the consumer? If the designers know how to design green and save on materials and design to lower manufacturing costs, then they can infiltrate from inside. Greenies can see right through “greenwashing,” where suits may only want to appear green.
Back in a boxy classroom, one of Paterno’s young conservationistas presents his Powerpoint report on Earthships. He runs through the history of this anomalous species of predominantly Southwest living, and speaks to the gutsy, systemic approach begun by the movement’s founder, Mike Reynolds. Tires rammed with earth are the Lego-like building blocks of curvaceous walls; water gets re-used for various purposes (filtered rainwater for cooking/showering, gray water for interior gardens and toilets/ showers, and black water is naturally broken down and outputted to exterior gardens); the merciless desert sun provides a benevolent stream of solar energy to the south-facing abodes, which are partially embedded in the ground for maximum energy preservation. And, of course, tucked away out back is plenty of compost mentis. Earthships go a long way toward showing that seeing green needn’t be dull — it can be sexy, too. The womb-like environs are uncommonly seductive. Some of the most effective and elegant re-designing begins with re-defining the basic assumptions and slaying a few sacred professional vows; it requires thinking outside the vox populi.
“Sometimes, ending up with a question is as good as coming up with an answer,” adds Paterno, picking up on the exploration through crits and research. “And sometimes changing the name can alter your approach. Instead of ‘chair,’ try starting with ‘resting place.’” Such a subtle difference can be tremendously liberating: for the designer, the consumer, and the world. That’s how you end up with not just a house, but an earthship; not office furniture, but Herman Miller; and not a car, but a Tesla. “But keep in mind that green design doesn’t just mean using natural materials,” adds Paterno, “it’s all about materials management. Some say Green Design is a trend or fad, but I think green design is synonymous with smart design, and smart design is always top design. Top designers create good, eco-conscious designs. I hope to create armies of designers that are aware of their actions, aware of their environment, and aware of good, smart design.” Interruption of the waste stream is the ecocentric challenge facing these young men and women. But by truly confronting our bad habitats of waste and exploring new realms of consciously virescent design, and embracing our newfound Father Nurture role, we can all one day live in a material world — in the best possible sense. ●
“It has always been exciting to know that I was the very first to sign up for this brand new program in Product Design.”
How were you able to get a job at Apple, which is highly competitive? Luck had a lot to do with it. I was what they were looking for, before they knew it. But it should be no surprise that, with hundreds if not thousands of applicants, competition does exist within the industrial design studio. One of my colleagues went through what he described as a six-year “interview” process! I was the first applicant in almost a decade to be hired straight out of college.
By George Wolfe
Antikythera. Affordance. Iterations. Kodak. Design with intent. Personas. Portable defibrillators. Attentiveness. Nanotechnology. Hyperinstruments. These are just some of the products and concepts that Maggie Hendrie explores with her students.
and accessories (giving new meaning to the concept of Shaker design). “I try to get them to think in terms of the ecosystem of design,” explains Hendrie. “Basically, the human experience of a product is made up of many facets, and these live together in a kind of ecosystem. Traditionally, product design has focused on the one-dimensional device design, but increasingly designers have to be able to conceptualize — or at least collaborate — on other facets of a product to make for an effective, integrated, branded user experience.” Among those systemic components are: Device (e.g., home PC), Content (e.g., Facebook), Customer Support (e.g., carmaker Saturn), Inter-Operability (e.g., iPhone), and Service (e.g., Patagonia). For a classic example of a more truly integrative design, look at visionary inventors like George Eastman, who intuitively understood the revolutionary value of Kodak’s “You take the picture, we do the rest” campaign. “It’s a superb example,” says Hendrie, “of understanding that user experience is a system of interrelated devices, products and services. He simplified and unified all of these, then crafted an elegant solution where ease of use trumps complex technology.” Looking into the future, PD is expected to find fertile soil in fields like nanotechnology, where we increasingly design on the atomic and molecular levels, often with medical solutions for the human body as a goal. Then again, practicality is not always the end goal of future-leaning technological design. “Context and user-aware products don’t have to be all about things like cell phones,” says Hendrie. “Technology can be used to create inspiring art objects, like the electronic sensing jewelry from Philips Design.” Despite the volume of new product designs, the human brain stands out for Hendrie as her choice for most ideal PD application. “Many other living creatures do a lot of basic things better than us — smell, run, reach, see, hear, echolocate, etc. — but the human brain is so responsive, so plastic and has evolved so dynamically that I’d say it is our central, special human attribute. How the brain works also reminds me of the creative design process: observe, deconstruct, understand, recombine, imagine and generate the new.” That’s good, because after all is said and done in Hendrie’s class, her students will get a chance to put their own noggins to the test by going out into the world and creating smarter, more responsive, more ecologically systemic products that truly enhance our user experience and blow our own minds. ●
First up at Apple What circumstances led to your Apple interview? I think most people would be shocked to hear that I applied to Apple online, for a job posting requiring a minimum five years of experience! The interview process was exhaustive, exciting and nerve-wracking. It felt like it took forever, but it was really more like two to three months. For the interview, they flew me to Cupertino headquarters. A few hours turned into an entire day of interviewing, and ended up continuing into a second day!
Maggie Hendrie, Instructor
What they have in common as products, or what they speak to as concepts, is the notion that the experience IS the design. But where, exactly, is the line between the many other design disciplines, and and product design (PD) in particular? With “hard” products such as mobile phones and computers, there is certainly an interactive element. A car can be thought of as a manifestation of interactive design (i.e., its responsiveness to the driver, or items like voice-responsive GPS screens), but does a car really meet the litmus test? What about a house (sure, maybe Bill Gates’ house, but what about grandma’s?)? And aren’t cities simply huge interactive products, with urban planners, architects, politicians and municipal agencies acting out roles as designers and shaping and revising their product’s features over many years and iterations? Good or bad design notwithstanding, people regularly engage with and experience these urban commodities. And with “soft” products such as stuffed animals — say, Roger Rabbit or a Mimzy doll — their designs determine whether or not a kid will interact with it or leave it forever under the bed with rest of the dust bunnies. This is true for clothing and fashion, too. At their best, aren’t they ultimately about an intimate connection between the product and the wearer, or the effect of clothing on a runway model who has a responsive encounter with an audience? And what about a favorite couch or Laz-EBoy recliner or auto-messaging chair that somebody practically develops a personal relationship with? It’s Wednesday afternoon on the 5th floor, and the Experience Design students take turns explaining the musical instrument each is in the process of inventing and how each addresses the class criteria of interactivity. The theme of this particular semester is sound, partly inspired by MIT’s Tod Machover, who made a “hyperinstrument” specifically for Dan Ellsey (who suffers from cerebral palsy) so that he could write, perform and conduct his music, and to help others learn how to compose, too. Hyperinstruments are sometimes referred to as the “opera of the future.” One student steps up and explains his concept: a DJ who spins and dispenses his music visually, creating an interactive dance floor. Another student presents a system for creating and amplifying ambient sound from falling raindrops upon various materials. A third speaks about her gesture-responsive belly dancing belt. There’s a drum set that’s off the beaten track of drumsticks and instead uses the tension of pressured metals and other distressed acoustic substances for maximum effect. Then there are Jangle Bangles™ that double as musical bracelets, necklaces,
What do you think it was about you or your skills in particular? I think it was my energy and desire to learn. Much of what Apple does is highly specialized and unique, so an open mind was key. Most of the more experienced applicants were more entrenched in their ways and less flexible. Of course a strong, polished portfolio and a jam-packed resume helped a great deal.
In what ways did your training at Otis help you in your new position? That’s a difficult one to answer because it wasn’t any one specific skill or a specific class that I had taken. It was a combination of many things, more than I probably realize myself. I guess it comes down to the open-ended philosophy behind the program, which was still in its infancy. I couldn’t believe that students were given so much input into shaping the program, and yet I sensed this was crucial. But you only get out of the experience what you put in. Tell us briefly about your years in the Product Design Program It has always been exciting to know that I was the very first to sign up for this brand new program in Product Design, and almost blindly since I did not do Foundation Year at Otis. A big milestone for me was participating in the NeoCon West Furniture Design Competition. We were just rookies, but ended up beating third-and fourth-year students from Art Center, UCLB, and Yale. We came in second, and our classmates came in first. I learned that being part of a new program was no excuse to aim low, and realized that we were destined for great things. Other memorable moments were presentations by Segway human transports, Sony’s robotics division, and other guest lecturers. Despite all the hard work, we had a lot of fun times too. ● Editor’s Note: Ismael Basso (‘07) was a member of Product Design’s first graduating class. Chair Steve McAdam interviewed him about his journey to Apple and his beginnings at Otis.
Mastering Ikebana By Joan Takayama-Ogawa Otis Product Design differs from many industrial design programs because it integrates creativity, aesthetics, philosophy, design principals, materials, and fabrication techniques along with entrepreneurial skills and business practices to produce a well-rounded designer. Senior Lecturer Randall Wilson (MFA ’97) epitomizes this approach in his sophomore Forms and Structures studio, which explores the vessel beginning with Ikebana (Japanese Flower Arrangement). Students looked closely at Yokohama woodblock prints, studied the Japanese vase tradition, and observed a demonstration by an Ikebana master. They made both wooden and ceramic Moribana vases, and, after a trip to the downtown L.A. Flower Market, completed their arrangements in an installation. ●
Randall Wilson (MFA ‘97) and Joan Takayama-Ogawa