A bad PowerPoint, an eye-opening PC, and a path.
My introduction to industrial design came from the most nervous man I had ever met. Columbia College Chicago sent a representative to give a PowerPoint presentation about creative careers to a class of bored high school art students. We were just a few weeks away from graduating.
The poor guy was bombing. Obviously intimidated, it sounded like he might break out in tears throughout the talk. As you can imagine, high school kids are horrible, especially in the twilight of their senior year. It was not a polite audience; I hope I was an exception because what he was sharing fascinated me. I wasn’t set on a particular career, but I knew I wanted to do something creative. And still lifes weren’t for me.
With every slide came a different career path; architecture, graphic design, computer animation. Eventually industrial design flashed on screen with the image of a computer both unique and familiar. It was a novel blue and white desktop with handles at each corner that extended away from the chassis. This was around 2000, still the era of big ivory boxes.
The design that had caught my attention was a Mac G3 tower. Before seeing the G3 on that slide it had never occurred to me that someone designed it. As our presenter read from his script I’m looking at this computer that was so unlike anything else, realizing someone drew it. And in that moment I thought, this could be something cool, I could be interested in that.
This thing set itself apart visually from everything else that was on the market. And why shouldn’t it? The operating system and many of the components were unique as well. The unconventional design communicated the entire strategy of the product. I understand this now, but as a restless, angsty teen it just seemed cool, like it was bucking a trend.
I think there’s value in hanging on to restlessness and dissatisfaction in the design field, where it’s cliche to say that you don’t take things for granted, that you question everything. But having a contrarian streak means those ideas are at the core of your person. It’s not something you have to think about, not a hat you have to put on.
So, a seed was planted. I’m applying to schools, looking at ones that have industrial design programs. While touring Purdue University, our guide showed us some student projects that an industrial design class was working on. They had sketches up on the wall; the project was to design the next version of that Apple G3 tower. From that beginning, that seed being planted to this moment, now I’m deciding for sure, yes, this is what I’m going to do.
I look at the world differently now than before I studied industrial design. I had no appreciation or understanding of how anything came to be. Now I often get lost inspecting the most minuscule detail of some otherwise forgettable object.