The thing that eventually inspired me to get into industrial design was the space shuttle. I keep this toy version on my desk.
I grew up in the 80s and I saw space shuttles everywhere, but I didn’t know what it was about them that made me think they were cool. I mean, yes, they went into space, but they also looked good. It was only years later that I understood that I was attracted to it because it looked the way it did because it had to.
There are things that try really hard to look good, and then there are things that try really hard to be functional, but they’re ugly. The space shuttle isn’t the most beautiful thing. But I think because it was designed that way because of what it had to do, and yet it still looked good—that was really interesting to me. That’s something I really admire about what we do, the meshing of form and function.
Nobody in my family is a designer or an engineer, so I didn’t have the words to describe these kinds of thoughts until I started studying industrial design in college.
I always had a talent for art. I took independent study art classes. There was this sculpture I did for an art project in high school. I remember working on it and thinking, “Why am I doing this? The only reason I’m doing this is because it’s an assignment.”
But there were kids in my class by then who were doing art for art’s sake. And I just could never really get my head around that. I enjoyed making things, I enjoyed applying the skills of drawing or sculpting, I just didn’t feel like I needed to sit down and do it like an artist.
Around that time I was trying to figure out what to do in college and a school counselor said, “You know, you’ve got really good science scores, and you seem to be technically minded. Do you want to be an engineer?” And I said, “Um, not really.”
Then she told me how her niece was a medical illustrator, how she used her artistic ability to tell a visual story that helped medical researchers explain new innovations in the field.
I thought that was interesting, being able to learn about something new in order to help tell a story about it. It helped get me on the industrial design path, which really changed the way I saw everything.
I learned that there were people thinking about things, and also thinking about the people who would be using those things, and making decisions about how they should be a certain way. Suddenly “stuff” stopped just being stuff for me. Every little object I saw I would stop and think, “Why did they do it that way?” Just trying to figure out little stories about why things are the way they are. It changed the way I thought about the world.
The lines of the space shuttle are very minimal, which is another reason I like it. It connects me with what I do and helps me feel that what I’m doing is true to myself. Whenever I see it, it represents discovery and failure and all the things that I think embody my design sensibility. It’s a field where you just have to try things and a lot of times they don’t work and you learn and move on.