Tell us a bit about yourself…
I’m originally from Hong Kong, and I studied Industrial Design at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in the US. I was always a tinkerer. As a kid I loved to draw, make things from whatever materials I could find, and take things apart.
I was first introduced to design as an actual career path in high school, where I took a design and technology class for a few years. I learned basic techniques in hand and industrial fabrication, and was also exposed to how good design could make a product much usable and desirable. I decided that this blend of creativity, hands on skills, and problem solving was what I wanted to do.
At RISD, I dived into industrial design, exploring the wider applications: not just designing products, but systems, digital applications, and even spacecraft. RISD also gave me a much deeper understanding of how things were made in the real world by allowing us to experiment with metal, wood, and plastic with our own hands. I had a lot of fun at RISD, and it prepared me a lot for the real world of design (even though I didn’t know it at the time).
What are your biggest sources of inspiration?
My biggest source of inspiration would be seeing things around me, and imagining how they could be better, simpler, more intuitive. Of course I’m also inspired greatly by famous designers and designs that have made an impact on our world. Along with many others, I admire Apple for their continuing ability to innovate and push technology forward to the users benefit, while promoting an excellence in design and giving their devices a character that defines consumer electronics today. Other designers whose work inspires me include Naoto Fukasawa, Dieter Rams, Charles and Ray Eames. I also find a lot of inspiration in where I live. I’ve lived in so many different cities around the world, each giving me a different feel and mindset that influences my work.
You’re were an intern for NASA. Could you describe a typical day at your internship there?
I was an intern at the Habitability Design Center at NASA Johnson Space Center - a human centered design group that provided design services for various habitability projects from astronaut’s sleeping quarters on the International Space Station, to more conceptual habitats and vehicles for future missions (check out Core77′s visit).
A typical day there might start with a morning talk with our supervisors (two of which are also RISD graduates!) to discuss what needed to be done for the day. There might be some conceptual spacecraft layout sketching to be done, or some CAD work on some equipment we were designing, ordering parts for those equipment designs.
The day might also include some more hands-on work like building space suit mockups in the shops, helping construct a vehicle mockup out of aluminum extrusions, packing food and supplies for habitability experiments out in the desert. Sometimes we’d just go exploring around Johnson Space Center, gathering information and research for our projects. We saw a lot of cool stuff that way. Sometimes we also got to attend lectures by previous astronauts and other aerospace experts. They had some good stories to tell.
What’s your favorite thing about being an intern for NASA?
Probably getting to see all the spacecraft and equipment. Seeing the real deal is really cool. Just knowing that some of this stuff is being used in space is pretty amazing. Also to know you’re contributing in some small way to the endeavour of human space flight is rewarding. NASA is a massive organization, and maybe its not what it used to be in its glory days, but to know you had some small part in it is a once in a lifetime experience.
What’s the most difficult, or most surprising, thing about being an industrial designer?
The most difficult thing I’ve experienced in my short career so far is juggling all the demands of the design. The client wants it to be one way, we as designers want it to be this way, the users might want something that isn’t quite feasible, the manufacturer wants it to be easy to make. Since I’ve been working at a few consultancies since I graduated, I get to see a lot of this juggling. Designers can be dreamers, but at the end of the day to get a product made, there are a lot of constraints to work around. And that takes as much creativity as dreaming up crazy ideas, I think.
Why do you prefer Copic markers for your sketches?
I got introduced to Copics in a rendering for product design class in my sophomore year of RISD. Since then I’ve always used Copics when possible. They cover the paper much better without blotting or streaks. Also I love that you can refill them without buying a whole new pen. A refill lasts forever! Of course, I also like the fact that Copics don’t give off as strong a smell that other markers do.
You have your whole career ahead of you. Any future goals or plans that you’d like to share?
It’s pretty early in my career right now, and I’m still discovering what I want to do in the real world of design. But I know I want to be in a place in the future where I can be designing real products that have meaning to people and improve the way they live, whether it be at a consultancy or at a corporation.
What words of advice would you give to aspiring industrial designers?
I would say the most important thing to aspiring designers is to be aware, and keep an open mind. Design is everywhere, and a designer’s major talent is to see things in a way that most people don’t, and see creative solutions to problems. It’s easy to get trapped in one way of thinking about design, and its important to expose yourself to many different ways of seeing the world. When you’re in school or a young professional, I think it’s also important to always be open to learning. I’m still constantly learning about the craft of product design from my fellow designers, and I’ve got a long way to go still!