This winter was the third time I was teaching Introduction to Industrial Design Methods. When I left RISD and came to Northwestern, my obsession was "process." This is because in my undergraduate education, I don't necessarily feel like we had a clear picture of what our process was. We were doing it, but didn't necessarily have the meta-level view of what we were doing. When I came to NU and DFA, people had this articulated (plus in other locations like IDEO, Roger Martin's work, and other places.) When I read about how others were describing the design process it felt like coming home. It felt like a big "aha" of "yes, that's what I do!" but didn't know what to call it.
As a result, when I first taught Intro to ID, I thought surely, this is the most important factor for students to learn about, the "process." Any mention of aesthetics or form, I didn't really care about and thought was perhaps frivolous. However, after being at NU for a year now, I realize, these students are already being taught process. They do it all the time from year one, which is great, and I slowly realized that what these students needed was an understanding not of process or function, but a way to discuss and communicate through form. Since while even in school I did my best to not design products, this meant I had to search for my connection to Industrial Design. What was it about Industrial Design that I could get excited about?
Upon reflection, as I was on vacation in a very beautiful setting, I put my ID cap back on after some time and looked at the design of objects from the perspective of form. As I did this, I found it increasingly fascinating that people have different taste for what they like and there is no one right design for everyone. What I came to see more clearly was how the design of objects either do or do not reflect a person. People could either see themselves in an object or they don't. This became my hook, something I could be excited about, "how does form reflect our identity?"
So this became the starting point of my class. From finding emotional expression through a chair to reflecting the needs of a user through a brand, this was the thread that kept me going and kept me excited about teaching ID. And now as I continue in my everyday life, I see more than ever how the aesthetic and form affects my own emotion. Design helps me feel at home or reminds me of my isolation. Design keeps me connected to my past and helps me find my future. Just as we find the perfect song to reflect our mood, or person to share our time with, design reflects who we are as people and can give us a deep rooted sense of place. Whether it's remembrance of our past, reflections of our current, or aspirations for our future, we are all looking connection. I believe now more than ever that the form and aesthetic of our designed experiences helps us find this.
- Sami Nerenberg
- Currently the Director of Operations for Design for America (DFA) and a lecturer at the Segal Design Institute at Northwestern University, I am a San Francisco native and passionate about the intersection of design education and local/social impact. My studio, students' projects, and DFA have been discussed in publications and blogs such as Fast Company, Chicago Tribune, Inc Magazine, Huffington Post, Core77 and more. I have been fortunate enough to have spoken and given workshops at TEDx, the NE IDSA Conference, Better Word by Design Conferences, Fulbright Seminar, and given workshops at college campuses across the country. I earned my BFA in industrial design at the Rhode Island School of Design where I received RISD’s Community Service Award and the Rachel Carson Award upon graduation. I am currently working on a masters in learning and organizational change at Northwestern University. At the start, I founded and taught the advanced studio, Design for Social Entrepreneurship at RISD, Design Futures at Pratt and worked with nonprofits such as Design that Matters and GreenBlue.