How did I get into industrial design?

I consider myself pretty lucky. Not just because of the amazing support system I have from my family and friends, but also because I was exposed to problem solving and design at such an early stage.

I was always solving problems as a child, whether it was me being a sneaky child covering up something I've done wrong or attempting to fix a toy. I was always doing it. I grew up with a family filled with artists, designers, architects, and mechanics so, I guess you can say it's in my blood. My dad was a mechanic and he was the best handyman I knew. From bicycles to cars to clogged sinks, he knew how to do it all. My older sister is a successful graphic designer. I look up to her in the design world. We shared rooms for a couple of years before she moved out of the house and when we did share rooms, it was during her MFA Graphic Design program. I've watched her stay up all night on the computer create beautiful posters and layouts. I've seen her get stressed out with her thesis project and the packaging that had to be done in time for her presentation. I was amazed by it all. My other cousins were into design and art as well, whether it was graphic design, fashion design, web design, or fine arts. We all inspired each other to be creative. 

In elementary school I remember being excited about school projects because that meant I got to layout photos and words to make it "look cool". I was into layouts, making models, and art. I was never good in sketching, but excelled in layouts as an elementary/ middle school kid. I remember one time my sister and I went to the Westlake Public Library to borrow books and she borrowed a stack of design books. I remember going through them and be like "Wow. This is amazing." One particular book stood out to me and it was called, "World Changing: A User's Guide for the 21st Century" by Alex Steffen, Al Gore and Designed by Sagmeister Inc. You must be thinking, "Wow, she remembered all that?" No, of course not. A few years ago, I decided to purchase the book off of Amazon. I keep my copy on my desk to remind me where I started. This book had images and paragraphs of how to solve the world's problems. I think at the time, as a middle schooler, I was more into the photos showing technology, biomorphism, wearables, etc.

It was in middle school when I started to really appreciate design and products surrounding me. The first product that really stood out to me was the Chrome Industries messenger bag. This was in 2007 before Chrome blew up as a company these last few years. I appreciated how innovative their seat belt buckle was and how functional it was for a messenger bag. More ID related, I was intrigued by the One Laptop per Child project. As an 8th grader, I was initially amazed by how "cool" this laptop looked! I wanted one for myself. I then read more about it and found out it was a non-profit that helped children learn in developing countries. 

Moving on to high school, things were getting real. After four years, I was off to college. I originally set my eyes to study engineering, you know, to make my parents happy... but after taking a geometry class my Freshmen year, I hated math. So math was ruled out, but I still had history and science to try. After taking AP Physics, lets just say, "No way, Jose". Don't get me wrong, I still love science and physics, but I would never see myself studying that or doing a 9-5 job for that. The only thing that kept up with me in high school was my love of layouts, photography, and beautiful design. So, one night I went to AAU's website and narrowed it down to three majors: Graphic Design, Architecture, and Industrial Design. I had no idea what industrial design was, but I thought it sounded interesting. 

I did research on the three, and that's when I learned about industrial design and thought, "woah woah woah, wait, so you can actually make things look pretty, solve problems AND do it for a living?!" I found out AAU had a Pre-College program that offered high school students a take on what it's like to study at a art/design school and to see if they want to get into that major. It took sometime to convince my parents to let me attend the program. It was a $500+ program and I managed to save money from my birthday/ holidays to let them know that they didn't have to worry about paying for it. I wanted to attend that bad. I ended up taking a graphic design course, interior architecture, product design, and transportation design. Right off the bat, I hated transportation design. I hated sketching cars, I was more of a bicycle person. My favorite class was the product design class taught by the legendary Jim Shook. He brought in the school's Executive Director, the father of the Miata, Tom Matano. This class was where  I was officially introduced to the design process: defining a problem, research, ideation/ concept development, and prototyping. I loved it all. At the end of the program, I completed a mediocre design project revolving around a "tea bag holder". We all remember our first ever design project, good or bad. It was definitely an interesting one. From that day on, I knew I wanted to study industrial design. As much as I enjoyed graphic design, I loved industrial design and creating physical products that helped people live easier lives. The fact that it was science, business, and art in one major, is amazing. After participating in the Pre-College program, I wanted to be done with high school and study design already! 

Senior year in high school and I was ready to be done and study design. That final year, I really focused on photography. I was the school's official photographer and also chose photography as a concentration for my AP Studio Art class. While, photography trained my eye and enjoyed sharing images of captured moments through my own eyes, design was constantly on my mind. College apps were approaching and I already knew what I wanted to study. I had my mind officially set on industrial design. I applied to AAU, SJSU, and SFSU as a back up. I got into all three schools and decided to stay in SF and study at AAU since: 1) I had existing credit from the pre-college experience and 2) I was already familiar and comfortable with the school, Jim Shook, and the director Tom Matano.

Fast forward to present day, my final year of design school, and everyday I'm grateful to be able to study something that I've been passionate about pretty much my whole life. I've seen myself grow as an industrial design student. I was just speaking to Tom Matano the other day regarding my design career as an ID student at AAU and we discussed how he's basically seen grow as a designer from the very start. It's crazy how I've been at AAU since my high school days and I'm off to graduate with a BFA next year, with my last semester this fall. Time flies, and it's awesome to share that experience with someone with so much knowledge in field like Tom. He's always checked up on me to see what I was up to and given me advice when I needed it. The support system I have from family, friends, instructors, and my mentors is incredible. 

 I can't wait to keep growing, improving and learning. I'm excited to see what's in store for me in the near future. 

Industrial designer in the making....




Mary Tolosa