We had the chance to sit down and interview Professor Josh Owen about his new position as the Department Chair of Industrial Design.
Student: First of all congratulations on your new title as Department Chair of ID. Building on the current departments long successful history, what new goals do you hope to accomplish for this academic year and what changes can students expect right away?
Professor Owen: The ID program at RIT is overflowing with talent and goodwill and because of this, opportunity abounds. Our faculty and students are a cohort of smart and enthusiastic individuals with a healthy respect for pluralistic thought. While ID covers many different areas, there is something particularly special about the culture of RIT that breeds and enhances the broad scope of our reach. Our strategic advantage is being a powerful design school within a university. At the same time, I have inherited the challenges that come with a running a successful program. As interest in our program continues to rise, we must find ways to improve and expand our facilities to accommodate our growing student population and add more full-time faculty to properly handle this growth. Finding innovative ways to address these challenges are priorities. The goal is to make ID even more visible and mobilize resources to work in our favor. In the immediate term, students will witness some fast changes: we are working on rebranding the department by rolling out new imagery and information in our physical spaces which will help us wear our successes on our sleeve, so to speak. There will be an overhaul of the display cases, etc. and a fresh injection of imagery visible in the common areas which will expose our process and products. These efforts will coincide with a very impressive exhibit of ID Alumni work during Brick City weekend in the form of the inaugural Design Autopsy exhibition which draws on our extensive and impressive (not to mention dedicated) alumni base.
Student: I’ve been walking around the departments fourth floor studio and it already appears that some major cosmetic changes have happened with the floor plan. Can you give students insight on to why the changes have happened and what new ones might be coming? Is this an effort to rebrand the ID department?
Professor Owen: While you may begin to see things which seem cosmetic, it is important to note that these are part of a larger vision which will help focus and extend our mission and vision. These changes are being implemented in order to help tell the story of the program with words, images and artifacts; past present and future. We will be using evidence of process and product to explain the design thinking we do in our physical spaces as well as on the official and unofficial websites and social media platforms. We have a great team of faculty and students who have been hard at work to unify all of these virtual and physical spaces together. We wish to be a nexus for collaboration – even more than we currently are. Showing ourselves will enhance future opportunities for this.
Student: What, if any, big projects are you working on outside of RIT and how do you see these influencing your academic career in the ID department?
Professor Owen: I am a firm believer that faculty scholarship and practice are a vitally important for a program to achieve excellence. Mixing teaching and practice is a way to achieve this goal by bringing real clients into our teaching objectives. One of the strengths of our faculty is the broad range of scholarship and practice. Some of us practice by developing products for the marketplace, while others publish and present in critical contexts, and still others exhibit their experiments through artistic venues. All these are equally valid modes of excogitation. Personally, I find my professional design work helps me identify critical real-world lessons that can be applied in the classroom. These lessons have led to opportunities where I have been able to bring my industry partnerships into the academy. At the moment Areaware, a client I have designed products for, is now the sponsor of the Metaproject 03 studio. This will allow students to gain insights from a global leader by understanding their DNA through experiential learning.
Student: Finally, given that you will be in this position for the next several years, what direction do you hope to see the department going in the next 10 years?
Professor Owen: I am fortunate to have inherited a strong program from my talented colleague and friend, former ID Program Chair Stan Rickel. His time at the helm fostered an extremely flexible and healthy context in which to work and experiment. The next decade will be one which builds on the flexiblity that Stan fought hard to win and will expose those virtues to the global stage. The program has sustained a healthy consistency in delivering well-prepared graduates into the marketplace since the early 1970′s. It is time to leverage that reputation into strategic relationships with industry leaders which will help to direct our capabilities into even greater critical outcomes. We have the Vignelli Center, The Center for Student Innovation, partnerships with Sustainability, Engineering, Business, Health and our friends in the rich Art and Craft areas. Over the coming years we will see the RIT ID brand become more visible in the world, carrying a message of thoughtful, humanistic contribution which people will know beyond a set of skills.
Professor Owen has taken on the responsibilities once held by Professor Stan Rickel, who will continue on with his role as the Graduate Coordinator for the Industrial Design department. Professor Josh Owen can be found on the fourth floor of the Booth Hall 7A, office number 4570.
At RIT, we believe that industrial design education lies at the nexus of theory, process and practice. Industrial design is a human-centered discipline which requires an understanding of the complex relationships between culture and commerce. Our varied and experienced faculty expose our students to the history, context and state of the art while imparting the skills necessary to compete as contemporary designers.
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