Storyboard: Elise Co

Crafter and Technologist

I’ve always liked making things — crafting — ever since I was little; sewing, knitting, embroidery, you name it. I got into lacemaking and crochet in middle school. I had a phase where I made elaborate tassels and replicated Victorian ribbon work. I tried bookbinding. I had a dollhouse and made miniature furniture, food and clothing.

You often hear about kids who like to take apart clocks or radios and put them back together - in someone’s origin story that’s always a sign they’ll be an engineer or an inventor. I didn’t care about clocks or radios, but I always loved textiles, clothes, jewelry and beautiful objects. I didn’t have access to much of it to take apart, but I learned everything I could about how they were put together. I always tried to make my own version of something I admired: a Fabergé egg, a jeweled velvet book with illuminated pages, a Garfield t-shirt.

My versions were very poor substitutes, but for me, it’s less about a finished product than it is about learning technique. Really, I’m interested in the process of making. What can I say? I enjoy the nuts-and-bolts side of things.

In middle school, when I was too old for after-school care but too young (according to my parents) to be home by myself, I had to go to the library every day after school and stay there until one of them finished work and could pick me up. Those three years in the library were probably some of the best education I ever had. I learned what I was interested in, and also learned how to find something interesting in almost anything.

The library set me up well to be a “jack of all trades, master of none,” a role I embraced.

I always did well in math and science, and decided to apply to MIT on a whim. Like other people I know who couldn't decide between engineering and art, I studied architecture.

My husband, Nikita Pashenkov, is both a life and a work partner. We met as researchers at the MIT Media Lab, where the motto at the time was “demo or die.” Together, we are co-founders of Aeolab, an LA-based technology and design firm with an emphasis on prototyping. We specialize in systems that you can’t find off-the-shelf, from a BMW prototype that re-imagines the future of mobility from the interactive user-experience side, to a crank-powered camera designed exclusively for children. Nikita and I also have three kids. Every project, and every day, is different.

I come to academic work from a technologist’s perspective. At Aeolab, projects are often designed already, and we’re focused on implementation, willing the prototype to life. Of course, a lot of design and strategy emerges from prototyping. It’s a bonus for clients, but in my teaching I can make that more of the main focus: discovery through making.

I cherish the conversations I have with my students; I think we discover a lot together. There’s idealism surrounding their work, but also practicality and purpose.

When I started, teaching at ArtCenter felt like a side gig. These days, it’s very much a primary focus. Whether it’s sponsored projects that lean on experiential expertise with real-world clients, co-teaching with amazing fellow faculty, or working with so many talented students, I don’t take a moment of it for granted. And yet, there is still that part of me that can’t get over how cool it is that you can just get a bunch of thread and make lace out of it. May I never lose touch with that side of myself.

Elise Co
Principal, Aeolab
Professor, Interaction Design and Graduate Media Design Practices

There is still that part of me that can’t get over how cool it is that you can just get a bunch of thread and make lace out of it.

Elise CoProfessor, Interaction Design and MDP
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