Storyboard: Hrag Nassanian

The why behind the what

As a kid, I didn't have the patience to draw things as I saw them. Instead of studying to get the details and proportions just right, I preferred to get a good look and fill in the details as I saw fit. I didn't see the point of replicating objects as they were. It wasn't fun for me. This was my first push into design.

Back then, I drew a lot of cars. Cars are fast and shiny. They were the spark that kept my interest in design going through high school. I was lucky to grow up in Pasadena, where ArtCenter offered classes for high schoolers.

At the time, it was called ArtCenter Saturday High. For the first time in my life, I was in a room with other kids who wanted to be designers, and they were better than me! The instructors were industry leaders. My instructors were car designers at Honda! With the flames stoked, the pressure was on to excel.

However, with car design, my interest was waning. I liked generating ideas more than putting in the time to create the shiny renderings to communicate the design. Who remembers chalk pastels and Webril wipes?

The turning point was going to Pasadena Community College (PCC). That's where I took product design classes taught by Stan Kong, a pivotal part of my design trajectory. Product design was challenging, and it was fun to think about using design to improve consumer lives and solve problems. Fumbling with chalk and frisket to make shiny car renderings was over. I was hooked.

When I got into ArtCenter, it was for Product Design. Once again, I was in an environment that pushed me forward and fast. The instructors were leaders in their field and passionate about design. I was surrounded by talented students from around the world who would do whatever it took to succeed. Remember all-nighters?

At ArtCenter, my passion for design was at an all-time high. It was the perfect environment that nurtured my growth, and it was hard. I had conflicting priorities. On the one hand, I wanted to slow down to savor and learn from each step of the process. On the other hand, slowing down was sometimes detrimental to delivering the final model.

My first role out of school was Product Designer for a small consultancy called Roundhouse, which was later acquired by Targus. My first project as a professional was designing a family of soft lunch coolers. I couldn't believe they were trusting me with this entire product collection. It turned out great, and I quickly realized that school was hard so that being a professional would be easy.

I learned a lot in those first few years, but something was missing. At Targus, the sales and marketing team drove the design, and it was arbitrary. Whoever showed a design that looked fast or futuristic got their work produced. There was no connection to the consumer.

It wasn't until I got to Nike that things felt right. Design exists to improve the performance of consumers. Designers have research, performance data, user experience, and market research to inform their work. There's always a "why" behind the "what." The product that comes out at the end is a direct consequence of everything that came before it. Nothing is arbitrary. Full-circle back to the inspiration from Stan Kong that got me into Product Design from the start.

Now I look at design holistically. Designing the user experience is the core foundation of everything I do with my accessories business, WAYFINDER. I'm learning that every brand touchpoint is an opportunity to gain or lose the consumer's attention. Designing great products is only the first step.

With 20 years of distance from my academic career, I find myself in a reflective mood. I often think about sustainability and the consequences of the design decisions I make today, and how it will impact the world we live in tomorrow. How can I offer more by physically creating less?

I'm still as passionate and excited about design as the kid that showed up for ArtCenter Saturday High classes. How can I stoke that same level of excitement for the next generation of designers?

Hrag Nassanian
BS 00 Product Design
Founder, WAYFINDER. Former Senior Product Designer, Nike
Former Instructor, ArtCenter at Night, 2005

I’m still as passionate about design as the kid who showed up for Saturday High classes.

Hrag NassanianBS 00 Product Design
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