Inspiring the next gen of designers

I recently joined the mentor program at my alma mater, University of Illinois at Chicago, in which I meet with a small group of industrial design students every month or so to advise them on their studies. So far, as most other mentors say, I think it is helping me more than it helps them.

1) Makes me feel like I actually know something
It’s a purely selfish motivation, but it feels good to feel smart. Starting and running Po Campo has shown me how little I know because every day is filled with new lessons, mostly learned from making mistakes. But, working with the students, I feel like a genius! I’ve realized how much I’ve learned (and accomplished) since I was in their shoes as a sophomore in undergraduate studies.


My mentor group, meeting at the humble Po Campo studio. “This is what starting your own business looks like!”

2) Reminds me why I got into design in the first place
I fell in love with industrial design the moment I learned about it. I thought it seemed like the perfect job for someone like me, somebody who liked to make and sell things.

Now after working as a professional industrial designer for about 12 years, I appreciate the breadth of the profession. There are so many things you can do with ID training, from designing cell phones to museum exhibits to starting your own company (hello Po Campo!). All those possibilities begin with these first design courses, when you learn how to get the ideas from your head onto paper, and then learn how to evolve them and share them and – hopefully – make them real. My days are now filled with spreadsheets and supply chain issues, so it is enjoyable to table the “business side” of design for a little bit and just get into the nitty gritty of how to design something that looks nice and works well.


Prototype of desktop pen organizer for semester final

3) Teaches me how to teach
Before starting Po Campo, I worked at design agency Webb deVlam, where I held a senior position and would manage small project teams. Now, as owner and “boss” at Po Campo, I realize how easy I had it then. It’s much easier to manage people who are skilled, experienced, and doing a job you know how to do. It’s much harder to manage a small, inexperienced staff in doing a job you don’t really know how to do (or the best way to do it, anyway). See point #1 above.

Since the latter scenario is my new reality , mentoring this small group of ID students feels like teaching with training wheels. I am teaching something I know reasonably well but to a student who is very fresh, but also very eager to learn.


My co-mentor Bill working with a student

If I could impart one lesson, it would be to not get to discouraged and to keep at it. Despite being probably the coolest job on earth, industrial design careers tend to be rather bumpy and it can take awhile to find your place. But, perhaps that is how most things in life are.

Since I am new at this, I’m interested in hearing what your experiences are with teaching/mentoring or inspiring the next generation in your field. Please share in the comments below!

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