2010 IDSA Education Award
Jim Lesko’s design roots run very deep. While pursuing his BFA in design at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, he encountered Bauhaus ex-pats like Walter Gropius and Josef Albers. When he graduated from CIT in 1965 and joined Westinghouse Electric Corporation as a staff designer, he crossed paths with the likes of Charles Eames, Eliot Noyes, Paul Rand and Buckminster Fuller.
In 1971, Jim returned to what had been renamed Carnegie-Mellon University to obtain a master’s in industrial design. After completing his first MFA, he launched his education career by accepting a teaching position at Purdue University where he would help rebuild a dying design program. Jim then moved from Purdue to the University of Cincinnati where his UC students helped hatch the idea for a text book about materials and manufacturing processes. After concluding his time at UC, Jim returned to design practice and taught part-time at Pratt.
In 1985, Jim accepted an invitation to teach at CMU and studied design history intensely. His work established Donald Dohner as creator of the world’s first industrial design program and revealed Maud Bowers as the first person to receive a baccalaureate degree in industrial design. Somehow, Jim also found time to chair IDSA’s Western Pennsylvania chapter.
In 1996, after securing an MFA in sculpture, Jim joined a struggling design program at the University of Bridgeport. As head of art and design, Jim built two computer labs, re-established the model shop, beefed up the graphic design faculty and re-energized the interior design program. He also helped relocate the art and design program to a new building and instituted an annual alumni show. He initiated a visiting professor program which helped pave the way for the establishment of the Hanyang University Design Center at the University of Bridgeport. In his spare time, Jim chaired IDSA’s Connecticut chapter and completed work on his book, Industrial Design Materials and Manufacturing, which has become a primary reference text for ID programs worldwide.
Jim retired from the University of Bridgeport in 2005. In 2006, he took a teaching position at Dongseo University in Busan, South Korea. He recently announced that 2010 would be his final year teaching full-time. We’d like to say that we believe him, but we’re not entirely convinced.
Over the years, Jim Lesko’s students have racked up numerous design awards and have gone on to have their own deep impacts on the design profession. In retracing his long-winding career path, Jim’s work at the University of Bridgeport may have been his crowning achievement
Colleague Mark Steiner recalls the dire situation at Bridgeport. “For most design professionals in the area, it was considered a daunting task that no one wanted. Jim was unaffected by the political and monetary obstacles and stalwart in his efforts to bring the UB students the quality education they deserved. Jim was relentless in calling on local consultants, and corporate designers to donate their time as adjunct professors. He convinced all of us that it was in our best interest to help educate the local talent so they stay local. It worked. Several of the students I helped mentor came to work for me helping my firm win several prestigious design awards.”
That kind of doggedness and a prevailing urge to share wisdom have earned Jim Lesko his own permanent place in industrial design history.