Tanner Wills

“Today more than ever, industrial designers are in a unique position to facilitate a change in the world. Our role as advocates of the user and their needs leaves us with a great opportunity to create powerful product experiences that push the boundaries currently defined.”

—Tanner Wills, IDSA, West District Student Merit Award Winner

As a child, Tanner Wills, IDSA, often accompanied his father to work in the toy industry. “He would drop me off at the design department to keep me entertained,” he recalls. “It was there I first met the designers behind the scenes. I remember being completely mesmerized at their concept art and mock up prototypes while witnessing the raw creativity of the profession first hand.”

Later, as a hobby, Wills would disassemble electronic toys and try to use the parts to make functional movie props from his favorite films. “Naturally the hands-on aspect of an industrial design major drew me in as the perfect creative outlet,” he explains. In his junior year of high school in California, after visiting college design programs, "there was no doubt in my mind I had to do industrial design.” He was accepted at Arizona State University and last summer, interned at Lifestyle Design in Santa Barbara, CA, helping design a wide range of products including audio headphones, camping equipment and even dental tools.

In April 2016, Wills won the IDSA Student Merit Award at the IDSA West District Design Conference in Denver. He showcased three projects: Zye arthritis-friendly cookware; Legacy hybrid jigsaw; and Joey baby carrier. Wills had the most fun designing Joey, a re-design that allows the user to quickly remove a child from the carrying device without waking up the child. “The ultimate goal was to design a disruptive new product in an already crowded marketplace that would connect with young parents by bringing back a ‘lost feeling of youth.’ This project was achieved through the combination of intuitive design and unique functionality.“

The idea came to Wills during an airport layover; necessity, after all, is the “parent” of invention. “I observed many coming-of-age parents just a few years older than myself struggling with the functionality of their carrying devices,” he says. Winning the SMA left him with “an overwhelming feeling of gratification for the numerous all-nighters put in over the last few years.” Wills graduated in May 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in ID from Arizona State. He moved right into an internship at CamelBak in Petaluma, CA—just north of the Bay Area.

Looking ahead, Wills says he’s most interested in projects/ startups that will have an impact on the world. “I want to design products that matter,” he says. Some day, he hopes to start his own design firm, expressing his unique perspective on design—whatever that may be at the time, because, “it constantly changes and grows.”

“Today more than ever, industrial designers are in a unique position to facilitate a change in the world,” finds Wills. “Our role as advocates of the user and their needs leaves us with a great opportunity to create powerful product experiences that push the boundaries currently defined. Once cold and impersonal, technology is now viewed as the glue that binds our societies and cultures together. We as a species have more interaction with technology than ever before, creating endless opportunities for change and inspiration.”

He adds, “In a world where people express themselves through the products and service that we use, we need to be acute listeners of people and try to empathize with them; recognizing the responsibility in our hands to direct humanity in a positive, enlightened direction that promotes healthy self-reflection.”