John Traub

2011 SMA | John Traub, IDSA | University of Notre Dame

If you find John Traub anywhere, he will probably have an ideabook open and a sketch or two in progress. After all, his enchantment with illustrating an idea is what drew him to choose industrial design as a profession.

When he enrolled at Notre Dame, Traub flirted with architecture, engineering and fine art before landing in the school’s design program. The first product he worked on wasn’t up to his aesthetic standards, but it did introduce him to how design gets done.

In a Product 1 Class, Traub took up the task of designing a solution for hanging posters or artwork in a home environment without damaging the artwork or the environment. He devised a modified clamp system that called for a reusable adhesive to create a buffer surface so as to avoid directly piercing either the artwork or the wall on which it would be hung. “The sketches were awful,” recalled Traub. “The accomplishment was gaining an understanding of the design process.”

As he progressed through his coursework in South Bend, Traub also got off campus to intern at Machine Art and Insight Product Development. “I got a really good feel for the atmosphere of a consultancy at Machine Art,” he said. “My big takeaway from my time at Insight was the workflow: how a project is introduced, how people collaborate and how a product moves through its development.”

Like every Notre Dame grad before him, Traub has just completed an intense full-year experience to wrap up and apply everything he learned—research, ethnography, problem solving, exhibit design, motion graphics and presenting an idea—during his four years of undergrad studies. His senior thesis, a concept for a shelter space for transit users rethinks a bus stop as a social space. The design uses social media for wayfinding and projects media feeds onto a surface to create an ambient sense of being connected with fellow travelers. “A lot of this technology exists, but it’s not being used in this way yet,” he noted. “For example, the hub could sense your presence and react to you like Pandora.”

Traub is the fourth Notre Dame student to win the Midwest Student Merit Award in the last five years. The Irish dynasty could be viewed as a product of the competitive yet nurturing culture that exists in the university’s design studio. The word most often used to describe it is “family.” In Traub’s case, his classmates giveth and his classmates taketh away. “In St. Louis, I was up really late the night before the Student Merit Presentations,” he said. “My laptop doesn’t have CS so a classmate let me borrow his. By time I finished tweaking my presentation, I had to sleep on the couch with a towel as my pillow because my classmates had taken all the beds in our hotel room.”

Reflecting on one of his favorite designs, Traub reveals an instinct for responsibility. “There are a group of  tribesman who live deep in the bush and who use these chewable sticks to brush their teeth. It’s a genius design. But you can’t really export it from their villages. As soon as you apply a package to it, it’s not sustainable anymore.”

In expressing his own design philosophy, Traub betrays just a touch of his natural artistic sensibilities. “There’s a certain pleasure in whimsical design.” John Traub can be reached via