“Whenever someone asks me ‘What is industrial design?’ I point to a nearby object and ask them why do they think the product exists, and why is it designed in such a way. I will keep pointing out examples until they see just how much impact industrial design has. Instead of explaining industrial design to people, I have found that I can make a larger impact by helping people see the influence industrial design has on their everyday lives.”
The parents of Geemay Chia, IDSA, came to the United States from Taipei, Taiwan to study technical fields in graduate school. After their daughter was born in Cleveland, OH, they recognized her affinity for art, and sent her to summer drawing classes at the Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA). It was there during an official campus tour in her junior year of high school that Geemay learned about industrial design. “I’ve always liked making things with my hands when I was a child," she says. "The idea of designing something that can potentially influence or improve aspects of people’s lives was very exciting for me."
Geemay earned several scholarships, attended CIA and completed internships at Little Tikes and SmartShape. She worked with a selected group of classmates on surgical tools for Stryker and independently on a social concept vehicle project for Dodge 2060. In spring of 2015, Geemay graduated with a bachelor of fine arts in industrial design from CIA.
Her presentation at IDSA’s 2015 Central District Design Conference featured Clean Mate—an all-in-one walker, seat and cleaning supply storage solution. It also won Bronze in the 2015 International Design Excellence Awards Student Category and second place in the 2015 International Housewares Association’s Student Design Competition. Clean Mate is the result of Geemay’s determination to help seniors or those with special needs, maintain a clean environment with dignity.
“I believe that being empathetic is a vital quality for an Industrial designer,” she explains. “That's why in my work, I design products that are not only commercially viable, but also benefit people in their everyday lives. Nothing helps me understand people better than working directly with them. As a result, I take extra steps to understand people's problems and experiences on a more personal level."
Geemay also created an age suit that replicates common physical limitations. She wore it around her home to experience for herself the struggles some people may encounter. "I could see things through their eyes and experience frustrations from their perspectives," she says. "It was disorienting, but insightful. Through the age suit, I experienced firsthand problems I had to address." With the help of two woodshop teachers at CIA and at Thinkbox at Case Western Reserve University, Geemay prototyped a full-scale model of the age suit that also was presented at the International Housewares Show.
Geemay, who speaks three languages, sees the value of ID in making connections as well. “The ability of industrial design to communicate and resonate with the consumer is a large part of ID’s success. I believe design can harness new technology or innovation and transform it into something that is relevant and beneficial for people.”
She says each of her products is the result of struggle and perseverance. "If I compromise and produce something subpar, I am left with a permanent reminder of what could have been. All the hard work and frustration up to that point is a wasted effort. However, when pieces start coming together and I have designed something considered and compelling, I feel accomplished. To me, that is the most rewarding sensation in the world."