Hector Silva, IDSA
IDSA Young Educator of the Year: 2017
Communications Chair, IDSA Chicago Chapter | 2020-2021
Words such as enthusiastic, motivational, inspirational and collaborative come to mind when describing IDSA member Hector Silva’s passion for design education. And in August 2017—those and other attributes helped the chair of IDSA’s Chicago Chapter and new research assistant professor at the University of Notre Dame—earn the title of IDSA’s Young Educator of the Year.
However, it may be the word determination that best defined Silva when he first dove into the creative. The Chicago native attended Curie Metropolitan High School—a public school known for its performing arts program. His sculpture and technical theater teachers pointed him in the direction of design.
Silva then applied to the scenic design program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) —but wasn’t accepted. So he joined with an undeclared major, took introductory courses in scenic design and fine arts—and found out he wasn’t quite a fit for scenic design after all.
Silva had a challenging start. “I wasn’t the very best student,” he concedes. “I procrastinated a lot.” At the end of his “foundation year,” Silva scored an interview with the ID chair. He didn’t get in to the ID program. But he appealed—and the second time proved to be a charm.
When he graduated, it was 2008, and the economy had collapsed. “Only about five out of 35 kids in my class got hired,” recalls Silva. “Designers are problem solvers—now we had to apply those skills to our real lives. I focused on marketing myself.” Silva also founded H Design and freelanced for Nickelodeon, DesignLab, Foster Grant, Insight Product Development and LeapFrog. But he was tired of “being on this carousel” of freelance work. In 2010, Silva joined the IDSA Chicago Professional Chapter as student liaison, then became vice chair in 2014 and chair in 2016. He calls the chapter “the most important part of his bio.”
Silva applied to grad school at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), as the School of Design was separating from the College of Fine Arts. “My class was small and we were the guinea pigs,” recalls Silva. “I was excited about that!” In 2015, Silva focused his graduate thesis on medical design, specifically in diabetes care. He graduated in May and became an adjunct instructor in sketching at UIC in August. In 2016, his diabetes wearable concept won the Core 77 Student Notable Consumer Product Award.
Silva then became an adjunct assistant professor at UIC—teaching introductory courses in design and design sketching. He held weekly Sketchwars to showcase the handiwork of professional designers and founded Advanced Design Sketching, a collaboration among UIC facility, UIC IDSA Student Chapter and IDSA Chicago Chapter. All-day sketching workshops once a week for 12 weeks in the summer attracted top sketchers including Jeff Smith, IDSA. And with the help of Autodesk, Silva set up a one-of-a-kind library with more than 60 sketching videos featuring interviews from designers around the world—andin October 2017, organized a conference built around design sketching: SQ1CON. Silva himself was named among "10 Analogue Sketch Pros You Need to Know" by Coroflot.
In 2017—a new journey began—as Silva was asked to “bring his energy” to Notre Dame by IDSA Board of Directors Education Director and Notre Dame ID Professor Scott Shim. It is yet another challenge that Silva is more than eager to take on, to inspire the next generation of designers. “I am shocked and humbled by the opportunity,” he says.
Silva does see the need for more diversity among designers. “One of the biggest reasons why I look up to (IDSA member and former UIC visiting professor) Alex Lobos—he was the first non-white designer, educator I came across; and subconsciously that was important to me. It definitely made me think more about a design career.”
Silva also acknowledges a gender gap. “I know industrial design is a very male dominated field right now. I started Advanced Sketching with a clean slate—let’s get more female student designers to come forward and lead. Most of the students involved are dedicated women. But we have a long way to go. You never really finish something; it just evolves to make it a better situation for everyone.”