Jacob Rynkiewicz, IDSA

Jacob Rynkiewicz, IDSA
University of Illinois at Chicago​
IDSA Midwest District Graduate Student Merit Winner 2018

Midwest District Graduate Student Merit Award winner Jacob Rynkiewicz, IDSA, grew up wanting to solve the world’s problems with his inventions. He got his first chance when the cherry tree in his backyard needed harvesting, and he whipped up a long pole with a tapered yogurt container at one end. “To use it, all I had to do was lift the yogurt cup until the cherries were inside, and by pulling back, the cherry stems became caught in a tapered slit. Then I just had to pull the stick back and the cherries dropped into the container.” A product of his teenage years, the rudimentary application had a profound effect on Rynkiewicz’s education: “While I didn't realize it at the time, [the cherry picker] was a great example of a functional design mockup (which went through a few iterations) and must have stuck in the back of my mind as I pursued a career in design.”

Rynkiewicz followed these pursuits to Columbus College of Art and Design, earning his BFA in industrial design in 2008 and subsequently working as a CAD design associate for jewelry manufacturer and supplier Casting House. While the position taught him a great deal about 3D design and Rhino modeling, Rynkiewicz wanted to move beyond what he deemed to be the “pure functionality and aesthetics” of design. The School of Design at the University of Illinois at Chicago offered this chance, reigniting his creative passions and reminding him that a product is successful not only when it works but also when it “is based on a true understanding of the people it's for.”

The design of products, Rynkiewicz insists, is obstructed when the spheres of design remain isolated. The University of Illinois at Chicago’s decision to house graphic and industrial design in the same department—instead of as two separate focuses—had an early influence on the award winner’s education, though he says that more could be done to accommodate the rapidly growing world of user-experience design. “I personally think that the divisions between design fields should be completely erased so that a design program can accept many more students and within the umbrella of design the student could focus on a number of executions.” Carrying out this expansive breed of pedagogy will require focusing on what connects the various fields of study, which according to Rynkiewicz is “the methodology of an iterative process and the ability to effectively communicate ideas.”

Beyond teaching him the importance of collective design, the faculty members at UIC challenged Rynkiewicz to account for the underdeveloped parts of his design education, namely research and writing. As with his thoughts on a more expansive network of design fields, Rynkiewicz learned that the process of design takes place over a revolving—and evolving—network of exercises and steps. “When it came to research,” he explains, “I always imagined there being a hard line between the end of research and the beginning of the design process. [But] research doesn't have to stop when you start designing; research informs design, and design informs research.”

This iterative design process, says Rynkiewicz, can take many forms, especially when designers takes advantage of the mediums around them. “What was most challenging for me was finding my weak spots as I went through the program. Most notably, that I'd become a little too comfortable designing directly in the computer. [But] what helps design become more effective is the physicality of the process itself. A design iteration can be made from paper, fabric, foam, tape and really anything that can quickly and effectively convey an idea and be shared with others.” Rynkiewicz himself used a number of mediums and platforms to carry out the product designs detailed on his website, namely, Prizm, a modernized projector with interactive tracking capabilities, and Citrus, a sports watch designed for the visually impaired.

Rynkiewicz hopes that this methodology will one day improve the lives of his clients, who he says are the focal point of his product designs. “An object,” he says, “has social and psychological value, whether we want it to or not. By understanding the impact designed objects have, we have a greater chance of creating a deeper connection with the people who use them.” While he continues to learn from other designers in his field (many of whom he met through IDSA, which he says has been instrumental in providing him with several work opportunities and friendships), Rynkiewicz looks forward to one day working independently on products that matter to him. “I would like to start making products of my own invention, as opposed to always making things for clients. While there's always a limiting factor when working on something alone,” he concludes, “there's a certain amount of freedom that comes with making things yourself.”