Jonathan Seto, IDSA

Jonathan Seto, IDSA
University of Houston
IDSA South District Undergraduate Student Merit Winner 2018

Jonathan Seto, IDSA, never imagined he would be accepting this year’s IDSA South District Student Merit Award. In fact, he didn’t think he would be a designer at all. “If you [had] told me in high school that I would be in design school and winning a very prestigious award like the IDSA SMA, I would have said you were lying.” Having grown up in the small rural town of Jackson, MS, Seto was on the path to graduate from the University of Houston with a degree in accounting, though the internships he acquired during his studies proved stifling. Seto’s brother, a fellow University of Houston student with experience collaborating with the school’s industrial design department, suggested that he explore it a career choice. “I always questioned which direction I wanted to choose,” he says. “The choices [were] the safe route, a regular desk job or [to] follow my creative pursuits.”

A first-generation college student and the son of immigrant parents from Hong Kong, Seto says that he and his brother were always encouraged to follow their passions. “My parents always …reminded us to ‘do what you love,’ not like the typical mold of ‘you need to be a doctor’ or so on.” For Seto, this meant a childhood of discovery and experimentation. “I always had a curiosity for taking things apart and putting them back together or creating new things from miscellaneous parts.” This curiosity, it seems, followed Seto into adulthood, giving him the push he needed to pursue his own creative interests through industrial design. “When it came down to choosing between accounting…and design, I went back to my upbringing of ‘do what you love.’”

Seto’s time as a student of industrial design has been deeply impacted by his peers at the University of Houston, men and women who, like him, are dedicating their lives to doing what they love. “The University of Houston provides a very diverse culture and environment of many different ethnicities, and hearing their personal stories and approaches for why they design inspired me the most.” Seto points out that spending time with his peers and instructors has developed his own talents considerably and has helped clarify his own unique place in the larger design world. “The University of Houston…allowed me as a designer to discover what I am good at and what I am not and allowed me to improve in those areas and become a more well-rounded designer with a various set of skills.”

These skills, says Seto, require listening attentively to the opinions of others and modifying his designs accordingly. “My process is primarily focused on understanding the problem and the people behind it because behind every problem there is a user.” Innovation, he insists, is dependent upon recognizing the needs and tendencies of the men and women using his designs. “I hope to truly understand people’s wants and needs and solve problems that occur in our everyday life.”

Seto’s aesthetic, as evidenced by his portfolio, explores the relationship between simplicity and implied intention. “If you look at a lot of successful design, the aesthetic can play a pivotal role in a user’s interaction. I truly believe less is more.” Seto’s projects include, among others: Bistro, a streamlined Bodium-inspired electric kettle designed to reduce the waste of cumbersome mass-market kitchen products; Dynamic, a reimagined lint roller made from reinforced thermoplastic featuring a nested housing and pivoting head; and Torque, a faucet inspired by Speedform designed to communicate speed and transition. “I hope to one day walk into a store and look at a product knowing that I had a part in making an impact on someone’s life and leave the world a better place than it was before,” shares Seto, “whether that product helps someone or simply puts a smile on someone’s face solely just on how it looks.”

Having graduated from the University of Houston in May, Seto continues to “do what he loves” by working as an industrial design intern for Shifter Design in Austin, TX. Looking forward, Seto hopes to contribute positively to the design world in whatever ways are available to him. “As long as I’m making a difference, and inspiring our future generations of designers, that will be my ultimate goal. Whether that’s teaching, owning my own business, etc.” What advice does this year’s IDSA South District Student Merit Award winner have for designers of the future? “Never stop learning, fail early, be open to listening, and take risks. But ultimately find what you love to do. It will truly define you not only as designer but also a person.”