Steven Umbach, FIDSA
As founder and president of the esteemed Umbach Consulting Group (UCG), it’s safe to say that Steven Umbach feels quite at ease in a room of industrial designers. This did not prepare him, however, for the moment he heard that he had been selected for induction into the IDSA Academy of Fellows, announced officially at the 2018 International Conference in New Orleans, LA. The reveal was a welcome one for those in attendance, including Vicki Matranga, H/IDSA, who met Umbach at an IDSA conference in 2012 and subsequently nominated him for this award. “Steven Umbach is a fine example of the best qualities of an IDSA Fellow,” she shares, “[and] an excellent ambassador for the industrial design profession and the IDSA. A seasoned practitioner and educator, he personifies integrity, wisdom, insight, and good humor.”
Umbach’s 37-year long career has had a major influence on a number of design sectors. Having earned his BFA in industrial design from The Rhode Island School of Design College of Architecture and a Master of Science in management degree from The Georgia Institute of Technology, Umbach went on to fulfill leadership roles at several prestigious design consultancies and firms. These titles include, among others: Marketing Manager of New Product Platforms for Compaq Computer, Senior Director of Industrial Design & Mechanical Engineering for Telxon, and Manager of Industrial Design for Bissell Homecare.
Considered by his colleagues to be ‘a true right brain and left brain thinker,’ Umbach founded his own design management consultancy in 2001, focusing on corporate management and new product development. The Umbach Consulting Group serves a long list of prominent clients, including Dell, Bose, Socrates Health Solutions, and many others. Recognized for producing ‘investor-grade’ conceptual design work, the firm strives to bridge the gap between industry and design. “Steven’s leadership on the board and support of hosting conferences exemplifies the true essence of being a member of IDSA,” says Joe Jasinski, Director of Design at Dell. “He has driven and impacted our work within Dell to support and be active with IDSA and to take advantage of the great membership benefits. [We] have benefited from his active engagement with IDSA and pushing our discipline to be the best we can be.”
When he’s not impressing clients with his design process knowledge, Umbach enjoys volunteering his time at IDSA conferences. He served as the IDSA At-Large Director from 2010-2011 and organized the 2014 IDSA International Conference Chair in Austin, Texas. Umbach’s work with the 2014 conference had long-lasting effects on the design series, the organizational templates of which guided much of the planning for the 2017 conference. Between 1983 and 2007, he served as the IDSA Boston Chapter Treasurer, the Florida Chapter Chair, and the Texas Chapter Southern Vice-Chair. Recalling Umbach’s time on the 2013 IDEA jury, Vicki Matranga shares, “Steve seriously considered the submissions and import of the judge’s decisions. In his calm voice of experience and encouragement, Steve evaluated the student work and carefully discussed the merits with his peer judges. He showed his measured educator side as he expected diligence and skills in the entries, while being considerate of the students’ level of understanding and often with a smile.”
Perhaps the most noteworthy of Umbach’s accolades, however, is his earnest dedication to design education. He has been a lecturer and adjunct faculty member at the University of Houston since 2004, and in this time he has mentored countless design students and summer interns. He was the first to introduce a Human Factors for Designers curriculum at UH, and personally taught the first class of graduating students from the nascent program. Jared Vanscoder, IDSA, who encountered Umbach as a UH student, describes the preeminent designer and award winner as such: Steven was able to instill in us a passion for not only great design, but a working knowledge of research and process needed to fully execute user-centered design. As an instructor, Steven possesses a rare balance of professional aptitude, patience, and understanding that has produced hundreds of professional designers.”
Umbach’s work has been recognized by IDSA as one of the 10 Best Designs of the Decade (“Synathic Rumen Injector, 1990), and has placed prestigiously at a number of IDEA competitions since 1983.