“There is no better time than now to be an industrial designer.”
—Elvin Chu, IDSA, South District Student Merit Award Winner
The 2016 IDSA South District Student Merit Award (SMA) winner—Elvin Chu, IDSA—landed an internship at Matter in San Francisco—even before he graduated from Georgia Tech’s newly-renamed College of Design in May 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in industrial design. Chu had stayed in touch with a former IDSA SMA winner who’s at Matter; they’d met at a previous IDSA District Design Conference.
Chu’s journey to ID began in high school during a visit to Georgia Tech in Atlanta. He had his heart set on studying architecture—anticipating it would be a great fit for his arts and math background. But he realized how much potential and versatility industrial design held—and immediately switched after doing some research and watching the documentary, “Objectified.” “Everything about the profession intrigued me, and it still does today,” says Chu.
He went on to secure a UX design internship at Electrolux; an ID internship at Creature Product Development; and various freelance/consulting projects.
At IDSA’s South District Design Conference in Auburn University in April 2016, Chu presented three projects: Vibram EC-001; Project Edge; and his favorite—halo MIDI Control that houses a single rotary encoder. He derived the concept from what he calls “the ergonomic and expressive shortcomings of today’s knob-controllers.” Halo provides a more immersive user experience physically and digitally. “It has advantageous capabilities inspired by digital music production techniques that help give the musician a more dynamic performance or recording,” describes Chu. “Music production always has been an expressive/creative task, and it was time to re-evaluate the validity of using cold, rectangular boxes with a million knobs to express.”
Chu won the SMA to the rousing cheers of his fellow Georgia Tech students and faculty. "Being able to share my work with everyone was such an awesome experience,” he recalls. “I attended my first IDSA conference in 2013, and was absolutely inspired by the SMAs. I made it one of my goals to represent my school when the time came."
In turn, Chu wanted to inspire all the attendees. "Winning this year's SMA was icing on the cake; all the school winners showed incredibly strong work, and I'm very honored to have presented alongside them. I'm so lucky to have found what I love to do, with 100 percent support from my family, friends, peers and mentors. Many thanks to IDSA and Georgia Tech's School of Industrial Design for giving me opportunities I wouldn't find elsewhere!"
Where does Chu seek motivation? “I’m typically fascinated by how other creatives in analogous fields approach and execute their craft, and try to approach my own through their lens,” he says. “As for a specific designer, I’ve always admired the work and design approach of Naoto Fukasawa. He applies a very profound understanding of ‘human,’ ‘object’ and ‘context’ to iconic, timeless forms that blend into everyday life. I keep one of his books in my work space, and it’s refreshing every time to flip through.” Chu took a page from the hospitality of Japanese culture when he designed plusminusone, a chair that can be turned into a table, tray or floor seat—making it easier for a host to welcome a guest warmly.
Chu is from Atlanta. Growing up, he often visited Hong Kong—where his parents were born—and sharpened his Cantonese. It’s an upbringing that provided him with an international perspective. He hopes one day “to lead a small group of creative individuals rooted in music, art, fashion, architecture, design and film—to create impactful work on a global scale.”
He adds, “I think industrial design always has been important, and has become more and more exposed to the general public through media and how companies portray their businesses. The roles and opportunities for designers have changed drastically over the years, and it seems that there is no better time than now to be an industrial designer.”