Josh Nelson, IDSA, has been a maker since he was a youngster, tall enough to get his hands on goods. Now, he's an educator at San Jose State University and a designer who's worked for more than a decade as a professional, creating meaningful products and managing creative and collaborative teams. His work has been recognized with several awards including an IDEA Gold and an IxDA Best in Category. The member of the IDSA West District Design Conference 2018 planning committee earned a BFA in industrial design from Brigham Young University, then an MDes from the University of Washington in Seattle. We caught up with Nelson to find out what puts him In the Lead:
IDSA: You investigate how interactions between people and technology transform experiences and connect us—especially improving healthcare by implementing a patient-centered design approach to innovations in this area. What does it mean to you to know that your work impacts lives?
Nelson: It’s both rewarding and humbling. I think that design is naturally a hopeful or optimistic exercise and putting it to use in a way that helps care for other humans feels natural. At the same time, the problems in this area are incredibly complex to deal with and they require a lot of collaboration between experts and ideally the people affected and/or involved. I’ve met with a lot of patients and providers and they all want things to improve, so there’s a lot of excitement around the potential for creative change at the moment.
As an assistant professor of industrial design and program coordinator—and as faculty advisor to the IDSA Student Chapter at SJSU—what are some of the trends or changes you see in ID in recent years that you're making sure your students are aware of, and will have the ability to work in, upon graduation?
Digital tools are becoming more and more a part of what we do as designers. This includes anything from computer-aided sketching to social media to 3D printing to AR/VR. These tools come with their own problems and advantages, but we are striving to prepare our students to have literacy with, and in some cases the capability to blaze trails with these new technologies.
This year we’ve begun the process of transitioning students to all digital tools at the very beginning of their studies in Industrial Design thus incorporating it into the foundation of their design education. I also see designers working in broader and broader contexts. This presents an interesting challenge in educating designers without without stretching a student's learning too thin. We’re lucky enough to be in a location where we can bring in a wide ranging variety of projects, collaborations and experiences that students can be a part of, in addition to their normal studies. We also offer a series of elective studio courses that allow students to engage in topics like healthcare, entrepreneurship, social design and more.
As someone who has helped several previous DDCs and now WDDC 2018, why would you recommend students attend this year? And why should professionals attend this year?
I’ve helped plan the last four and I’m always surprised when I attend them. There is a surprising blend of energy and intimacy that happens at the DDC. The localness of it contributes to this greatly and the Student Merit Award presentations are an awesome sight to see for professionals and students alike!
Tell us something about yourself, personally or professionally, that we may not know but would be surprised to find out.
When I was 11, I tried to make a compound bow out of bobby pins and orthodontic elastics. Despite the fact that I had meticulously drawn out a sweet design, it failed completely, but making it was fun!
What did it mean to you personally when your project "Pivot: Empowering Victims of Human Trafficking" won a Gold IDEA in 2013?
Winning Gold was huge! It was the result of a collaboration with some amazing people, some really great research and a lot of design process (work). I truly felt honored to get recognized and there’s nothing like winning Gold!
What did it mean to your career?
The project itself was a huge learning experience for me and changed the way that I think about design. It also was probably key in helping me land a job out of graduate school and it’s something that I consistently refer back to.