Member Spotlight: Allen Samuels, L/IDSA

Sep 18 2019 - 2:53pm


Allen Samuels, L/IDSA began his career as an industrial designer in 1966. Over nearly five decades, he has designed award-winning glassware, furniture, microscopes, medical and scientific instruments, public transpotation, heavy industrial equipment and more for corporations such as Corning Glass Works, Bausch + Lomb, Black & Decker, Westinghouse and 3M. 

Samuels joined the University of Michigan in 1975, where he taught industrial design, innovation and invention courses as a professor for 34 years while simulteanously working in the industry. Samuels also served as dean of the Stamps School of Art & Design from 1993 to 1999.

Though he retired from the univiersity in 2008, Samuels continues to design and develop products that deal with aging, poverty, the disabled and disaster relief. He also is a regular contributor to IDSA's INNOVATION magazine.

His most recent projects include a dish set designed to help people cut food with one hand a device to rid oceans of plastic and a safe, expensive cradle for disadvantaged families. 

Samuels and Charlie Brink, a recent M-U graduate student and now social worker, collaborated on the cradle project. According to Samuels, the low-cost, disposable and safe sleep environment, designed for infants 0-4 months old, is intended for use primarily in the U.S. and in Africa, "where some parents have few resources and cannot afford a proper cradle." He and Brink developed a $2.50 cradle made of corrugated paperboard, which Brink then took to Nigeria to get the design produced and widely used. 

Currently, Samuels is designing a seating device for children with cerebral palsy. "I observed children with CP and realized that there may be better ways to secure them in space, enabling them to be upright and eye-to-eye, when possible, with their peers" he says. "Here again, I will learn more as I work, and I hope something good will result."

Samuels is known to offer his spare time and space inside his studio in Ann Arbor, MI to U-M students who come to him seeking advice or collaboration. He enjoys helping these students develop their own designs and launch businesses that empower users and improve lives around the world. 

"I have no clients and seek no fees," Samuels says of his current non-profit design practice. "I identify problems and projects of significance and work to solve them. I take my designs into full-scale model forms and, in some cases, prototypes. When I feel a design has merit (not all do), I seek manufacturers and companies that have the resources and markets that serve my audiences."

Few companies welcome "outside" ideas, he continues, especially when profitability and pleasing clients rank far higher on their list of priorities than helping the underprivileged. But that hasn't stopped him from trying.

"Designing is the easy part," he says. "Getting a design into the hands of those who could benefit is a greater challenge."