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Josh Owen

Designer and Founder of Josh Owen LLC, Educator at Philadelphia University

Primary design concentration:

Industrial Designer / Educator

Most preferred tool for designing:

The-mind-eye-hand-pencil-connection is my starting point. Shortly thereafter I make the jump to paper and cardboard models in 3D.

1. How and why did you choose to become a designer?

To be honest, it was a conclusion I reached as a kind of summation of all of my experiences and interests. But the label of “designer” came after university, in my late 20’s. My father is an archaeologist and I spent summers as a boy with him on archaeological excavations. I was quite taken by both the art and science of piecing together a picture of the past by studying and assembling its material remains. Both the spirit of the search and the analytical and creative tools I observed made me curious to know if I could make my own physical contributions to the built landscape. So I studied anthropology and sculpture concurrently during university. I did not become aware of the field of industrial design until the very end of my college experience and spent several years thereafter working towards it on my own and in graduate school.

2. Challenges you encounter as a designer and how do you deal with them?

Finding like-minded clients. I deal with this by putting good work into the world.

3. Your definition of an “elegant solution,” that is, good design?

When design acts as a vehicle for effective communication, it synthesizes utility and messaging into something which appears almost transparent in its place in our universe. If design leads us to outcomes without thought, it is elegant.

4. From skills to values, what makes a designer successful?

For starters, we would have to agree on a definition of success. I suppose for me it means bringing things into the world which endure.

5. How do you stay motivated and grow personally and professionally as a designer?

I believe that I am a kind of romantic pragmatist. This means that although I think of myself as one who participates in the richness of life—family, friends, experiences, cultures—that I am also always looking for connections and gaps in the landscape of opportunities and things that surrounds us. I don't wait for opportunities to come to me. I pursue my observations as experiments in my studio and some as invited collaborations with industry. In other instances, I extend my experiences into the academic world to see how my students and colleagues engage me. In the end, opportunities emerge from all corners. I try to position myself well to catch them as much as cultivate them.

6. For those aspiring to become a designer, whatever the discipline, what is your advice?

I am a pluralist, so I believe in multiplicity and variety. But I often worry about the amount of conspicuous consumption that comes from the design world’s output. I hope that the future will become somehow more sensible while managing to maintain the variance. I suppose my advice would be to choose your projects carefully. Try to make enduring decisions over fashionable ones.

7. What is your quest in design?

As an teacher who designs, I feel my greatest potential contribution may come from mentoring students. In a world filled with too much already, our students must become filters and curators—this is almost as important as being form-givers or conduits connecting culture and commerce. As a designer who teaches, I'm afforded the opportunity to have more lee-way to choose my professional projects carefully and produce only what I feel moves the global dialogue forward as opposed to being pressured to create in order to put food on my family's table.

Josh Owen is President of Josh Owen LLC and Craig R. Benson Chair for Innovation and Associate Professor of Industrial Design at Philadelphia University. He highly recommends listening to the recordings of Bill Laswell and visiting Egypt's western desert. His monograph Josh Owen—Big Ideas / Small Packages was published by Woodsphere and was added to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) Library and Archives.

Image courtesy of Josh Owen.

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