Class of 2021 Q&A | Industrial Design

a collaborative aerodynamic diver by Industrial Design student Neha Sajja and engineering students from Brown University

Graduating Industrial Design students Aishwarya Bagaria 21 ID, Dorian Epps 21 ID, Amy Huang 21 ID and Neha Sajja 21 ID answer four questions reflecting on their years at RISD, the ongoing pandemic and their plans for the future.

How has the pandemic affected your RISD experience and creative practice? Are there any unexpected benefits for the Class of 2021?

Bagaria: A lot of new opportunities have opened up for me since COVID started, including founding a networking startup and becoming its lead designer. And now that we’re all looking for full-time employment, it’s a lot easier to connect with new people. It’s weird how being on Zoom somehow makes me feel more confident to just reach out and share my story.

Dot Dot Dot mobile app prototyped by RISD students, including Aishwarya Bagaria 21 ID
Dot Dot Dot—a mobile app prototyped by a team of RISD students including Aishwarya Bagaria 21 ID—promotes outdoor exploration.

Sajja: COVID has given us the time and motivation to beef up our digital, rendering and online presentation skills. For example, last year I took part in the NASA studio, where the class normally builds a full-scale prototype in foam so people can go inside for the review. But we pivoted in March and learned how to iterate quickly through 3D modeling software and share our ideas over Zoom and Slack. For our final presentation, we used KeyShot renders to give reviewers a better sense of the design. 

Epps: The pandemic actually helped me decide what I want to do after RISD: design athletic footwear. We’re on Zoom so much that I started creating things with my hands to get away from the computer. I’ve been strengthening my hand-prototyping skills, using only materials from my trash during the ideation phase and building a strong portfolio.

Hand prototyped shoe made of found materials by aspiring footwear designer, Dorian Epps 21 ID
Aspiring footwear designer Dorian Epps 21 ID hand-prototyped a product line using only found materials from his trash.

Are there any faculty members at RISD whom you see as mentors?

Epps: [Assistant Professor] Jess Brown MID 09 is my mentor. She’s one of the few Black woman professors at RISD, so I gravitated towards her. Also Anne Marika Chasse, who taught me a lot about traditional shoe making and then gave me the room to explore and play with my own styles. Also Professor Leslie Fontana and of course the head of ID, Khipra Nichols BID 78.

Huang: [ID Professor] Soojung Ham 92 ID is my official adviser, which is fortunate because she thinks creatively in a way that I can relate to and has a lot of experience in the field I want to go into: hardware UX design. But I’ve also met super-successful RISD alumni like Kait Schoeck13 ID, Rene Lee 12 ID and Ryan Mather 15 ID, who come to final crits, share their experiences with current students and give feedback on their work. Once I have some experience in the field, I hope I’ll be able to do that as well.

Amy Huang 21 ID collaborated on this haptic glove for VR experiences
Amy Huang 21 ID collaborated on this haptic glove for VR experiences that makes use of nitinol, a smart material that returns to its original shape when heated.

Sajja: I don’t have a formal thesis advisor, but I have an amazing relationship with [NASA coordinator] Michael Lye 96 ID, who has shown me how to bring design thinking in as a strategic asset and given me the confidence to work with multidisciplinary teams. And thanks to RISD’s relationship with Brown University, I met engineering professor Rick Fleeter, who’s really design-positive and invited me to work with engineering students in his Design of Space Systems class.

Bagaria: One of my mentors is Oren Sherman 78 IL in Illustration, who always says that your journey only starts to make sense when you look back. That’s how RISD is. In the moment, when you have to show up for that charcoal studio at 8 am even if it’s snowing, you’re like “Why am I doing this?” But it develops grit and discipline.

The Endurance, a vertical lunar habitat designed by ID students, including Neha Sajja 21 ID
The Endurance, a vertical lunar habitat capable of supporting a crew of four for a 30-day mission, was designed by a team of ID students including Neha Sajja 21 ID.

What are your post-Commencement plans?

Epps: I’ve applied to a lot of athletics-oriented footwear companies. I originally considered grad school because I felt cheated that our senior year is ending this way. But I think it’s important to get work experience first.

Bagaria: I did a virtual internship last summer with Samsung Design Innovation Center in California, where I got to contribute to Augmented Reality products that are still 20 years out. But I really want to work in the autonomous motor vehicle industry. Robotics are fascinating to me.

Hinge, by Amy Huang 21 ID, uses 3D-printed parts
Hinge, by Amy Huang, is a different way of looking at connections and building block using 3D-printed parts.

Huang: I’m from New Zealand, but I’m planning to stay in the US for a couple of years and get some work experience designing UX hardware, hopefully on the West Coast. I’m interested in making innovative new technology accessible for people looking for user-friendly solutions.

Sajja: This past summer, I interned for NASA, where the user-centered design we’re taught at RISD really brought a lot of value. It was a great opportunity to meet people around the world working in different areas of human space flight and see where the industry is heading on a global scale. After RISD, I hope to continue bringing human-centered design and empathy into innovative technology sectors. 

What makes RISD special?

Bagaria: I selected RISD because of the community it fosters. We’ve been through so much together. But I think what I appreciate most now that I’m graduating is that RISD teaches you how to think differently.

A sketch of a shoe, for Recycled Model #01, by Dorian Epps 21 ID
A sketch for Recycled Model #01 by Dorian Epps.

Huang: RISD is both exactly what I expected and completely different at the same time. It’s a really intense and creative place. It made me work really hard and also allowed me to meet cool people.

Sajja: RISD has taught me how to be comfortable with ambiguity, to approach a problem with an open mind. We learned to trust ourselves and the process—to find our way through. It has been an amazing experience.

Epps: And you’re also talking with four people of color right now. The ID department at RISD is really diverse, and that includes the faculty. Students of color go on to do great work in spaces that are predominantly white, which is amazing and something I’ll be proud to be a part of.

—interview by Simone Solondz

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