Nike’s Vice President of Design Innovation, Eric Avar ’90, grew up with a mechanical engineer father and fine artist mother, but did not know a marriage of the two disciplines could exist beyond his parent’s union until he came to RIT.
“I had no idea what industrial design or product design was before RIT,” Avar said. “Within the first two weeks on campus I just happened to find my way up to the fourth floor of the design building and was immediately enthralled by this balance of art and science.”
Having started with the mechanical engineering program, Avar begged to be let into the industrial design program. Despite not having a formal portfolio, rather a collection of drawings his mother sent him in a plastic bag, CIAS faculty saw promise and gave Avar a shot.
Avar now represents the college as one of this year’s 10 RIT Distinguished Alumni. The group will be honored on April 15, as well take part in different on-campus events from April 11-15, providing students an opportunity to engage with these prestigious alumni.
Starting at Nike in 1991, Avar has helped create some of the company’s most innovative and award-winning designs of the past 25 years, including products within the Nike Basketball, Nike Free, Lunar and Kobe Bryant series of footwear. He currently oversees projects in an extension of Nike’s Innovation Kitchen.
Avar believes the foundation to his success as a designer is his upbringing and education, which bred his harmony of science, style and function. He credits RIT’s diversity of programs with giving him the necessary skills to “relate, talk, work and collaborate with anyone.”
For other design students who aim to follow in his Nike-adorned footsteps, Avar offers some advice.
“Be a sponge. Go out to the perimeter, go out to the fringes and learn as much as possible. Not in an effort to be an expert at anything, but to embody the spirit of being a sponge, which helps inform design thinking and the creative problem-solving process.”
The Distinguished Alumni Award is presented to a certified alumnus/a who has performed with distinction at the highest levels of his or her chosen profession; or who has contributed significantly to the advancement and leadership of noteworthy civic, philanthropic, or service organizations over the course of many years. Those honored have brought distinction to their colleges and RIT through their professional, community and/or philanthropic achievements. Check back every Thursday for more from RIT’s 2016 Distinguished Alumni.