With this issue of the Fram Focus we meet Alex Lobos, another of RIT’s notable critical thinkers.
Alex Lobos, MFA, is the Graduate Director of Industrial Design for the College of Art & Design. In addition to his critical thinking and creativity in the classroom, Alex is also a professional drummer who has played with the top two rock bands in Guatemala: Bohemia Suburbana and Malacates Trebol Shop, participating in several recordings and tours around North and Latin America, with concerts of up to 15,000 people. He currently plays with the Rochester-based bands Sub Sentry and Tree Shakers. Read his answers to a few critical questions here:
1. How Do You Teach Applied Critical Thinking?
Critical thinking is at the core of industrial design process. Whether working in industry or in the classroom, there are two key elements that make design process unique: The first one is that any decisions made for a given design don’t rely just on the designer’s criteria but come mostly from understanding what end-users need and want. This attention to the user provides balanced decisions that generate relevant, effective and meaningful solutions. Second is the designer’s ability to think by making. Sketching, modelmaking, 3D printing and similar visualization tools are ways for designers to think in tangible and applied ways, and to understand how design concepts will be experienced by a wide array of people.
2. Why Do You Think Applied Critical Thinking is Important in Your Domain?
Creating objects is the easy part of being a designer. With basic knowledge on modelmaking or 3D printing, it’s easy to create an object. The hard part is to determine whether a new product is worth designing. Focusing just on “how” to design products leads to large amounts of unnecessary products that fail in the marketplace and become discarded waste. Good designers have a strong sense of empathy, paying attention to “why” products should exist and how they improve quality of life.
3. Can You Share a Story Where Quality Applied Critical Thinking Was Key to Your Success?
Lately I’ve designed a series of lamps that use CAD and digital fabrication. In these cases, I can only define so much in one medium before I start “assuming” how parts of the lamp will look in real life or be fabricated. A cycle of moving concepts between digital to physical environments and vice versa. Developing multiple iterations of mockups that refine details are the best way for me to fully understand how the design will work best. Applied critical thinking is an effective tool for developing designs as well as making the process more satisfying as it is possible to see, touch and feel how a design evolves at every step.
4. How Do You Use Critical Thinking in Other Areas of Your Life Outside of RIT?
There is an interesting connection between design and music. Just like in design it is key to have a user-centered design approach, musicians need to think of how their music will be listened to by an audience, rather than focusing only on what feels fun to play. Great music pieces involve teamwork where multiple musicians support each other and give each other space when necessary. Most important, they all pay attention to how songs come together as a whole and how they will sound like to listeners. Many people call this “playing for the song” or “for the audience” rather than just playing for individual enjoyment. Good music, just like good design, relies heavily on empathy and on understanding how something is experienced by people other than their creators.
5. Any Last Critical Thoughts?
The concept of critical making is oftentimes limited to the creation of physical components but in reality, it covers any way of turning abstract thoughts into organized elements that can be experienced by oneself and shared with others. For designers, for example, being able to turn ideas into clear statements is crucial for communicating design intent. Good designers create good designs and great designers are able to also describe their designs to others in clear, engaging ways, whether by spoken, written words, and very often with drawings and visual compositions.