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Q&A: Award-winning industrial design student taps into his creative side

Jonathan Seto wants to use his design perspective and creativity for solving real-world problems. | Cristobella Durette/The Cougar

Industrial design senior Jonathan Seto originally wanted to pursue a degree in accounting but sacrificed a guaranteed desk-job to pursue a profession that would allow him to explore his creative side.

This exploration of creativity during his undergraduate career earned Seto the 2018 Industrial Designers Society of America Southern District Student Merit Award. He’s only the third Cougar to be given the award, which will be formally presented in September.

The award, given to five graduates in the United States for 2018, recognizes the creativity, problem solving and design skills across five areas that ISDA defines as design districts.

Seto spoke with The Cougar about his design perspective, what he learned finishing the program at UH and his passion for creativity, which allowed him to step outside of the mold of his family’s expectations.

The Cougar: Why did you decide to come to UH?

Jonathan Seto: My brother, who’s a computer engineer, got me interested in coming here when I was in high school. He worked with some industrial designers on a collaborative project between the College of Technology and industrial design.

Originally, I was in accounting, so it’s two different realms: desk-job versus being more creative. Being from Mississippi, there’s only two design schools within reach, Houston and Auburn. Between the two, they both have bachelors of science in industrial design, so as far as my mother was concerned, UH was where my brother was.

TC: You recently won a prestigious award, the IDSA SMA. What projects and activities did you do to get that award?

Seto: It’s a culmination of four years here at UH, including projects that I was given and my senior thesis, which was a free-roam. You can do whatever you want, as long as you apply what you’ve learned during your undergraduate.

It’s representations of your work, creativity, thought processes and your approach. That’s how you present it to the Southern Districts, which is a competition between nine schools that shows different approaches to how schools teach industrial design. It’s very eye-opening to see other schools’ approach versus ours.

UH is a process-oriented school. From beginning to end, results vary between being research heavy while some are sketch and idea heavy.

TC: What is industrial design? What does it entail?

Seto: It’s the shoes on your feet, the phone that’s in your hand, the products you use every day. We have an impact on the interaction of design and the actual, physical products. It’s expanding to user interface and experience, also operating systems, layouts and how things look. 

Industrial design gives you a wider realm of what you want to do. It’s more creative and a lot of hands-on work. Growing up, I was very hands-on, so I wanted to be able to touch physical products.

TC: Why is industrial design important?

Seto: It’s fixing social issues or actual physical problems that we face in the real world, whether it be medical or social. People always want innovation. They want to see the next great thing, and that’s where we come in. It’s about making an impact to other consumers who always demand new things.

TC: How does creativity, problem solving and design intersect in the process of being self-driven in industrial design?

Seto: It’s a lot of learning on your own. Not only university teachings, but a lot of (the creativity) is your interest in that topic area and learning, wanting to continually learn. It’s more about learning on your own, aside from school. That’s where I excel, too. I had a passion for something, so I really wanted to learn that on the side.

The thing about creativity is that you always question what’s around you and always want to find the answers.

TC: Speaking of passions, are there any specific topics you’re really interested in and plan on pushing in the future?

Seto: One of the main things I’ve always had a passion for is footwear. My senior thesis right now involves exploring the trends of 3D manufacturing and printing technologies and how that can be applied to users while accommodating a more unique consumer experience. I’ve always had a passion for fitness and nutrition. Those two realms are heavily what I explore my design interests in and figuring out how I can implement them in real world situations. 

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