Localista,shown above, is the first store dedicated to showcase and sell products designed by Puerto Ricans.
I recently spoke to Vladimir García. He is the director of the Industrial Design department at the Escuela de Artes Plásticas de Puerto Rico.
Why did I choose to interview him? I graduated from the program he now runs in 2007. Being 1 of a group of 5 Industrial Designers to ever graduate in the island may sound like an exciting historical event, but at the time, the future looked grim. With limited opportunities I decided to move to the states. Now, that I wish to move back and design interventions for social and economical change, I have to learn first hand what had changed.
When Vladimir joined the ID department there were roughly 3 to 4 professors. Now that this number had increased, he has the support and human resources that back him up in crossing the pressing items out of his to-do list.
Adding entrepreneurial and digital fabrication classes to the curriculum
Participating in the international design circuit
Collaborating with organizations and other design departments across the island
I was curious about the opportunities available for recent graduates. García mentioned some of the brands and ventures the young designers had started - a jewelry business, a toy brand, for example. "These kids are very aware of the situation" he said. Puerto Rico is going through an economic recession. It makes sense that faced with scarce jobs opportunities, but with access to digital manufacturing processes they will embrace an entrepreneurial spirit. This is exactly one of the goals behind updating the curriculum.
Today, with the emergence of a design community new opportunities had come. Puerto Rican designers are getting together to participate in fairs and markets in the island and abroad receiving the accolade of the public. This had benefited students as now they are exposed to experiences abroad and can bring their new perspectives back.
Lastly we talked about the ways they are joining forces with entities outside of the department. This semester they partnered up with DePaul University in Chicago to offer a class on entrepreneurship for designers. Next semester they will be designing a playground for the kids served by a not for profit organization. He admits, some of these projects came to be in spontaneous ways. But as he said, little by little they are creating a snowball that keeps growing.
What was my take on the conversation? First of all, I am happy that none of the young designers graduating from the program end up working at Burger King. García assures this. Additionally, it looks like the program is more rounded than what it was before. Adding more fabrication courses -traditional and digital- allow designers to better understand the broad range of processes and materials that can be used to solve a problem. Also, knowing that there is a community of designers out there working and moving forward together adds some color to the grim situation I saw when I graduated.
What opportunities excite me the most about what we discussed? I asked García about the possibility of facilitating collaborations with professionals outside the ID world. In my experience the program did not explore the multidisciplinary aspect of design. The reality of working with engineers, marketing, branding and sourcing experts to bring a product to the market was not mentioned. I was thrilled to hear something I had been thinking for a long time. García wants to team up with engineering students on the island. Engineers are expert when it comes to the guts and funtionality of products, but designers can give them a hand with the aesthetics and user experience. If this combo works out, it will only be good news for Puerto Rico.