Omar Ebraheem ‘20 on the subliminal form and function of good design

Young man in a white shirt sitting on a stool

What comes to mind when one thinks of industrial design?  A design student will point out that industrial design encompasses everything. From cars to microwaves, hairdryers, streetlamps and laptop computers, an industrial designer has surely been engaged in the product development. Jony Ive, a British-American industrial, product and architectural designer was the former Chief Design Officer of Apple, whose Apple products still inspire today.  Marcello Gandini, an Italian car designer, who worked with the automotive design house Gruppo Bertone, designed the Lamborghini.  Both are design icons. But industrial design is not all about iconic style and art, though, says Omar Ebraheem ‘20, a 5th year student studying Industrial and Interaction Design at the College of Visual and Performing Arts Syracuse University  “The best designs in the world are often the ones that are overlooked,” he says.

Ebraheem points out the industrial design is at the core of any product or service.  This can include phones, TV’s, furniture, ceramics and even online User Interface (UI) and User experience (UX).  Design contributes significantly to the way a society functions. To view the significance of design in a context, an entire society has been accustomed and shaped around the function and form of specific products. For instance, since the Model T Ford, the mass-produced car has always had four wheels, three peddles and about a similar number of seats. This design was carried forward for so many years because of ease of use. Ebraheem notes, design is judged by “how easy life becomes when someone uses a designer’s product or service.”

According to Ebraheem, subliminal design, which increases the utility of itself, is considered a successful design. So, good design is one that does not really affect its user, but one that facilitates their routine and activity. Derivatively, Ebraheem notes, “Design can affect people in negative ways also, especially when there is a learning curve associated with it.” Famed automotive critic, Chris Harris shared a similar sentiment when he was discussing the design and form factor of the modern electric vehicle. He says, “They are being sold as the future and they don’t seem to fit into anyone’s lives.  You have to fit into the car’s life and at the point, I think take the taxi.”

However, design is not something that is restricted to its utility. Ebraheem believes that design can drive sustainable living and environmental awareness. “Sustainable materials and design are at the forefront of design, and designers can increase sustainability with the materials that are being incorporated into the products.”

Given how important the designer’s job can be, the field has recently started enjoying deserved recognition. “More recently, design is being taken seriously,” notes Ebraheem. As a designer with a particular eye towards UI and UX, Ebraheem believes that industrial design today is in the process of being fully recognized for its contributions to society. “To me, industrial design is a way to help people by making their lives easier.  Designers are behind the curtains, trying to better society, and people don’t give them enough recognition.”

Historically, design was associated with form and beauty, and is now being recognized for the impact it can also make on function.  “I think that design has come a long way. It was definitely the case where the engineers would create the system and the designer would come in periodically to make it look better and make it appealing. As time progresses, the designer’s job is to make sure things function and that the product works in its given environment”

Ebraheem, who grew up in Kuwait, migrated to the United States after high school to pursue a degree in industrial design. As a designer, he hopes to gain more experience in the field before returning to Kuwait. “I want to use our culture and traditions to guide the way we design. While there are designers in Kuwait, there’s not a big presence,” he says. He hopes to bring industrial design to the forefront, and to influence the perspective of industrial design in Kuwait by starting his own design firm.

He credits fellow fifth year VPA Industrial and Interaction students Alec Gillinder ’20 and Quinn King ’20 for introducing him to the industrial design world at Syracuse University, as well as the Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars. Both Gillinder and King are award winning entrepreneurs and designers at the LaunchPad, as well as Rubin Family Innovation Mentors at the LaunchPad.  Ebraheem describes the LaunchPad as inviting and stimulating environment where he has met driven entrepreneurs. “The main thing the LaunchPad has done is made me think about what a person is capable of, when he puts his mind to something. It’s incredible,” he says.

Story by Blackstone LaunchPad Global Media Fellow Krisha Pamidi Photo supplied