Industrial Design student Sam Kwan shares where he finds his passion, his plans for the future, and how he made his education work for his craftsman identity.

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You’re graduating this year, right?
Yep, I’m graduating this year.
Alright. What’s your major?
Industrial Design.
And how do you feel about graduating?
I’m feeling pretty good about it. Well, I think initially when, at first, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. It was hard in terms of thinking about, like, the future, but I think that I was lucky enough to find a field that I’m interested in — so, for myself, it would be like woodworking, for example. I guess just, like, knowing that that’s kinda what I wanted to do in second year allowed me to pursue that field a lot more and go more in depth in that way. So I guess all my projects that I’ve been working on were kinda in that realm, so all the way until now, I’ve got more connections with people and just pushed in that direction where I didn’t really have any other distractions per se about, like, “oh, what am I going to do for the future?” I’m just full-out going that way, do you know what I mean?

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Yeah. And now that, that sort school environment phase is over, where do you think your work is going to move towards?
Right. That’s a good question because for the next step I guess, I’m graduating now, I’ve actually applied for a job downstairs, in the woodshop, so it’s like a three-year contract to be a CA (Class Assistant), and I’m hoping that I will get that position. But I’m also working in another shop right now, too. It’s in Markham, so it’s still like very hands-on, like custom furniture and stuff. So I’ll be doing that during the summer and throughout, so we’ll see what direction it takes me to, but it’s still in the same field. So I’m not too worried about, like… job-wise. Just because I think, like I said earlier, in second year I was already pursuing this field so I had a general idea of what I wanted to do.
Yeah, I was curious about that, what you said about second year. I’m also curious about the things that you went through while studying here that lead to your development happening in this way. You had some choices you had to make.
Right, right. I guess the biggest class I took was Furniture I, the crit that I was just at. I think that that class, in general, is very dear to me, because that’s where I started developing myself as a maker in terms of making furniture. So, actually seeing other students create their products and their designs is very inspirational as well. So just like bouncing ideas through that class and through core classes, everything that I did, at least in most cases, was wood-related. Because that’s what I want to do, woodworking. So I try to gear all my projects towards this field.
Luckily, for thesis, which I did last year, I did it about myself in terms of how I looked at wood, as a maker. So I got this massive slab of wood which was like thirty feet tall, I broke it down and made a set of furniture. Like two chairs that combined into a bench and also a coffee table that was part of the slab as well. I was lucky enough to do that because, I think in my field, in Industrial Design, a lot of profs don’t really support people that are going towards this direction, because everything is so much more futuristic now.
When you say “this direction”...
It would be like a craftsperson. Doing their own kind of thing, because everything is mass-produced now, right?
Yeah.
And also very computerized. Everything is digital-based, everything’s on your phone. What I’m doing is more like traditional work. It doesn’t even have to be, like, making chairs, it could be making bowls or boards or anything that’s a product.
And for people that encounter these barriers, like these professors that might not like this direction, or any other direction… how did you handle that? What was your mindset? Do you have any tips?
I think that I was lucky I took Jules as my prof, because he has a background in sculpture. So I think I had a general idea, an understanding of where I was coming from. So, your question is.. If you were to see somebody that’s doing something similar to me, how would they go about it?

No, I meant, like, if somebody was in the same situation that you were in, where you have these professors that maybe are not too fond of work that goes into this direction… you definitely had a way to deal with it, and you stuck with what you wanted to do. But I could imagine some people maybe giving in… maybe “giving in” is not the right term, but you know what I mean.
I think I always kinda skewed it in some way. For example, in third year we were supposed to design something that was for ergonomics, for a customer or or something like that. I would still make that product, but I would do it in my way, where everything is made out of wood. Then I’d just say it’s kind of like a prototype, you know what I mean?

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Right!
So it’s kinda just like skewing it to how you want to do it, but still delivering your work. Because you don’t want to simply… “oh, my prof wants me to do this, so I’m just gonna do it,” because you want to get something out of it (although you may) because everybody works differently. I think it’s just really knowing yourself, what you want to do, but finding a balance as well. You don’t want to be so stuck up, like, “oh, this is me”.
Right, when you don’t consider other stuff.
Yeah, because in Industrial Design you have to be very mindful of your surroundings and other people. That’s part of design, and having empathy, and all that kinda stuff.

 

Interview by: Sebastián Rodrìguez Vasti

Photography by: Santiago Castro