10 Questions With... Ed Dorsa | Eastman Innovation Lab

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10 Questions With...

10 Questions With... Ed Dorsa

16 May 2017

At the Eastman Innovation Lab we look to our fellow design and materials experts for inspiration, community, and expertise. In order to get to know them and their projects better, we created a column called Ten Questions With...

Ed Dorsa has been Associate Professor for 30 years, the last 19 of those in the Industrial Design Program at Virginia Tech. Ed will be retiring after this 2017 school year, but his impact on the University will never end. 

Since coming to Virginia Tech in 1998 he has taught at all levels of ID studio and numerous courses across the ID curriculum, including Computer Aided Design, Design Visualization and both Junior and Senior Studios. He presently teaches ID Senior Studio and Materials & Processes as well as regularly teaching ID Modules in topics such as: Typography, Packaging, and Verbal Presentation. His research focuses primarily on Interdisciplinary Product Development, a cross-disciplinary methodology that encourages an entrepreneurial approach to opportunity identification and the development of products and services. 

He has been awarded government and corporate grants to further this activity. Ed is past Vice President of Education for the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) and served a four-year term on the Commission on Accreditation for the National Association of Schools of Art & Design (NASAD), the body that accredits ID programs in the U.S.
In 2005 Professor Dorsa was named one of the "Most Admired" industrial design faculty in the United States by DesignIntelligence. 

What is your program known for? I hope it's for graduating designers who know how to identify both societal needs and product opportunities, and then have the creativity and skills to address those needs or opportunities.

What is the next project or product that you would be most excited to explore? It's going to be fun to be fully back in charge of my time.

What are themes that you find yourself addressing over and over again? While every group of students is new, most of the issues of teaching aren't. There's always changes to technology, but this year's students aren't that different from last year's students in terms of what they need to learn to become good designers.

How do #materialsmatter to you? I'm an old fart. I don't use Twitter. But when the Eastman Innovation Lab website came out it changed in a significant way what I was able to share with my students. Not about materials so much, but the stories from professional designers and other student designers about how they worked, why they made the decisions they did, how they overcame obstacles on their way to successful products or services. It was no longer just my stories or my point of view - though my students will tell you there's still plenty of that.

Who is doing work that you find inspiring? There is a bunch of really strong educators around the world who are helping, I'd even say making it possible for students to become the designers that they want to be. There are certainly individual people I could mention, but I won't because I don't want to read this later and realize I left some great educator off the list.

What advice would you give to yourself 10 years ago? Nothing really. I've had a great time teaching these last 30 years and I really wouldn't change anything. And I'm not so sure I'd even want to smooth the road very much. Even the not-so-great stuff that happened had value, if only to teach me not to do that again.

What technology gets you excited? I'm really fascinated by all the 3-d printing and robotic manufacturing advances that have happened in the last five to ten years. On the other hand I have real concerns about where artificial intelligence and machine learning may be taking us.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced and how did you deal with it? I dropped out of college my freshman year to pursue other "interests." As those "interests" fell away and I found myself in one dissatisfying job after another, I figured out that I wasn't ever going to get to do anything very rewarding with my life because I didn't have anything to trade. Quitting a good paying (but boring) job to go back to undergraduate school was a daunting decision, but it was the best thing I ever did.

What’s something you want to get better at? Coding, but I probably won't. Old dog, new tricks thing.

What’s your go-to reference book? These days, Google.


Coffee or tea?
Coffee in the morning, tea at night.

Droid or OS? OS, I bought my first Mac in 1985 (it had a 128K of memory!!!) I've never actually owned any other kind of computer.

Kindle or book? Magazines: The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Harpers, Wired, Fast Company.

Sketch or build? Both.

What are you reading right now?
Magazines, short stories and mostly non-fiction. I don't have the attention span for most novels. Also, and I think this will come as a shock to people who know me, I keep several books of poetry on my beside table: Ted Kooser, Margaret Atwood, Billy Collins, Robert Pinsky.