Alumnus Spotlight: Nick Cronan

For alumnus Nick Cronan (né Christopher HibmaCronan), an Oakland native, CCA is a literal cross-generational family affair; he’s a lecturer in CCA’s Industrial Design Program; his father, Michael Cronan, is a graphic designer who also taught at CCA; and his brother, Shawn Hibma Cronan, entered CCA’s Sculpture Program.

Since age 11 Cronan wanted to be an architect. He also always enjoyed drawing. He attended the French American School in San Francisco and then ultimately chose CCA for its interdisciplinary nature . . . and because so much was happening. As he puts it, “It was just what I was looking for.”

Today Cronan is one of three senior designers at fuseproject, the integrated, strategy-intensive San Francisco-based design firm (founded by industry-renowned CCA Industrial Design Chair Yves Béhar, who inspired Cronan to teach at CCA). He admits that he “works with really good people. I love that I’m able to keep everyone involved here.”

Y Water, a kid’s water bottle that also functions as a game, and a laptop computer design—the impetus for the highly publicized One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project—are just two of the many prestigious, award-winning projects that have involved the young designer’s talents.

For the OLPC project, Cronan collaborated with other skilled designers to create the extremely affordable, compact, and virtually indestructible lime-green laptop design, complete with rabbit ears and Wi-Fi antennae that can increase user reception even in the most remote and impoverished regions around the world. The design also features a specialized screen that allows easy reading in the sun and includes a drawing/stencil writing tablet.

Cronan admits being a member of the OLPC project’s core design team is his proudest accomplishment. “I am humbled by my ability to work with big companies where I can change, influence, and inspire others.”

As for his passion and legacy with CCA: “The departments here aren’t in silos—everything’s all around you. There are lots of different materials and processes to broaden your horizons.” Although Cronan started in architecture, he transferred to the Industrial Design Program. “The students looked like they were having a lot of fun, and ID needs to bring in all these different elements at school,” he explains.

Through CCA Cronan spent time at Paris’s Les Ateliers—ENSCI, the École nationale supérieure de création industrielle, where he excelled at marker renderings and advanced his design and drawing under the guidance of Greg Hollen of Alchemy Labs.

“My best memory from school was working through the night with studio mates,” he laughs. They were always busy, and as a result many design awards and opportunities followed. Drive, determination, and genuine passion united Cronan and five of his friends and together they founded Lift, a successful design studio that was featured in the Los Angeles Times.

“Humor and good ideas are the basis of friendship and work,” theorizes the under 30-year-old conceptual designer, but ultimately the distinction between work and play was challenging and Cronan chose to leave Lift in 2006 to preserve his friendships and pursue other work.

Professor of humanities and design Barry Katz is Cronan’s most memorable influence: “Barry doesn’t get distracted by aesthetics. He digs for deeper truths and brings the bigger picture. He situates his students within history and the accumulation of ideas. He made us ask why we were doing or making something, and he placed us on the map. I made sure I was in at least one of his classes every semester!”

Born in 1980 in Oakland, CA

CCA degree:BFA 2002, Industrial Design

Residence:Oakland, CA

Current occupation:Senior designer, fuseproject; lecturer, CCA

Influences at CCA:Barry Katz