Lucas Ainsworth: Industrial Strength

Delphi Digital Optics, designed by Lucas Ainsworth

What do Delphi Optics (special wilderness goggles that use satellite info to provide specific information about your surroundings), Jungle Walkers (100 percent sustainable cardboard puzzle animals), and the Snowkite (a kite that pulls you across snowy slopes) all have in common? They're all the brainchildren of alumnus Lucas Ainsworth (Industrial Design 2010), and they're all in one way or another expressions of Ainsworth's passion for the outdoors.

Before he came to CCA's Industrial Design Program, Ainsworth studied environmental science at UC Davis. "I always intrinsically loved design, but I was never exposed to it growing up. I thought products were designed by mechanical engineers. Then, during my time at UC Davis I was a whitewater guide in their outdoor program on weekends. The guy who runs the program was a designer at Black Diamond, and he used to tell stories about designing and testing outdoor gear. After graduating and working for a few years, I called him up and asked what it takes to be a designer at Black Diamond. He introduced me to the field of industrial design and said, basically, 'Your only chance is to get into a top-notch design school and rock it.'"

While at CCA, Ainsworth developed and marketed all kinds of products, from toys to high-end electronic devices. It was in Jay Baldwin's Industrial Design 1 class that he conceived the Jungle Walker, an environmentally conscious toy elephant made of cardboard that, when assembled, walks and moves its head with surprising realism.

"The assignment was to design a toy from cardboard that could be cheaply made with a rule-die press -- basically a big steel cookie cutter. I was inspired by the complicated linkages in Theo Jansen's walking sculptures, like the Strandbeest. I started with a hand-folded paper concept, and from there moved into numerous iterations on the laser cutter, constantly taking notes on things that didn't fit right. My challenge was to make each animal from a single sheet of cardboard with just tabs and slots -- no glue, no tools. I pitched the elephant toy to University Games. At our second meeting, University Games said they would be interested in a line of three animals. So I modified the original design into a giraffe and a rhino to complete the set.

"I sold the rights to University Games, and we had orders from Calendar Club stores, and FAO Schwarz was going to put a display in their New York store. It was one of the company's first real attempts at making a completely sustainable product. Then because of some last-minute problems printing the box with soy ink, they missed the Christmas season, and then the person in charge of the line went on personal leave, and the whole project just fizzled. So now I'm back in control of the rights, and planning one day to start up a small production line myself."

UPDATE as of June 11, 2012: Read in the Monterey Herald about how the "Kinetic Creatures" are now going into production thanks to Kickstarter funding

Also while at CCA, Ainsworth designed the Capture180Camera, which led to an introduction to his current employer, Intel. "Our assignment for that class was simply: 'Design for the future of digital photography.' At the end of the class, Matty Martin, Sam Staar, and I were selected to develop our ideas further over the summer in a sponsored course with Intel. Of all the concepts I sketched up, the hemispheric camera was one of the simplest, but it had the strongest narrative, the best story. At the end we presented our work at the Intel Developer Forum, and I was invited to give a solo presentation to the vice president of handheld devices at Intel in Santa Clara.

"Later, when Intel's Interaction and Experience Research lab was founded, my contact from the CCA Intel sponsored studio hand-delivered my résumé and portfolio to the hiring manager. His good words got me that first interview for a highly competitive position."

And the rest is history. His position at Intel couldn't be more up his alley, he reports. He is based in Portland, Oregon, and designs conceptual electronics, specifically the future of photo and video capture. "It's great. I'm currently building an experience prototyping lab, complete with hacked Kinects, Arduinos, a 3D printer, and soon some projectors. We're setting up quick environmental interactions using Processing and Scratch. The latter is an MIT program for helping kids learn to program, but it's also great for hacking together basic interactions and gesture controls with a Kinect." Many of Ainsworth's designs are motivated by his fascination with the mechanical aesthetics of kinetics. That is, in each of his products, he aims to create immersive experiences through objects and interactions.

Ainsworth cites CCA as very important in his quick climb to success in his chosen field. "I've been very fortunate. After graduation, I worked freelance for a year before getting hired at Intel, and every one of my jobs came through a CCA contact -- either an instructor or a studio sponsor. I had a few unique opportunities that were extremely beneficial, for example working with MBA students at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. It was a challenging environment, and my first 'outside the design bubble' experience. All in all, my time at CCA could not have been more important to my developing experience, professional contacts, and an extremely valuable skill set."