SketchLAB in session.

Hoang and Anh Nguyen: Creative Session

Brothers Hoang and Anh Nguyen started a club for students to help each other and improve their skills.

When Industrial Design alumni Hoang Nguyen and brother Anh came to CCA in 2004 and 2006, respectively, they started a club with the objective of getting a group of students to work together, helping each other learn and improve their skills. They named the club for its purpose: Creative Session.

Although the club was slow to develop, that early effort evolved into their joint venture, a lively online presence that showcases an array of design projects, videos, and musings from the two brothers. Creative Session (CS) has been going for over seven years and has brought Hoang and Anh lots of attention, including invitations to teach, to participate in design competitions, and most recently to be jury captains for consumer products at the 2015 Core77 Design Awards.

They also receive frequent job inquiries, Hoang says, “. . . but we make it clear that CS is and has always been a platform for Anh and me to think, create, and share as brothers and, more importantly, as designers without constraints.” And that’s all while keeping their day jobs.

CS is the Nguyens' labor of love, and the design firms for which they have worked have been supportive of their enterprise. Until recently, Anh was a designer at Astro Studios in San Francisco. One of his recent projects is the Electric Watch line.

Early in 2014 Hoang joined San Francisco-based design and innovation firm Matter as a senior designer; a recent project is Abode, a newly launched firm that offers user-installed and -controlled home security. Previously Hoang worked as a designer for Amazon/Lab 126 in Cupertino, where his projects included the Amazon Dash Button and the Kindle.

This fall the brothers left their leadership roles at Astro and Matter to join Andy Rubin and Matt Hershenson at Playground, where they are helping to shape the startup’s industrial design arm.

Design Surrounded Them

In some ways the brothers acquired their passion for design by osmosis. Their parents immigrated to Portland, Oregon, from Vietnam in the early 1980s, and the brothers grew up and went to school there. They recall their father buying old appliances at the Goodwill store and coaxing the machines back to life by taking them apart and reassembling them.

Apart from the family influence, nearby Beaverton is the headquarters of Nike, and the brothers were “sneaker-obsessed” and always interested in design and drawing. In high school, a Nike designer saw Hoang’s work and wrote him a note advising him to design shoes after school. “This was our official introduction to industrial design,” Anh reports.

Real-World Learning

Both Hoang and Anh earned their BFAs in 2009. Each was awarded small scholarships, which helped with tuition and expenses. They cite the school’s location as vital in becoming immersed in their field.

“The Bay Area is the melting pot of industrial design studios,” Hoang observes.

Another advantage CCA offered is that many faculty members are practicing designers. Hoang recalls that two instructors who stood out in his experience are Markus Diebel and Blaise Bertrand. Both worked at the design firm IDEO and held classes at their offices. “This changed my world. We got to see how a design studio ran.”

Anh cites Shujan Bertrand, Dana Krieger, and Brook Banham from Astro Studios as important influences. He made a strong connection with the Astro team as a student. “These guys really saw the fire, passion, and love in me and gave me my first internship.”

Anh adds that another important part of his education has been to always do his best work, then to “pin it up on all available walls, because one day, some creative influencer will walk by, and you’ll get some kind of work from them.”

Teaching to Learn More

In the last few years the visibility of Creative Session has led to the Nguyens giving workshops locally and abroad. In fall 2014 they taught in Mexico, and in 2013 and 2014 they held workshops at Sketching Lab in San Jose, Costa Rica. “These trips are life-changing,” Anh says. “Working with the students really helped us personally to define who we are.”

Anh and Hoang have also held informal teaching sessions with students at CCA, and they plan to establish a more structured program of working with students through CS.

“I think giving back,” Hoang says, “especially early on in a student’s career, can make for a stronger designer in the future. That’s our goal.”

Passion and Blue Sky

The striking variety of products and concepts that populate Creative Session’s website and blog offer a glimpse of the rich contributions Anh and Hoang are making to the design community.

From the Aer chair, which the owner inflates by breathing into it and must inflate again after 30 days, to the Graava camera, a self-editing device, to Hoang’s pocket communications device, Serendipity, to the tripod-shaped Lamp Fire that’s inspired by gathering around a campfire, and the magic carpet Anh created in a live competition, these two brothers are opening up their creative sessions and just possibly setting off sparks all around.

As Anh puts it, “We design and imagine a better way of living. The term industrial design is very commercial, and it seems to take the art and emotions away from what we love doing. Creative Session allows us to be a bit more poetic.”