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The Art of Designing Everything
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December 02, 2013
NERF designer Aaron Mead '01 demonstrates the power of tangible concepts
Most kids think being an adult must be pretty boring. But when CIA grad Aaron Mead gives tours of Hasbro’s headquarters in Rhode Island, where he has been designing NERF toys for more than ten years, kids are amazed to discover that grownups like him “get to play all day” on the job.
Of course there’s also a lot of hard work involved in designing products for one of the largest toy makers in the world—where Mead has worked on the Littlest Pet Shop and G.I. Joe product lines in addition to his role as Senior NERF Armorer (as his business card reads).
“Every day I use what I learned at CIA—especially communication skills, drawing, rendering, presentation,” said Mead. “I do a ton of sketch modeling when we present to our marketing and engineering groups. They want to know the look of the product, the play, how it fits into the marketplace and strategy... and physical sketching helps communicate those ideas.”
Last month, Mead demonstrated his approach to designing for creative play at TEDxChemungRiver in Corning, New York. TEDx is a nationwide series of events at which speakers and small groups gather to share and discuss ideas. A nonprofit organization, TED started with a 1984 conference on technology, entertainment, and design.
The theme of this year’s Chemung River event was “It Connects Us.” Mead used his talk, titled “Build your way through creative play,” to explain the importance of making ideas tangible. In both his childhood and his professional life, Mead has relied on physical sketching—building idea prototypes out of simple materials—to tell stories and convey ideas.
“There I am as a bored kid with all these great materials—cardboard, paper, tape, glue, and two very creative parents who were trying to keep me at bay,” Mead said in his talk. “I physically built what was in my imagination... and when I was done playing, I knew I could build a bigger, faster, stronger rocket ship next time.”
The endless hours he spent crafting and improving his childhood toys paid off as he worked his way through high school art classes, the Industrial Design program at CIA, and now his career at Hasbro. “Even today I will not go into a presentation without something physical in my hand to tell the story of what we’re talking about,” said Mead.
When it’s time to set the stage for collaboration and creativity, he said, “I’m going to do what comes naturally. I’m going to build.”
Above: Aaron Mead has serious fun in his career as a toy designer. Photo courtesy of Mead.
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