We interviewed with Professor Martin Smith who joined the PolyU Design family in October 2008. Prof Smith came from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, US where he was Chair of the Product Design Department.
DT: What is your new role at the School?
M: My official title is Chair Professor of Industrial Design. My role is to bring to the Industrial/Product Design program what I have learned and experienced at the school I just left. My hope is to challenge the students to achieve great things, empower the faculty to be the best they can be and bring international recognition of excellence to the School of Design.
DT: You have joined PolyU Design for just two weeks. What do you think of the School’s environment, staff, and students so far? Are you experiencing any culture shock?
M: It is so early for me to be sharing observations after only 2 weeks. However my first impressions are of a student body hungry for knowledge and desiring success in design along with the recognition that we have a very smart and dedicated faculty. Culture shock? Absolutely. My previous school was small and privately owned with an academic culture that just sort of evolved. Coming to a university culture – ten times as many students with tremendous resources and many disciplines (not just design) will require a period of adjustment. Within the School of Design I have found many familiar touch points, however. The studio environment, students making things in the shop or in their studio space I recognize.
DT: You have a track record in coaching internationally acclaimed award-winning students. What’s your teaching philosophy?
M: This question can be answered two ways. In my design education career I feel my greatest strength is in creating a structured curriculum that provides topics and issues to the students in a timely and organized manner – in order to maximize the time that we have them in the program. I am sensitive to the students’ ability to absorb knowledge and in the case of design the need to apply it. At the same time students need to be introduced to topics that fit where they are in the curriculum and are related to their principle focus. For example: in a furniture design studio they could at the same time be taking academic classes in ergonomics, materials and manufacturing of furniture or business – theory informing the application, the academic informing the studio. My own experience with this method has been an acceleration of the student’s learning curve.
DT: Is there a secret formula to nurturing design talents?
M: There is no secret to nurturing design talent. Outstanding designers can come from any design program. My goal is to increase the number of outstanding talents that emerge from the PolyU. A strong comprehensive and structured curriculum is the key to that goal.
DT: What do your successful students have in common? Is there anything that Hong Kong students can learn from them?
M: Hard work. Determination. Wanting to be the most creative individual they can be.
DT: What’s your vision in design education?
M: Leading an education department is akin to being the conductor of the orchestra. The conductor cannot play the instruments. The musicians rely on the conductor to provide direction and a vision for the performance. Together we can create beautiful music. The challenge will be to find the right piece of music.