Doreen Lorenzo: Tell me a little bit about how you ended up where you are now—did you know you wanted to be an industrial designer? Was it a straight line or more of a curvy road?
Amina Horozić: My older brother, who is also a designer, started encouraging me in high school to keep drawing, and to follow my creative streak. At the time he was going to the College for Creative Studies (CCS) in Detroit to study what was called interactive design, and he mentioned that I should come check out the student showcase at the end of the year. That’s where I first saw the work of all these future car designers, and the really cool things they were creating. I was so impressed. They could sculpt and draw machines and were using computers to design—something that was still a new thing back in the late 1990s. I was just blown away by the sheer level of skill, and beauty, and practicality of it all.
From then on I was hooked. I ended up attending CCS to study transportation design, to the vexation of my parents who really wanted me to be something more typical and stable like a doctor or lawyer.
How did you end up in your current role designing with Yves Béhar at fuseproject?
When I was a sophomore at CCS he came as a guest lecturer. I remember thinking then, ‘Wow, this guy’s onto something.’ Except then I didn’t want to design products; I wanted to design cars. Unfortunately, I entered the industry at the worst possible time. It was post 9/11, the Big Three just kind of started slowly plummeting, and I decided I needed to diversify and broaden my skill set. So I went back, and I looked up to see what that guy Yves was up to. And at the time he was chairing the Industrial Design department at the California College of the Arts (CCA), which also at the same time had just launched a new MBA in Design Strategy (DMBA) program. I applied, and the rest is kind of history. Soon after, I joined frog design, and then a small startup called Aether Things. And now some 14 years since that lecture at CCS in Detroit, I’m designing with [Yves].
You have a very interesting personal story–you originally moved to the United States as a refugee during the Bosnian War in the ’90s. How do you think that experience influenced your creative thinking and your approach to design and creativity?
I never thought that period of my life influenced my creative process at all, but I suppose chaos yields beauty and order. Perhaps the chance to produce something genuinely beautiful, to create order out of chaos, is what drives me as a designer.
Life is exciting and rich, and is about navigating and problem-solving, about maintaining a good heart even when everything’s working against it, about remaining a kind and generous human being against all odds, about appreciating beauty in the present moment. To me, regardless of my personal and professional accomplishments, holding up those values is how I gauge my success, both as a person and as a designer. That at the end of the day, I gave more than I took.
So you came from this unique experience as a refugee. Let’s talk about some of the design work currently being done to address so many of the challenges presented by the current global refugee crisis. What do you think is important?
It’s interesting to see how much design work is actually being done right now to help ease the experience of refugees. It really warms my heart that we can actually do that. We’re more informed now. Being a refugee 24 years ago was a totally different experience. Having a phone call with Sarajevo was a pipe dream, and the letters we sent would travel with the humanitarian efforts, so sometimes they would take three to four months to arrive. It’s a different time now with smart phones and how connected we are. I cannot speak for their effectiveness, but I hear about tons of apps that are popping up—promoting sharing flats with refugees, and language learning skills and resources helping refugees get acquainted with the cultural nodes of going from one place to another, learning about your new home so you don’t feel like a total stranger.
What are some of the design requirements here?
I do think what we need to figure out is how to collectively understand just how traumatic war is. What’s missing is an understanding of how much war affects a person and the PTSD long after the ceasefire. People may be arriving empty-handed, but they’re carrying so much emotional weight. Coming into a new world after that much trauma requires security and safety and reassurance that you will be okay, that your life is important and protected and that it means something—that you are a human being worthy of love and respect. It seems almost common sense, but we are simply not equipped with tools to know how to respond to people who have been through these nightmares. It would be great to understand how to solve for that.
For your book Breaking In: Product Design you interviewed over 100 industrial designers about how they got to where they are. What were some of the key insights from those conversations? What patterns did you see? Did anything unexpected come out of those conversations?
It was interesting to see how much humility most of the design and creative leaders I talked to have about their success. Even though they’ve accomplished so much already, they aren’t really resting on their laurels. They still have this passion to keep building on what they’ve learned, and to keep going and pushing for more solutions. A lot of them have this great generosity to give back to the community—they were either teaching, or providing mentorship, or just generally engaging with younger designers. And it was great to hear and learn from them, especially the ones that I’ve considered my own personal heroes, of how they were able to articulate their vision, to communicate what’s important to them. I’ve learned working on the book that being a successful industrial designer is of course about having skills, but first and foremost it’s about having heart.
Do you think that leadership and leadership approaches by women come more naturally?
The bottom line–working with men or women–is the ability to empathize, not just with your day-to-day clients, but with your colleagues, your co-workers, and everybody that kind of runs this system—just considering each other as human beings first. And I feel like leaders that have exemplified that in my professional life have left a really positive, warm and fuzzy impact on me. It’s just easier and more inspiring to be a good designer when you’re around somebody who lets you fail. And when you’re around somebody who will make an effort to pick you up. As designers we’re incredibly sensitive creatures, and having a leader in place who can pull you back up and keep you on track is incredibly important. Someone who can show you through their own stories that you don’t have to be this picture-perfect thing.
Are you a hugger?
It depends. I’m definitely more reserved, mostly because I can tell if another person is not a hugger. I never want to impose what’s comfortable for me onto another. But I do get excited about being in cultures and places where hanging out and being a team together outside of work walls is important. Our happiness and cohesiveness as a team is then naturally reflected in the products we design. It’s all about us as human beings first, putting that as a priority over anything else. I don’t necessarily express this through hugging, but I try to express appreciation through some other ways. I’m a big gift-giver. I like that. I’ll leave a gift; that’s my hug.