Get My Job: Spotlight on Industrial Design
In this Nexus series, Get My Job, we interview alumni and faculty from one of the University’s 160-plus undergraduate and graduate professional programs. The latest installment features BS in industrial design alumnus Nick Friez.
Earlier this year, Jefferson welcomed back industrial design alumnus Nick Friez. He served as a guest critic for the program’s sprint project on envisioning life after COVID-19. Friez now works at Armstrong World Industries, a leader in the design and manufacture of ceiling and wall solutions. The Class of 2016 graduate shares what skills he gained at the University, some favorite projects, advice for future industrial designers and more.
What’s your position at Armstrong, and what’s the makeup of your team?
I’m a staff designer on the product design team. We create new ceiling and wall products across a wide range of commercial applications, from schools to hospitals to offices. These types of spaces really benefit from improved acoustics and visual enhancement.
We’re a mix of industrial designers, engineers, CAD specialists and installation specialists, as well as other cross-functional members who help to bring new products to the market.
What’s it like working on this team?
It’s an exciting and fast-paced environment where we design a large number of projects simultaneously. My team guides projects through the entire process, which is one thing I love about my position. We don’t have separate teams handing portions of projects off to each other; all our teams work together collaboratively. We see each design through until it’s in the product lineup and ready to be specified and ordered by architects and contractors across the country.
Our team brings in trend, material and process information to guide our design and development process. Starting with the research, concept and ideation process, we review our ideas with architect and design panels to gain valuable market and customer feedback. Then, we do everything to move the project forward, including the initial benchmarking and materials research. As we evolve the design, we make our own prototypes using laser cutters, CNC machines and 3D printers. Working through the manufacturing phase is a huge component as well. We even get to be part of the fire testing and seismic testing. Once a design is complete, we work with our marketing teams to get everything ready for a full product launch.
What project are you especially proud of?
Recently, I designed MetalWorks Torsion Spring Shapes, a product line of more than 25 different geometric ceiling panel designs. I created a wide range of shapes, where each of them is both modular and dimensional. So, when you put multiple pieces together, you can make distinctive designs specific to a space and create a lot of interest and depth. It enables architects to add a whole different level of experience in a given environment. I had a lot of fun with this one.
What skills have you learned at Armstrong?
I’ve learned new ways to work with the manufacturing side of things to quickly understand what’s possible and how it will affect the overall product’s form and function. I’ve also learned about what it takes to bring a product to market, including putting together attention-grabbing presentations and visuals. Commercializing and marketing are so important to the overall design process.
How did Jefferson’s industrial design program prepare you for working at Armstrong?
A large portion of our design process at Armstrong is exactly what I learned at Jefferson, so the transition to the professional world was really straightforward for me. Even some of the 3D printers we use are the same ones I worked with at the University. Having such a strong foundation with the design process allowed me to focus more on understanding the manufacturing, marketing and commercialization side of new product development.
A large portion of our design process at Armstrong is exactly what I learned at Jefferson, so the transition to the professional world was really straightforward for me.
What advice do you have for prospective and current industrial design students?
It’s important to be able to communicate your ideas through different methods and technologies, but never abandon the basics. Concept sketching to show someone your idea is always crucial. Not everyone has your design understanding, so it’s huge to be able to quickly convey your ideas to others. Basic perspective, proper line weight—all those small things will help someone who’s not a designer get it.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
Having the ability to collaborate with so many other architects and designers. Being able to take those collaborative ideas and perspectives that start as just a conversation and turn them into a product installed in an airport across the country a year later. There’s tremendous satisfaction in that.