College for Creative Studies: Product Design
As a senior footwear design manager for Under Armour, Mark Kokavec knows the value of a quality design education. It’s what inspired him to start Render Demo Design Studio (www.renderdemo.com), a collection of multimedia tutorials on design techniques led by successful professionals across multiple industries
“I came up with the idea for Render from my time studying at CCS,” said Kokavec. “I learned from some very talented professors as well as industry professionals who visited our classes and gave live tutorials on sketching techniques, rendering tutorials and so forth. I wanted to make it possible for artists and designers who may not be able to attend these highly competitive institutions to learn some industry techniques by making these types of demos available to anyone…
“I started out with a few video of my own focused around footwear design, but have since expanded to include tutorials from successful individuals that I know from my past as well as other professionals I met online. We’re still expanding our instructor base and are currently working on some exciting upcoming tutorials.”
Since opening the studio in June (2008), Kokavec has received an overwhelming amount of positive emails and letters from people all over the world who have watched his tutorials.
“Some artists don’t have the means to attend college but have a strong passion for design,” Kokavec said. “In a way, I’m helping those individuals achieve their goals. A number of college libraries have ordered copies of Render Demo tutorials so that students can have access to them for free. As I grow the company into other areas of design, I hope to influence a broader range of artists and designers with my demos.”
To encourage friendly competition, Kokavec decided to pose design challenges on his site every two months. The subject matter varies from product areas (watches, shoes and so on) to cars with prizes as well as exposure for the winners. The upcoming winner will be published in SLAM magazine, which has over 200,000 readers.
A unique feature of Render’s tutorials is that they are offered by real working professionals with proven success in the industry. Kokavec currently manages the running and trail lines of footwear for Under Armour. He leads a team of four designers who create the look of every piece of footwear in these categories.
“I was hired in 2006 as the second designer for the company’s footwear group,” explained Kokavec. “At the time, we were just starting with football cleats. Since then, I’ve helped create designs for football, baseball, lacrosse, slides, training, basketball, trail and running. I have a number of patents and am currently working on the running line for spring 2011.”
Prior to his experience at Under Armour, Kokavec worked for Reebok and Converse. He got his start designing running shoes at Reebok as well as contributed to the company’s tennis line, which involved working closely with Venus Williams, Michael Chang, Todd Martin, Patrick Rafter and Andy Roddick. After six years at Reebok, Converse hired Kokavec to manage their basketball category, this time collaborating with Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Jameer Nelson and Kirk Hinrich. He managed the creation of the Wade1 signature shoe.
“One of the hardest lessons I learned early on in my career was how to take constructive criticism,” said Kokavec. “If you work for a large company, you’ll find there seems to be a lot of opinions. Being able to take in the feedback and process it constructively is a valuable asset. Defending your designs without coming off as defensive cannot be taught, it just takes some time to learn.
“Designers need to have integrity. You should put your heart and soul into each and every design. Even though 99 percent of your ideas will never be seen by a consumer, you must design as though they will.”
Kokavec credits CCS for helping him develop his work ethic to meet industry expectations. The quality of instruction he received inspired him to pass on his knowledge through initiatives like Render Demo as well as lectures and presentations at Industrial Designers Society of America conferences. He currently is working with professor Stephen Schock on a product design studio class at CCS in which he will give critiques and evaluate student work.
“My education was crucial! The highly competitive environment sharpened my skills at a high pace. The exhausting workload seemed intolerable at the time, but it helped so much that, if I had to, I would do it all over again."
“Learning from the live demonstrations taught by faculty and guest industry professionals and being able to ask questions was an invaluable experience. I learned some great rendering techniques from Sung Paik who still teaches visual communication. Seeing what he could do in numerous mediums was inspirational.
“As Render Demo grows, I am looking for ways to involve inspirational instructors like those I studied under as well as others in the CCS community. Perhaps one day, CCS students will be able to share their techniques with other designers from around the globe through these tutorials.”