College for Creative Studies: Product Design
Innovation means introducing the world to new ideas, or putting a fresh “twist” on an old one. Joel Van Faasen is a senior designer at Twisthink, a design, technology and strategy firm located in Holland, Michigan.
He manages projects with clients ranging from smaller venture capital (VC) funded start-ups to well-established Fortune 500 companies. Several of the concepts he’s worked on are considered cutting edge; they have never existed before.
“In some cases this means working side-by-side with in-house ‘corporate’ designers on both advanced and production projects,” explained Van Faasen. “In other cases, I’m asked to lead the design activities for companies (both large and small) who don’t have internal design capabilities. I help guide those companies from early concept development sketches through design refinement, prototyping, validation and launch.
“The past few years I have spent the majority of my time in the wearable technology market for sports, recreation and tactical applications. I work closely with the electrical engineering and mechanical design teams implementing cutting edge technology in these new products. That often requires me to work directly with athletes in their environment or even gear up for a motocross trail ride and learn the demands of the sport first hand. It’s challenging work but also rewarding and its one of the things I enjoy most... I get to work on things that literally don’t exist anywhere in the world!”
Over the past decade, Van Faasen has collaborated with Whirlpool across several product categories, including cooking, refrigeration and fabric care. He was a lead designer responsible for the aesthetics and A-surface touch points of the Whirlpool Duet 2 washer and dryer, which received an IDEA Silver Award, Good Design Award, Spark Award and Appliance Magazine Award. His work as a lead designer for the Maytag Bravos washer and dryer earned the appliances an Excellence in Design Award and Appliance Magazine Award. He has also done a number of residential and commercial lighting products for Leviton, conceptualized an energy management device for Tendril and designed several premium residential furniture pieces.
In 2006, Van Faasen won the Pinnacle Award, a national award from the American Society of Furniture Designers, for an entertainment console that continues to be a top seller for Sligh furniture. He is also the vice chair of Michigan’s Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) chapter.
“Being part of a relatively small company, it’s critical that I don’t put it into cruise control and just coast thru the day,” said Van Faasen. “It’s hard work, but exciting and fulfilling much the same way that CCS is.
Honest critiques and intense competition. That’s how you become a better designer. Those qualities serve you well in the professional world
Van Faasen fondly reminisces about his days as a student in the industrial design program at CCS. He believes the College provides students with a fantastic technical foundation and does an outstanding job of instilling a hardworking, nose-to-the-grindstone attitude.
“The instructors set the bar high, and the student body drives the competition.”
“People don’t coast through CCS. I love that aspect of it—honest critiques and intense competition. That’s how you become a better designer. Those qualities serve you well in the professional world.”
Outside of his career at Twisthink, Van Faasen enjoys oil painting and serving the community through his art.
“Although my job demands creativity and innovation, it doesn’t always require ‘an artistic hand,’” said Van Faasen. “It’s important for me to supplement my daily activities with another creative outlet. I really enjoy oil painting—landscapes, cars, animals, fish, people… To me the subject matter is just a means to an end. Composition, color, light and shadow, those are the things that inspire my work.
“I like to spend most of my free time with my wife, Emily, and our two young boys, Graham and Ben, but I still manage to squeeze in a few private commissions a year and works for the Button Gallery (Douglas, Michigan) to help me get my ‘art fix.’ I’m currently working on publishing an illustrated history of Michigan trout flies, which combines my passions for fly-fishing and art.”
Each year Van Faasen donates a few paintings to raise money for organizations like the Center for Women in Transition, the Junior Welfare League and Evergreen Commons. He painted an 8-foot by12-foot mural at a local public elementary school as part of a “beautification blitz” and supports the Holland Boys and Girls Club with logos and graphics for their annual fundraising dinner.
“These are small things, but I believe designers and artists can give back to the local, regional or global communities in ways that many others can’t,” Van Faasen said. “I believe it’s both a duty and a rewarding privilege to do so.”