Wentworth Alumni and Industrial Design Students Embrace EPIC Project

May 18, 2018

Two Wentworth alumni reconnected with their roots and brought real-world lighting expertise to a class of Industrial Design students.

Mike Johnson, BELM ’05, and Rob Kodadek, BELM ’05, are owners of The Black Tank, a company that creates products for the entertainment, theatrical, and architectural markets. In the past, they have worked on the Saturday Night Live studio, Super Bowl XLIX, and Cirque du Soleil’s “Michael Jackson ONE,” among other projects.

The two more recently created a lighting module that inspired a world of creativity in Wentworth’s junior industrial design studio. A total of 12 students designed and produced different models, ranging from track lighting to downlighting. The students were tasked with creating something “functional and beautiful,” according to Derek Cascio, assistant professor in the Department of Industrial Design.

Cascio, who ran the studio, notes that product design is all about creating experiences. It requires problem-solving, building emotional resonance, and translating wants and needs, he explains.

Cascio and Johnson had previously worked together at lighting company Philips Color Kinetics. With Kodadek, conceived the junior design studio with the goal of identifying applications for a new lighting module and developing the housings for it.

The experience reminded Johnson and Kodadek of their time as students, working with their hands, beyond theoretical math and equations. When it came to their business, they found they needed an industrial design aspect to enhance their module.

“All of our engineers and employees are electromechanical focused. We don't have any employees that have a strength in industrial design,” says Johnson. “We needed help from Derek and his students, who are talented in the field of design.”

According to Cascio, the design studio was set up in several parts: research, permutation, and iteration. The students researched the customer, technological limitations, and the market and company values. The permutation and iteration phases led students to think broadly about the problems they wanted to solve and find solutions by creating numerous sketches, drawings, and models. According to Cascio, visual communication is important, and the studio teaches students to become more fluent in it.

Kodadek and Johnson gave the students personal advice and guidance throughout every step of the project, with both students and The Black Tank owners working on the Wentworth campus and Haverhill, Mass., where The Black Tank is located.

“I loved coming back to the same campus and seeing how everything has changed,” says Johnson of Wentworth.

All parties recently traveled to Lightfair International in Chicago, a fair that provided more than 550 architecture lighting companies a chance to show their work to potential customers and users. Johnson and Kodadek chose five Wentworth students to attend the competition to show their designs through models and posters. Customer feedback will influence the company’s decision about how they wish to proceed with these projects.

“I hope the students build relationships beyond the classroom. I want them to have strong portfolios to showcase their real-world experiences and real-world results,” says Cascio. “Being able to give students the opportunity to showcase their work on an international level and expose them to work with a real company and real-world constraints was rewarding.”

Photos of the students and their work can be found at this link or in the gallery below. 

--Sumya Mohiuddin

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