By Joseph Mathieu
Photos by Julian Saliby

The grey, octagonal time capsule—designed in 1999 by an alumnus of the School of Industrial Design (SID) and sealed in 2000—finally opened on April 22, 2023.

Hundreds of people crowded in Carleton’s Richcraft Building that Saturday for the SID’s 50th Anniversary Gala and watched a rolled tube of messages slide out of the capsule.

Cynthia Damar-Schnobb, a partner at Entro and past president of the Association of Chartered Industrial Designers of Ontario, was surprised when organizers asked her to come up and read what she had written 23 years ago.

“We were getting rid of drafting tables and we were the first generation of students to get the ‘computer lab’,” she says. “I wrote about wondering ‘where I will be’ in 2023, and that if I had become successful it would be thanks to the folks who believed in me and who gave me the chance for my first design jobs.”

The crowd nodded knowingly and laughed along to her letter. Then Damar-Schnobb read out “student Cynthia’s” hope: that she would still be close to a special, supportive someone she met during her BID. She looked up from the letter, gestured to the side of the stage and said she had married him: Alex Schnobb, another SID alumnus.

And the hundreds of industrial designers filled the atrium with cheers and tears.

Cynthia Damar-Schnobb and Alex Schnobb sharing a special moment after reading their remarks from the time capsule.

Celebrating a Connected Community  

“The Gala was a great moment for our community to all get together,” says SID Director WonJoon Chung. “Currents students were able to talk with alumni about design work and school projects, and it was good to see all faculty, staff, students and alumni unified.”

Cooperation and camaraderie were hallmarks of the evening. Old friends reconnected, alumni speakers shared lessons learned and mistakes made, and lab tours allowed family members of ID students and grads to see where the magic happens.

Ty Summers, the Student President of the Carleton Industrial Design Student Association, says he was most inspired by the SID’s global impact on design, from the famous Umbra Garbo basket by Karim Rashid to the efforts of other alumni who worked on products like the Fitbit One, Google Pixel Buds and Beats by Dr. Dre.

Sunil Achia, President of the SID Alumni Association, had the pleasure to speak with hundreds of alumni over the last year in anticipation of the event. “Almost all wanted to stay connected with the school, and many wanted to give back in more meaningful ways, either through the Alumni Mentors Program, student portfolio reviews or career path presentations.”

The time capsule also included a letter from the SID founding Director Wim Gilles that he wrote specifically for the event.

“In 2023, if still alive, I will be 100 years old and if mentally in good health, I certainly will be interested in meeting you,” wrote Gilles, who passed away in 2002. “The many industrial design students I have known, without exception, were nice people, co-operative and eager to learn. I expect you are of the same kind.”

A group photo of the industrial design community at Carleton. Current students, professors and staff, and alumni featured in the group photo.

The History of Industrial Design at Carleton

Gilles was an industrial design academic in the Netherlands when he was hired by Carleton University in 1972 to develop a Canadian bachelor’s degree in ID. He became Professor and Director of the School when its first cohort was accepted in September 1973.

According to SID immediate-past Director Bjarki Hallgrimsson, Gilles and those who hired him recognized that a university-based design school would invigorate manufacturing in Canada and would give students the chance to go further in their careers and have more influence in society.

Fifty years ago, industrial designers were expected to work with architects to create complementing furniture and interior decor or alongside manufacturers to develop industrial equipment and technology. It soon became apparent to the SID faculty, however, that their graduates had a much wider variety of career opportunities, says Hallgrimsson.

“Representing this diversity was very important,” says Rob Watters, organizer of the 50th anniversary event. “The evening was launched with six different presentations from alumni because we could not cover the current diversity of SID design with a single keynote speaker.”

Photo of the timeline of the School of Industrial Design at Carleton University, spanning over 50 years

Gilles would be proud (but not surprised) to hear that SID now boasts 1,246 alumni that live and work around the world. They design products, programs, experiences and services for companies like Google, Teknion, Arc’teryx, Bombardier, Facebook, Nokia, Canadian Tire and Adobe. SID students and alumni are winners of multiple national and international design competitions and some are even designer superstars whose work has been recognized nationally and globally.

The SID is unique for its multidisciplinary curriculum and emphasis on industry experience in the field. It offers a holistic understanding of design through a blend of business, arts and science courses alongside traditional design studio classes.

Looking Towards the Future

The Friday night before the Gala, 43 current students introduced their capstone projects at the annual ID Grad Show in the Richcraft Building. Forty-five years of Grad Show posters were also on display on the specially designed 36-foot-long timeline wall that tracked the evolution of the SID. Notable events—like the Master of Design program beginning in 2008 and the SID’s move to the fourth floor of the Azrieli Pavillion in 2018—were peppered with Post-it notes from students and alumni during the celebration.

The SID raised sponsorship funds from industry to hire many students to facilitate the evening, to run tours of the school and to design various graphic elements, like the massive timeline and a celebratory video.

“These elements further welcomed our guests and their families and let our current students really mix with alumni and our history,” says Watters.

SID Director and Professor WonJoon Chung welcoming attendees to the event.

The five-decade milestone was an opportunity to mingle, reminisce and to look to the future: what will the SID be in another 50 years?

Whatever great social and technological changes come, the idea of designing with end users will remain at the School’s core. It is a people-focused discipline, first and foremost, and always will be.

“I hope that we can retain Wim Gilles’s original desire for graduates,” says Achia, “to recognize human dignity as a major criterion in our lives and in the design work we do.”

Photos from the gala celebration can be found on the School of Industrial Design’s website.

Friday, June 9, 2023 in
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