An Ideal Designer: Meet Dan Sosa (and His Cat)

Dan Sosa designed a collapsible skateboared for his industrial design studio. As a builder, designer and an artist, Sosa is ideally suited for his major -- industrial design.

Dan Sosa likes his major -- industrial design -- so much that he says it “never stops being fun.”  He has as much fun in school, he says, as he does outside of it.  And if you hang out with him for a while in his studio space -- a computer desk and a work station -- you’ll understand why.

The first thing you notice about his studio is a cat. Sosa drives to school from Jersey City, where he lives with his grandparents. And he sometimes brings his cat, whose name is Mot’r, to studio with him. Mot’r sits next to Sosa while he works on his design projects.

After their freshman year, each student in the School of Art and Design is given a desk and a work station – a studio space for them to work in – and at times, live in. For design, like architecture, is a labor-intensive major in which students spend more time in studio than in their apartments. And the industrial design floor, in the basement of Weston Hall, feels like a student apartment. The atmosphere is so relaxed and casual, so freewheeling and fun, that Mot’r goes unnoticed. In fact, Mot’r fits right in amidst the guitars, the couches, the air mattresses (handy for students who pull all nighters) and the alternative rock music that wafts through the loft-like floor.

“My favorite thing about design studio culture,” says Sosa, “is the way in which fun creative problem solving is applied to serious design questions.”

And what could be more fun, yet serious, than creating a skateboard, which is precisely what Sosa did for a recent  class project. He designed a collapsible skateboard – a folding longboard deck that’s easy for skateboarders to carry and store. He not only designed the deck but also built it. He used a vacuum bag to press the deck and a welder to make the hinges. All the equipment he needed to build the board he bought from stores in Newark, a city whose grit and industrial past he finds appealing. The graphic images on his decks, moreover, all connote Newark -- bricks for brick city, (Newark’s nickname) and the initials NWK. His collapsible skateboard turned out so well that Sosa now makes skateboards for hire, mostly for friends. His skateboard business is named Endemic Longboards, Newark, N.J. 

“I recently started skateboarding and because of my nature,” he says, “it was only a matter of time before I started building decks.”

Sosa’s nature is a fascinating mix: He likes art and design, but also likes to solve mechanical problems. He’s an avid reader who likes to get his hands dirty.  In high school, he worked as a part-time machinist. He also worked in an auto parts store. These days, on the weekends, he helps a friend build a house in Stockton, N.J. 

And his dual nature is ideally suited to his major – industrial design. So much so that school, for him, is like an extension of his childhood, a large part of which he devoted to building.

“I started playing with Legos when I was young enough to choke on them,” Sosa recalls. “I love to draw, work with my hands and to solve problems.”

Sosa didn’t begin NJIT as an industrial design major. For two years he majored in mechanical engineering.  During his sophomore year, he took an elective class: Drawing for Design 1. He liked art in high school and suspected he’d like the class. As it turned out, he loved the class and through it discovered industrial design, which, unlike mechanical engineering, was precisely what he wanted in a major: a mix of problem solving and art. Industrial designers also build products that help people.    

Presently, for example, Sosa is designing a playground for poor children in Thailand, many of whom are refugees. It’s an assignment for his studio class. For the playground model, he can only use building materials indigenous to Thailand, such as bamboo, eucalyptus leaves and used tires. On Sosa’s desk is a bamboo model of a seesaw. The seesaw is part of his design.   

“I love making models,” Sosa says, as he draws in his sketchpad, falling into an artistic trance.  “Calculus is okay, but I love making models.”

Sosa is due to graduate in 2012. He’s one of the top students in his design class and belongs to the Honors College.  After he graduates, he hopes to get a job in industrial design consulting.  Consultants work on different projects all the time -- confront different problems all the time. That’s the job he wants.   

Meanwhile, though, he’s happy at the School of Art and Design, where his design classes and his various projects -- skateboards, playgrounds, computer speakers -- keep him challenged.

“It never stops being fun down here in the industrial design dungeon,” Sosa says, referring with wry affection to the Weston Hall basement that houses the studios, and the culture of creativity, that give his days meaning and joy. 

(By Robert Florida, Office of Strategic Communications)