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He’s a Kwantlen instructor, by design

Lorraine Graves   Feb-28-2018

Richmond's Victor Martinez, an instructor in the Wilson School of Design at the Richmond campus of Kwantlen Polytechnic University, started his career designing Italian automobiles in Milan.

Photo by Chung Chow

Victor Martinez is a designer, but don’t look to him for couture fashion or even off the rack.

Originally educated in Mexico, Martinez took his first degree in industrial design and, with a grant tucked under his arm, headed for Italy to do a Master’s degree in automotive design.



Upon graduation there, he worked for an independent company designing everything from plebeian Fiats to upscale Alfa Romeos.

Design, to Martinez, is much more than just how the car looks from the outside.

Asserting that good design is not flashy, he says we often don’t notice it: “What makes it good design is it’s so natural, so intuitive, so logical that you use without thinking. With bad design, you hit yourself or things are simply ugly.”

Returning to Mexico, Martinez opened his own design shop and helped a university friend out by teaching a university class, then one class turned into two then three and eventually a full-time position teaching while doing research.

From there, Martinez did a PhD in sustainable design at the University of Northumbria in the United Kingdom. He was hired directly out of university by the Wilson School of Design where, on top of being an instructor, he is also a transportation design researcher.

He says people don’t always know what designers do.

“Normally, people think of a designer as this creative guy or person who just makes beautiful things but that’s a mistake,” he says.

“We care about beauty but function is important. There’s ergonomics and contact with the user. For example, when you are driving your car, you may have your hand in the lever for the gears and at the same time, your fingers you can reach all the buttons in the centre console.”

He says it’s something people wouldn’t notice but, “I spent years working on that—you have no idea how many hours we spent on the centre console, so it is intuitive and kind to the users.”

The school of design has a decades-old history, beginning in 1981 when Kwantlen opened. Interior, graphic and fashion design were the first programs. Now, the school has seven different design programs ranging from fashion to industrial.

When asked who goes into industrial design, Martinez tells the story of his admissions process for his first degree in Mexico.

The interview panel said to the assembled group of hopefuls, “I’m sure each of you has a drawer in your house with disassembled electrical appliances and broken toys, like a treasure chest for your next project that you could put together,” he recalls.

“I’ve had that since I was six years old and I’ve always had a drawing of my next crazy gadget”

Typical of Canadian culture, it is not your resumé or references from powerful people but your faculty interview, where the professors see the person you are, that determines your start at the Wilson School of Design.

“With the interview, we can identify if that person would be good for our program,” he says. Beforehand the instructors tell the students to bring anything that describes their passion.

“Students come with sculpture, YouTube channels, crafts, even apps they are working on,” he says.

Once students are admitted, the program is hands on, with few mathematical formulae or lectures on theory.

“What we have done with the program is focus on the design process. We like to call them information synthesizers. We want to make them critical thinkers.”

A prospective student need not be working in exactly the same area as the professors.

“If a student comes and wants to work on something where I’m not an expert, they have to contact an expert, formulate intelligent questions and use that information to inform their next steps.”

It’s something the Wilson School of Design prides itself on.

“We are continuously growing our network of experts,” he says. “Good design goes unnoticed. That makes it just perfect.”

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