Student Spotlight: Josue Campos

Josue Campos smiles while wearing a dark purple shirt and round black glasses.

Josue Campos is after some very specific things. He searches for efficient creativity, design at the highest degree of innovation, discomfort and change. He dedicates himself fully to whatever is in front of him; the kind of insatiable drive that applies to both staying up all night studying and the next day forcing his body into the freezing ocean for charity at the Polar Plunge in Tybee Island, GA. A student with a gripping respect for the interplay of culture and design, as well as an acute passion for becoming familiar with the unfamiliar (foreign cities and what they choose to purchase, in particular), Campos knows how to appreciate the innovative and the different.

The Master of Design student and Yates Fellow recently graduated from the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning at UC after formerly obtaining a degree in mechanical engineering in Atlanta. Throughout his stint in Georgia, the curious and hungry aspects of Josue’s spirit led him to make a precarious decision. Something about the confining lines of his current engineering gig left him yearning for alternatives. “I could only be creative so much—I couldn’t leave the engineering bubble. Whenever I presented something different—not even creative really, just different—it was seen as, why are you doing this? Get back to the blueprints. And that bothered me.”

With the compelling notions of risk and innovation pervasively floating in the back of his mind, Campos decided to chase something new. He started contacting design firms and asking them what they looked for in new and upcoming designers. Their answer? The University of Cincinnati.

“All of the directors I talked to said that DAAP was a great school, that the students come out ready to rock and roll. And I was like, that’s what I want to be: someone who is qualified and someone who is ready to go.”

Abandoning the exact recipe of engineering for more unpredictable endeavors, Campos moved to Cincinnati and began his design journey, attempting to satisfy that unnamed, unshakeable hunger always driving him further. Fast forward to present day, the young designer manages an impressive list of accomplishments. His own designs have landed on the shelves of Toys “R” Us, his endless pursuit of inspiration has taken him as far as Japan (exploring Tokyo’s city streets alone in search of new design was his favorite part), and he’s teamed up with Matthew Wizinsky, a communication design professor at DAAP, to co-create an exhibition scheduled to open October 2017 titled, “Dread and Desire”—an exhibit showcasing the ways in which the things we interact with everyday are interfaces making up a bigger system. “Those things could be physical interfaces, something we touch,” says Campos, “Or they could be virtual interfaces and digital interfaces, something like social media. A lot of it focuses on social media.”

Maybe his greatest accomplishment, however, is his thesis: Campos designed a tool, a methodology, to help companies design for new markets in a specific culture. His thesis came about in doing research at DAAP. Campos found that global companies often fail at designing products for foreign cultures. It is all too common for designers to be ignorant of what the consumer really wants. “There are no guidelines; there are essentially no factors to go by when designing for consumers in differing cultures,” says Campos. “Different cultures have different aesthetics. It’s so easy for companies to botch it [when designing for cultures unlike their own]. Even when they think they have the perfect equation, they still mess it up.” 

In his thesis, Campos identifies three fundamental elements to account for when designing: culture attributes, product attributes, and modification. Combine culture attributes with product attributes, and modify accordingly. “I researched why products were failing. If we take a product that already exists and we inspect it, we can find what consumers do like and don’t like about the product—and why they like or don’t like it—and in turn learn the beliefs and values about the consumer.”

In addition, his thesis and research serve as the theoretical foundation of an even greater venture, a future business. “I’m starting my own consulting company based on the thesis work that I’ve done. Companies who go global will want this information,” says Campos. “What I offer companies is a new perspective, through design, on how to research micro-cultures and tailor products for new markets. As part of the method, I have curated a list of cultural attributes that aim at uncovering important value and meaning in products that we and others use.”

The explanation of his research in physical form, however, clearly illustrates the obvious need for proper design. When travelling in Japan, he noticed the stark difference between Japanese automobiles and our own. “They enjoy their compact cars because they can fit in Japan’s narrow streets and small driveways,” he explains. “Recognizing this might help car manufacturers understand why a truck would not sell well in a Japanese market.”

Campos goes on to describe even more cultural miscommunication followed by ill-design. “I recently spoke to a Mexican client that years ago tried to sell their goods—purses, shoes, luggage—in Chile. They thought the Chileans were very similar to Mexicans, because they speak Spanish and live in Latin America. They were wrong. When it comes to trends and dress, Chileans are very conservative. They do not follow western fashion like Mexicans and Americans do. The Chileans could not relate to the company’s advertisements, colors, and trends. The company flopped in Chile. This happens all the time everywhere, even within one’s own country.”

That being said, Campos’ business is one based in both equation and creativity. His work is equally art and calculation—there’s an exact design present, but the design only resonates if the artist’s judgement is sound. It’s also important to remember that his current ventures are an outcome of his desire to leave engineering for something more creative, more profound. Campos is always searching to bend the lines that confine, to ensure he is a tool being put to proper use; a self-made force continuously powered by that peculiar, innate, never satisfied hunger.

What is the Master of Design student and Yates Fellow doing now? He lives in Clifton, just down the street from the university. He owns a pet turtle. He’s continuing work on an array of projects, including his evolving company. He likes extreme sports (BMX bikes, specifically—but he admits that evidently, when you put your mind to it, anything can become an extreme sport). “That’s the kind of thing I like to do. The possibility of getting hurt is there, but the reward at the end makes it all worth it. That’s what I’m after.”

And what is his advice to fellow students who may share in his unshakeable hunger—students who wish to leave their own exact recipes, to chase their own unpredictable endeavors? “Wake up early. Drink water. Drink coffee. Take some time to be quiet. Tell yourself you are good enough. Then tell yourself what you are going to do, and do it. Start working.”

Written by Danniah Daher, Graduate Assistant to the Graduate School Office