Mike Johnson, BELM ’05, and Rob Kodadek, BELM ’05, have worked on the

Saturday Night Live set, Super Bowl XLIX, and Cirque du Soleil’s “Michael Jackson ONE.” But more recently, they created a lighting module that inspired a world of creativity in Wentworth’s junior industrial design studio.

The pair own The Black Tank, a company that creates products for the entertainment, theatrical, and architectural markets.

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

A total of 12 Wentworth students designed and produced different models, ranging from track lighting to downlighting. They 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, previously worked with Johnson at lighting company
Philips Color Kinetics. With Kodadek, Cascio conceived the junior industrial design studio with the goal of identifying applications for a new lighting module and developing the housings for it.

“Product design is all about creating experiences,” Cascio says. “It requires problem-solving, building emotional resonance, and translating wants and needs.”

For Johnson and Kodadek, the studio was reminiscent of their days as Wentworth
students: working with their hands beyond theoretical math and equations. “I loved
coming back to the same campus and seeing how everything has changed,” says
Johnson of Wentworth.

Only now the alumni were advising students, both in the studio and on-site at The Black Tank headquarters in Haverhill, Mass.

Last spring, Johnson and Kodadek chose five Wentworth students to showcase their designs through models and posters at Lightfair International in Chicago. The fair provided more than 550 architecture lighting companies a chance to show their work to potential customers and users. 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.”

According to Derek Cascio, assistant professor in the Department of Industrial Design, the junior industrial design studio was set up in several parts: research, permutation, and iteration.

  • 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
  • Students became more fluent in visual communication

— Sumya Mohiuddin