The Power of Passions Projects

Alvaro Uribe
Products of Design
Published in
6 min readApr 23, 2023

Senior year of Industrial Design I joined the class every other of my classmates wanted to join. The professor was known for his unique style and approach and everyone wanted to take his course. The objective of the class was to create a design based on a particular material.

At the time I had just finished reading “Lightness” a book on the evolution of material and composites, and I got obsessed with carbon fiber. I wanted to take a stool I had created during my sophomore year, which was made of wood and lacked strength, and apply the concept of forming structure through bends with carbon fiber. This was my first idea for what I will later called the Plum Series 1.

I brought the concept to the class and my professor hated it. He said, why would you use carbon fiber for such a design? I walked out of the class disappointed and questioning my approach. In the days to follow, I thought long and hard, and I knew my design had legs. I dropped the class and joined another class, whose professor looked at the chair and said to me let’s do it! Looking back at it, the teacher simply had a different approach, but I do believe as a Senior you have to be able to make your own design decisions and get behind your work. I was lucky the second professor empowered me to further my idea. Funny thing I ended up designing a table in cast aluminum that looked like a Mantis instead. So if you are a student, choose courses not based on popularity but the ability of the course to empower you and teach you to be and independent thinker.

On my spare time, I modeled the stool, rendered it, and promoted it. Next thing I knew it was on Dezeen, where people hated it too (I feel that’s what people do on Dezeen anyways). This exposure got the design enough attention and the next thing I knew I had a recruitment agency asking if I wanted to put the design in a movie with Will Smith. I didn’t hesitate to say yes but told them the stool was just a render. They said no problem we will create a prop out of it. I sent them the files, and I waited two years for the movie to come out and see the stool in “After Earth”. Unfortunately, the prop was as bad as the movie, it looked made out of Sculpey clay. I did not let that bother me as that same month the stool had been awarded the Red Dot Design award.

All of this was from an idea that I could have easily left behind. I continued to expand the concept of ribbing carbon fiber into a three-legged stool that I titled Plum Series 2. Just like the first one, this design captured a lot of my approach to form, material, and structure, and resonated with a specific audience. It got awarded the Red Dot the next year and design led to a new opportunity.

In 2014, I spent the summer in China with the goal of visiting numerous factories to expand my production knowledge while overseeing the production of two products I had been working on. One day, I received an email from BMW China, inquiring about the availability of my Plum Stools. Regrettably, I had to inform them that the stools were just a render, but I could produce them if they were willing to support a small production run. To my surprise, they said yes. BMW was introducing their BMW i8 car to a select group of buyers and had created an experiential exhibit showcasing all the new technology in the car, including the Carbon Fiber frame. Being in China, I contacted several Carbon Fiber automotive fabricator shops to request quotes for a small production run. I passed these along to BMW, and in less than three months, I was looking at the first production sample of the stools.

I flew to Beijing to witness the exhibition and introduction of the car, drove the car itself, and had a great time seeing people admire my work. This design had become a snowball that kept opening doors. A year later, I received an email from another production company asking if I could make the stools taller, like for a bar, which was an unusual request. I informed them that for a real carbon fiber piece, they would need to commit to a small volume with an upfront cost. Not sure if there was a limited budget for this, but it never panned out. Later, I discovered that it was for the movie Black Panther, and the stools would have been for the Wakanda technology lab. Regardless, it was nice that it almost made it to the movie, and later another design of mine did made it to the MCU.

I never planned for any of this, it is hard to plan for such things. This takes me to my anecdote in this article. I have found that some of the most successful work I have done (at least the one with the most publicity) has been done for fun and passion for ideas, not for a client, not for money, and it has blown out to open doors every step of the way. As an independent designer, I find myself chasing new projects, tied up with client work, and having less and less time to work on these passion projects. It is important to invest time into your own ideas, execute them and share them with the world. I am seeing this approach yielding success to a lot of designers who create for their own, and share via Instagram or LinkedIn, and the world embraces them with passion. I believe any creative entity whether a studio, agency, or independent designer should invest their own time in their passion projects, to exercise their demons and provoke. I have continued to expand my Plum series to a bench, and a coffee table, and soon will be introducing a shelf and chair.

Maybe these designs will one day reach the market, maybe not, but got to inspire other designers about a perspective on using carbon fiber, about creating structure in furniture and ideas around lightness and efficiency. I also hope this article will inspire you to invest more in your passion projects, in yourself, and not give up on your ideas irrespective of criticism. Remember that creativity is a journey, and not every idea will be a success. But it’s important to stay passionate, persevere, and not be afraid to take risks.

Your passion projects can not only bring you personal fulfillment, but they can also lead to new opportunities and success. Don’t be discouraged by criticism or rejection, use it as a learning experience and keep pushing forward. In my case, it got me industry recognition, media opportunities, and partnerships.

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