We start our episode during Tony’s high school career, with his passion for writing. He started on the journalism team and edited the school newspaper. Additionally, he was interested in gadgets – this was during the Sony Walkman era. Tony was interested in working on a similar technology at the time. His father was an engineer and was a big influence on Tony’s career. He heard MIT was the route to take if he was serious about engineering, so he applied and was accepted, to the dismay of his journalism teacher.
While at MIT, Tony studied transistors and Maxwell’s equations, which was not an enjoyable experience for him. He stuck through the course and found an interesting opportunity with an internship from the media lab working with the “newspaper of the future.” He graduated with an electrical engineering degree; however, he wasn’t actually interested in the field. Tony wanted to learn about other aspects of products and interviewed with IBM in Boston as a Systems Engineer. When he started getting bored selling computers, he decided to look into a career in advertising. He was pursuing a bookstore for advertising books when just a few shelves down he discovered books on industrial design and product design. He found out about night classes at a local college and was hooked! After talking with several people, he found out about the Stanford program and fell in love with Stanford.
Tony talks about the challenges he faced in the early 1980s in the industrial design career. He realizes that students today are challenged with finding multiple solutions instead of just one engineering solution. Students are having to change their mindset and thinking, to offer numerous solutions. Another challenge is interviewing others, especially when they themselves are an introvert.
During his journey, Tony has designed toys and been a consultant to numerous companies. He was the first designer and product developer at a small company that sold baby products. At this first position, he learned the value of testing products. He then went through a succession of companies, exploring his passion for working with toys. His primary interest was to see a product all the way through from design to marketing, and he still wanted to stay in the toy field.
He started his own company creating toys and licensing them out to companies. One of his crazier designs was a bodysuit with casters which you could use to roll down a road! Another design he created was breathable, more comfortable protective gear for rollerblading.
Throughout this time, Tony taught Visual Design at Stanford. He met his wife, and 13 years later when she was expecting her first child and needed to find a teacher for her classes, she suggested her husband for the position. He ended up teaching several of her classes. Through his wife and teaching, he met Matt Kressy, who is an industrial designer from the Rhode Island School of Design. Matt went on to start a design program at MIT and invited Tony to check it out. A few years later, Matt asked him to join the program.
Tony Hu is the Academic Director of MIT’s Integrated Design & Management Master’s Program. As an entrepreneurial leader with 20+ years of experience as head of product development at both startups and large corporations, he has brought over 200 consumer products to market globally, including electronics, appliances, toys, and sporting goods, and is a champion of design, creativity, and innovation. He’s also an inventor, with 18 patents and 22 products he designed and licensed himself.
For the past 13 years, Tony has taught design thinking as a lecturer at MIT and Stanford. He earned his Masters in Product Design at Stanford and his bachelor in Electrical Engineering at MIT, where he conducted research at the Media Lab. As a teacher, he is a rarity: an engineer with a background in both design and business. Tony loves sharing his holistic approach to product design with students.
[01:05] Tony talks about his origin story in design and how he started on the path to design.
[05:07] How he landed a job at IBM and his experience at IBM in sales.
[07:01] Tony’s introduction into industrial and product design.
[08:30] Challenges Tony encountered in the early years of working in design.
[11:58] Tony talks about his first product development position and his takeaways from product development.
[16:04] Tony’s steps further down his design journey, focusing mainly on toys.
[20:18] Before the .com boom – more history and working with different companies.
[25:05] Tony talks about meeting Matt and how working with Matt influenced Tony’s path in design.
[27:28] How this unique program is attracting diverse learners.
[30:02] The process of design thinking on product development.
[35:33] Tony’s role in the transformation of teaching design thinking.
[39:08] Find out about Tony’s newest endeavor: Brainy Yak Labs