PD&M Industry Community Leader of the Year – Alex Lobos


Could you please introduce yourself? How did you first get interested in 3D software?


Hello, my name is Alex Lobos, and I'm the Director of the School of Design at the Rochester Institute of Technology. I oversee several design programs: industrial, interior, graphic, new media, visual communication, and 3D digital. I've also been a professor in industrial design for 20+ years. I focus the most on sustainability, CAD, and emotional design. 


I've always been attracted to CAD. I'm a visual thinker and love how 3D modeling and fabrication allow me to create ideas in 3D quickly. This is an area that I've been able to explore deeply throughout my career. I've also been fortunate to collaborate with Autodesk at many levels for the last 12 years. A highlight of my collaboration with them has been being involved in Fusion 360 since its very beginning. My students and I started using Fusion two years before it was released to the market in order to provide feedback to the development team. Another highlight was me joining Autodesk as a Visiting Research Fellow in 2019-20. I worked in the Strategic Foresight team and collaborated with Autodesk's Research, Education, and Fusion 360 teams.


What does an average workday look like for you at RIT? 


This role is all about leadership and management, so it has put my teaching on hold for the moment. I spend most of my day working with faculty and leadership on setting up courses, collaborations, research projects, etc. It's exciting to help enable so many initiatives that benefit our students inside and outside of the classroom.

What's most rewarding about your work? The most challenging?


The most rewarding part is to develop new projects and opportunities for our students. Everything from new courses to industry-sponsored projects, study abroad programs, community outreach, etc. The most challenging part is not being in the classroom on a daily basis any longer. 


Could you provide an example of a project you'd like to highlight, particularly for its personal significance or social impact?


For the last few years, I've done a lot of research on design and neurodiversity. A key insight I gained with this project was that there are not enough resources for designers identifying themselves as neurodiverse to thrive in their careers. Also, I've noticed strong connections between neurodiverse traits and reframing them as powerful design skills, such as divergent thinking, hyperfocus, etc. I've been able to compile several strategies for managing and reframing neurodiverse traits, and the community has reacted very well to them. 


Your practice is quite informed by empathy. What inspires your work in this way?


Designers have the special role of being advocates for the user. We need to understand how someone feels when using an object, interface, or building and identify ways of improving this experience. Our empathy allows us to connect better with unique societal needs and, most importantly, to help solve them.




What are you most looking forward to about this year's AU? 


This will actually be my tenth time attending and presenting at AU! I always look forward to it. It's a great place to feel inspired, see what's coming next in the industry, and connect with many great minds. 


How does Autodesk software help you design and make your work?


As a company, I love how Autodesk sees its products as a means to an end instead of just tools. One of the features I love the most about Fusion 360, for example, is being able to model in real-time as if I were sculpting a piece of digital clay. It's an intuitive and powerful way of doing CAD. With Autodesk's teams and software, I've been able to explore everything from digital fabrication to AI, sustainability, learning processes, community building, and much more.


What does being part of a community of like-minded creators mean to you?


Community is a space where you feel like you belong, can grow as an individual, and help others grow as well. I'm fortunate to be part of RIT's community, for example. Everyone here is open, positive, inclusive, and energetic. There's a strong desire to create new ideas and implement them. I see the strong connections that can happen between students, and when they return as alumni, they continue to be part of the RIT family. Autodesk also has a great community. I'm lucky to be part of it, and I have made great friends and colleagues over the years, both inside and outside the company.


Do you have any advice or tips that would help new designers looking to make a positive impact in the world through their work? 


The key thing is to get involved in work that matters to you. Your work and results always reach higher levels when you are passionate about something. Another key is teamwork. Creating a significant impact on society and the planet cannot be done alone.


*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity*


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