Designer wins award

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 17, 2008

NATCHEZ — Eric Burns has found a job that’s a hybrid of all the things he loves to do.

And he’s even won an award for it.

The Natchez native lives in San Francisco, working for a product design consulting company, Frog Design, in industrial design.

Email newsletter signup

“It’s really a mix of art, engineering and business,” Burns said. “People say, ‘Oh, are you an engineer? Are you an artist? Do you do marketing?’ I say, yes I do all those things.”

A company may approach an industrial designer and request to have their product redesigned to make it more appealing, efficient or just altogether better.

“We deal a lot with ergonomics,” Burns said.

And Frog Design works with many companies, including Apple, Hewlett Packard, Disney and other Fortune 500 companies.

Though Burns couldn’t expound on the current project he’s working on due to confidentiality, a project he worked on his senior year at Art Center College of Design in California stands as a strong example.

So much so it received the International Design Excellence Award, sponsored by the International Designers Society of America and BusinessWeek Magazine.

General Electric Healthcare approached his college class to do some work.

“They wanted to get some out of the box ideas for medical problems,” he said.

His five-member group was assigned to tackle medical problems in Africa.

“We found that malaria is one of the largest problems affecting and killing millions of people,” Burns said.

So, they came up with the Color Guard mosquito net.

Burns said while mosquito nets are handed out in high-risk areas, recipients are unclear on how to properly use them and they don’t match the culture.

“Often they stop using them because they’re a hassle,” Burns said.

The insecticide that’s used on the net he helped design is colored, and recipients can custom dye the nets.

By letting recipients be involved in the decorating process, they are more likely to use them, Burns said.

After three years, once the insecticide has run out, the users can re-dip the nets.

The net also has another bonus feature.

Burns said mosquitoes are very resilient, and when they land on the net, if one leg gets the insecticide on it, the bug will drop the leg of its body to survive.

“As they continue to breed, they become immune to the insecticide,” Burns said.

So to add another failsafe feature, the tent-like net has a double layer wrapped around the bottom of it.

“When people (are) sleeping, your arm could be touching the net and the mosquito could bite through that net,” he said.

The double layer is thicker than the mosquito’s proboscis is long, hence preventing any bites.

Burns said winning the award was a great feeling, but refuses to take full credit.

“By no way was it just me, it was a team effort,” he said.

This project piqued Burns interest in designing medical supplies, but he said he likes the wide range of projects he gets to work on.

“They’re constantly changing,” he said. “I hope to continue to work on a variety of projects.”

Burns said he truly loves to go to work every day.

When he left for college, he had no idea there was such an occupation.

It wasn’t until his final semester at Southern Methodist University in Dallas that he heard project design.

“I went home and Googled industrial design and that’s how I got on my path,” he said.

After his graduation in 2002, he moved out to California and took night classes to build up his portfolio so he could apply at Art Center College of Design.

He was accepted in the spring of 2004 and graduated in December.

He did freelance design with the Natchez-based company Bad Boy Buggies before he got his job at Frog Design.

“It’s exciting, it’s fun,” he said. “It’s very interesting.”