California State University, Long Beach
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Doing Things By Design

Published: April 17, 2017

Steve Boyer brings to his position in CSULB’s Design Department more than 25 years of experience as an artist, designer, inventor, entrepreneur and educator.

Boyer, with a master of architecture degree from the Southern California Institute of Architecture, has spent his career creating content and developing technology for a wide variety of interactive media including video games, electronic toys, musical instruments and fine art installations. He has served as designer, producer and engineer at several leading media entertainment companies and has been on the faculty of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Otis College of Art and Design and UC San Diego. He served as Director of Research and Development for Interactive Entertainment at Vivendi Games and is the founder of three startups.

When Boyer first arrived at CSULB in 2014 from a teaching position at the Otis College of Art and Design, he was impressed.

“I looked at the rigor maintained by the faculty here,” he said. “I looked at the quality of work. I looked at the student body that was being served. And I said, ‘This is the place to be.’”

Boyer believes that design is one of the few fields where play is an integral part of the process.

“I’ve spent many years designing and developing electronic toys and games,” he said. “Now, one entire wall of my new office at CSULB is covered in electronic equipment. That comes from being a self-taught electronics engineer.”

While running a boutique game and toy design studio in Chicago in the late 1990s, he first became aware that people were paying more attention to their screens than to their physical environment. That is when Boyer began to realize that a digital environment can seem to be as real as a physical environment once converted to memory in the brain.

“I remember playing networked first-person video games with office colleagues only to hear them continue to discuss the games over dinner,” he recalled. “Our memories of the game spaces we were in were as vivid as those we had of real events on the street outside. I realized there was a strange cultural transition happening. It might even be a human evolutionary transition.”

One result of that perception was Boyer’s decision to leave the entertainment industry to pursue a degree in architecture in order to further explore this increasing division between the experience of physical and digital spaces. This has led most recently to his creating a new course just approved by the curriculum committee on “Technologies for Hybrid Experience” or how to use new technology to create better interfaces between digital and physical environments.

In addition to navigating the physical and digital environments, Boyer believes in design as a profession that can enable people to obtain economic independence.

“I’m interested in teaching students to become value creators rather than job seekers,” he said. “I’ve found Long Beach to be open to progress. Just look at Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia who is one of our graduates. When I’ve reached out to the Long Beach community, I’ve found urban farms and ‘maker spaces.’ For instance, the Long Beach Public Library has ‘maker space’ built into it so that community members may practice 3D printing. That is incredibly forward looking. That feeds into my interest in ‘micro-preneurship,’ a term I’ve coined to describe value creators who want to be small, independent business owners without the growth demands of typical entrepreneurial models. What can be done from a policy and structural standpoint to help those creators who are not interested in becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg?”

Steve Boyer
Steve Boyer

Boyer believes the three R’s of design are Research, Research and Research. In one of his classes, he asks students to deconstruct a consumer product to understand it from every possible viewpoint. It includes everything from documenting the retail experience to discovering the raw materials from which the products are made and the shipping routes that enable global supply chains.

“What I love about assignments like this is how incredibly deep and rich they can be,” he said. “It teaches them to not only acquire and organize large amounts of information but to develop awareness and empathy for stakeholders across the entire value chain.”

Boyer points to his experience teaching a class on design and business entrepreneurship in a joint program between Loyola Marymount and the Otis Institute.

“The best design questions are open-ended,” he said, “and the work of designers tends not to be numerical or lexical but is more kinesthetic instead. We work with materials using our hands. This is what is known in the field as `thinkering’ or ‘makestorming.’

Boyer is especially pleased by CSULB’s student diversity, one of the reasons he chose CSULB.

“I like the diversity I find here on campus and in the city of Long Beach,” he said. “It may be the most diverse city of its size in the U.S. and I’ve always believed that diversity of ideas comes from diversity of experience.”

Boyer sees plenty of challenges ahead.

“Design is primarily about solving problems,” he said. “It sits between art, engineering and commerce. It is different from art because art is about personal expression. Engineering is about efficiency. Commerce is about profit. By sitting in the middle, design solves human problems with human values by emphasizing elegance over efficiency, value over profit and empathy for the needs of others over personal expression.”