MEET JOEY ZELEDON
Joey was born and raised in upstate New York, 3 hours north of NYC in a small city called Schenectady. It was the home of GE and Thomas Edison at one point in time. Joey's father is a Costa Rican immigrant and his mother is Irish-American. He studied Industrial Design at Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, NY from year 2002 until 2006. Most of his family were employed by GE, and his grandparents and uncles were engineers. It was very early on that he decided he did not want to be an engineer. Mainly because he wasn't too fond of one of his uncles, he admits.
Since I was 10 years old, I knew I wanted to be a shoe designer. This was before I even knew what Industrial Design was. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I discovered the area of study properly. My uncle encouraged me to look at Nike’s website to see what kind of degree they require to be hired as a shoe designer. Lo and below, industrial design!
Shoes are a basic human need. They protect our feet. But, somehow they’re emotionally charged. People love shoes. Not for their utility per se, but because of how they make us feel. It’s an object of desire. This was my obsession early on.
When I was just 10 years old, I wrote a letter to Nike, actually now that I think about it, it was my first ever proposal. I included sketches of original designs and why I thought they were just the thing Nike needed in their line. I went to a local Footlocker in a mall in the early 90’s to get the address. I sent the letter, but never heard back.
Joey made sure he spun shoe design into most of the projects he had to work on at design school. However, in the last 2 years, he worked extensively on various other projects and explored other kinds of product design. During his senior year at RIT, Joey designed The Coat Chair. This garnered a lot of attention from the industry a few years later.
In hindsight, Joey considers these projects as more valuable because they were more exploratory, more ground breaking and allowed him to learn much more.
Joey got his first break doing internships with Clarks and New Balance and went on to be employed by Clarks full time. This was his dream coming true - being able to design footwear.
It was at this point that he realised that he wanted to be designing a lot more than just shoes.
How would you describe your personality?
I’m driven, intense on the inside, goofy on the outside, introverted and passionate. I get along with all types of people because I’m a ‘feeler.’ Highly empathetic. It’s a blessing and a curse.
What has been your biggest challenge? How did you overcome it?
Finding my voice as a designer. Deciding to push aside everything I’ve learned in my career and ask myself what do I believe is most important. What are my design principles. This of course is an ever evolving challenge.
How would you define your design style? What do you think has shaped the way you design?
I believe good design is like good music. It follows the same principles. It’s hyper-emotional. I think throughout my career, I’ve learned many ways to design for people. But all along, my design ethos has been constant. Design for feelings.
What inspires you? Where does the inspiration come from before you start sketching?
What inspires me most are the things I’m not designing. Making connections between completely disparate things.
Top 5 favourite designers.
My favorite designers aren’t designers. They’re just every-day people who happen to be extremely creative.
Name a mentor or someone who impacted your career and life. And how?
I’ve had so many mentors throughout my career. Too many to count, actually. I feel lucky.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Graduating from a four year university. I was the first in my family. I feel like many people take this for granted, but it was a big deal for me.
A quote you live by… or a quote you love.
The less you say, the more people remember.
The hardest part of your job is….
The part of the design process you love most.
Right where diverge meets converge.
The part of the design process you least like.
Right before diverge meets converge.
Do you have a dream project? What is it?
Every project can be a dream project. It’s what you make of it.
Are there any other outlets you express creativity? How did that come about?
I’m a singer song-writer. I’ve been doing that since I was a teenager. I love music because it’s pure emotion and very sustainable.
What makes you happy?
What is your morning routine before you begin work?
Coffee. Calendar. Create.
What music do you listen to when you work? (If you listen to music)
No lyrics. Only instrumental. Jazz, Classical etc.
After working with companies like Clarks and Continuum, Joey decided to take a sabbatical and spend time in Costa Rica with his dad. He lived there for a year, tried to improve his Spanish, and taught sketching to design students. After his time off when he was ready to get back to the hustle in New York he worked for Smart Design and Steelcase, creating furniture, housewares, lighting, spaces and tech.
His work has garnered over 25 design awards, a dozen patents and has been published by renowned design magazines. Joey is an internationally recognized industrial designer who creates iconic design for young and established brands by reinventing the everyday into something special. The breadth of his practice is vast. Regardless of industry, his projects always build on the core belief that "great design must strike an emotional chord with people".
Written and edited: Kamsin Mirchandani