“My name is Nohemi Gonzalez and I feel very fortunate to have found Design so early in my life”

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Among those killed in last Friday’s terrorist attack in Paris was Nohemi Gonzalez, a 23-year-old industrial design student from Cal State Long Beach who was in France as part of a foreign exchange program at the Strate School of Design in Paris.

The study of design is one that demands commitment, dedication and skills in numerous areas — and a joy in creativity.

Nohemi Gonzalez shows the joy she found in design — and the confidence in presenting it — in this screenshot from a video of her demonstrating her “Articulating Cube”

Among those killed in last Friday’s terrorist attack in Paris was Nohemi Gonzalez, a 23-year-old industrial design student from Cal State Long Beach who was in France as part of a foreign exchange program at the Strate School of Design.

The study of design demands commitment, skills in numerous areas, and a joy in creativity.

DnA wanted to learn more about Nohemi and her work. We spoke with some of her teachers and offer these recollections of a much-admired young woman and fledgling designer who was taken far too soon.

David Teubner coordinates the Industrial Design Program at CSULB; there students learn about packaging, product and furniture design, and branding and user-experience as well as entrepreneurship.

Sculpture made by Nohemi in David Teubner's class
Plexus brand sculpture that Nohemi did for David Teubner’s Advanced Form Study class.

Teubner told us that Nohemi was immensely hardworking. She was the first in her family to get a college education. She had been working since she was 17 and stumbled on the discipline that became her vocation when she attended a university job fair one day, in search of a second job to help pay her way through school.

“And at that job fair that’s when she first discovered our program by signing up as our print shop technician, which is not as involved as being a shop technician which is what she eventually became. She discovered us by suddenly being brought over to our building and being introduced to what we do and she said, ‘oh, this is what I want to do.’

“She was really, really creative but sometimes art isn’t enough. Sometimes students want to express that creativity but they need to do more. They want to make things that people will use, that people will buy, and change the world that way.

“And that’s how she discovered us, because she already had that creativity in her and she just had to make the connection.”

Screenshot from David Teubner's video of Nohemi presenting her team's Poly Snack project
Screenshot from David Teubner’s video of Nohemi presenting her team’s winning Poly Snack project.

Once in school, Teubner helped her develop her modeling, sculpting and design-thinking. Teubner recalls that she was extremely hardworking and “strong willed and very dedicated to her vision and what she wanted to do with her designs.”

Among projects were some “rather imaginative clay sculptures for me that were based on translating design cues from animals into objects.”

But one design that really stood out was a group project that Nohemi helmed, called Polli Snak; it won Second Place in the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge for inventing a biodegradable snack pack.

Polli Snak
Nohemi led with an all-girl team to develop Polli Snak; it won Second Place in a Biomimicry Global Design Challenge.

“It was an idea that took packaging of a snack way beyond just the snack itself because when you would open up the package you could have your snack but then you would deconstruct the package you would take it apart and inside there would be instructions on how to take the packaging and then plant it and then grow a tree.

But there would be other things inside. The package would be linked somehow to people in other countries so that you would learn about the plant that you were planting and learn about those people and then also the package would be decompose and become the nutrients for the plant that you planted in the ground.

And the package was a real clever way of folding materials, way of folding the cardboard that would start out flat and then open up as you pulled on it because of the way it was scored and constructed. It was kind of neat.”

Ultimately, says Teubner, Nohemi “was really interested in doing designs that would help people. That’s what she really cared about. That’s what she did.”

Nohemi Articulating Cube Demo 01,png
Articulating Cube Project — Nohemi had to design and construct a cube that would change into something else through techniques of mechanical articulation. Her cube eventually turned into the Pixar character Wall-e.

Nohemi was not only studying at CSULB, she was also running the tech shop. That’s where students model and 3D prototype their designs. In the old days you’d make models of wood and foam and metal; now 3d printers dominate. The shop is an exciting space that can also be messy and smelly and you have to be careful with some of the tools.

Teubner notes that she was the school’s first female to hold the position.

“And she was so proud of that. And she ran our shop with an iron will. She was really crazy about making sure that everything was neat and clean and everything was working and the students knew how to use the equipment and wouldn’t hurt themselves and she would be the first one in and the last one out, and always there to help all the students. And she loved making things, she just loved making things by hand and that’s what we are all about.”

Nohemi02 Clay Sculpture
These brown clay sculptures made by Nohemi in David Teubner’s Advanced Form Study class were inspired by animals (a lizard and a goldfish). The ‘style’ of the animals was adapted to abstract product forms.

The head of tools is Matias Ocaña and Nohemi became his teaching assistant, and a close friend. He told DnA:

“She was the type of person who was always willing to help other students understand the process. Help them, guide them, and she was also in charge of the clean up at the very end of the sessions. This was a small, short girl [she was ­5-foot-2]. She had a lot of power. And she put everyone in their place if they didn’t clean up properly. She was quite a character, and very passionate.”

“She had a lot of artistic background. She knew how to draw well. And I believe that when she discovered that she really wanted to become an industrial designer, she really developed the skills and she was innovative. She liked to do things differently than others. And she was a very hard worker. She was probably one of the hardest working persons I’ve seen in the time that I’ve been teaching there.

“I think she would have been an excellent teacher, besides being an excellent designer. She had the capacity to pass the knowledge on to other people, and she had the patience and she had a good eye for what a specific person means in a specific moment of the design process. She really grasped what is needed to design. Not only the skills, like drawing and modeling. She understood the process, like how to target the user and what is needed to innovate. Not only the pretty picture, but also the practicality of design.”

Nohemi giving a demo of her Cube design, screenshot from video made by her teacher David Teubner
Nohemi giving a demo of her Articulating Cube design, screenshot from video made by her teacher David Teubner.

Martin Herman heads the design school at CSULB. He watched a video made by David Teubner of his students demonstrating their projects, and recalls being struck by how Gonzalez handled one of the most challenging tasks facing a design student: giving her presentation to a group of teachers and critics.

“What really struck me about it was how unflappable she was. She was presenting this very elaborate design of an articulating cube, and parts within parts within parts that would do various things, and extrude and extend. And even if some little tiny piece fell off and it wasn’t going 100 percent as she predicted, she was just so unflappable and what you could see though in that was the pure joy in her expression.

“She never lost this joy of expression in presenting what she had made. And she was very much like that, taking such joy in the making of things.

“When I was that age, when I was 20, I would have been incredibly nervous. And if anything had gone wrong like that it would’ve likely derailed my presentation. But she was so mature beyond her years in that way, just such a composure.”

When Nohemi went to Paris she was in the first half of her senior year, due to return to finish next semester and move on to graduation. The last exchange David Teubner had with her was over the class she was in. She had hoped to be placed in Industrial Design but, due to lack of space, was put in Retail Design. He says that in her usual spirit she knuckled down, writing him that, “it’s not so bad, it’s kind of fun. I’m really enjoying it and I’m learning a lot of different things and I’m not going to complain.”

Among the designs that Nohemi left behind was her own business card and messaging. About herself, she wrote:

“My name is Nohemi Gonzalez and I feel very fortunate to have found Design so early in my life. . . I am Mexican American and I also happen to be first generation born in the United States. I grew up in Whittier, California, and had a very hardworking mother that raised me to be extremely independent. If I had to describe myself in a few words I would say I am very high spirited, clean, orderly and self driven.”

Nohemi Logo + Brand Identity
Nohemi defined her personal brand identity with her logo and business card design.

Pictures provided by David Teubner of Nohemi’s work are all from her Sophomore and Junior Years. Two funds have been set up in Nohemi’s honor. The Nohemi Gonzalez Fund To Support International Education will assist CSULB students with international travel and study-abroad opportunities and The Nohemi Gonzalez Memorial Fund will assist her family. Find out more here and here