Ariel Jeong’s generative design talents have led to dynamic opportunities
By Nina Tabios
In the world of Ariel Jeong, walking robotic cars don’t just exist in movies. Jeong is the sole industrial designer for Hyundai’s open innovations team, CRADLE, short for Center for Robotic-Augmented Design in Living Experiences. It’s Optimus Prime and Bumblebee but without the apocalyptic, aliens-are-here-to-destroy-the-Earth storyline—Jeong and the team at CRADLE are about creating real, working vehicles that could change the future, on and off the road.
Earlier this year, CRADLE introduced Elevate, a first-responder vehicle that can drive and climb over debris as an aid for search-and-rescue missions. Jeong wasn’t hired at the time of the announcement, but that initial concept hints at what the team is exploring. “It’s beyond cars,” said Jeong, a 2019 B.F.A. School of Industrial Design (IND) graduate from Academy of Art University. “When I’m talking about the future of mobility, it can be something that flies, something in [or] on the water. It may not be on the street necessarily, it can be a completely new thing.”
Not bad for a first job out of college, but Jeong was already making career strides well before receiving her diploma. She won a local Autodesk design challenge hosted at the Academy and used that as an early in to the industry as a student ambassador for the company. As a junior, she mastered the rules of generative design—a new and unique approach using computer software to auto-create multiple 3-D design solutions and iterations in half the time—which she taught to companies, educators and college students as an Autodesk workshop instructor.
“Here is someone who came from online and she came on-site, she became very engaged with the community,” said IND Director Antonio Borja. “She was engaged when we would have different workshops, different guest speakers; she would show up and be part of those events … where it was [a] small little design competition with Autodesk at the school, she took advantage of that opportunity and leveraged that into an actual position.”
That open door to Autodesk led to a one-of-a-kind opportunity last fall. Jeong was asked to be part of a major collaboration with Volkswagen to reconceptualize a 1962 Volkswagen microbus into an all-electric show car, revealed to the public in early July. Jeong’s particular expertise in generative design was crucial to make this VW bus as energy efficient as possible, cutting weight in the wheels, steering, bench support, and side mirror mounts while maintaining strength, integrity, and aesthetic appeal.
“With generative design, you’re working with a computer to get initial design iterations, then you can change the outcome based on the aesthetic,” Jeong elaborated. The project proved her mettle not just as a designer, but as an industry-ready workhorse. On top of the Volkswagen project, Jeong was taking five Academy classes, including the department’s Audi corporate sponsored design studio. “I was just appreciative to work on such a big project.”
IND Online Director Hideki Masuda recognized Jeong’s tenacity very early on and without his advice, Jeong might have never decided to move to San Francisco to finish her studies on-site. Taking online courses, especially while she was in Texas and Florida, was fine but she craved to be around other students as she progressed through the program. “He said I should come to San Francisco,” recalled Jeong, who moved to the Bay Area in 2016. “It wasn’t an easy decision.”
Masuda’s hunch was right and Jeong thrived even more so on-site. It wasn’t always easy, but Jeong knew if she stuck with it, her future could be bright. “I failed many times, even with all the network[ing]. There were times I was really frustrated. But I just never gave up,” she said.
“Ariel had this grit of, she wasn’t always the best at sketching, wasn’t always the best at designing, per se, but she always tried the hardest and slowly she started to be the best in her class,” Borja mentioned.
To cap off an already exciting year, Jeong will be speaking at Autodesk University in Las Vegas this coming November. But for now, building the Hyundai CRADLE design language and working on three future mobility projects that are slated to be announced later on this year, Jeong, once again, has her hands full.
“Honestly, I haven’t really had time to think about what I’m going to say at the conference,” Jeong said. “I’m just way too busy nowadays.”
“She’s a lifetime learner,” Borja added. “She’s going to grow in the industry and three, four years from now we’re going to hear about her leading great projects.”