Immersive storytelling, collaborative practice: The Academy of Art University’s School of Industrial Design

8 min read

GM Design Cadillac Collaboration, Halioi Concept Renderings done in Autodesk VRED

The Academy of Art University, San Francisco

When we first spoke with Antonio Borja, Director of the School of Industrial Design and heard about the Academy of Art University’s unique interdisciplinary program and rich industry collaborations, we wanted to know more.

So we asked Antonio and some of his students to talk to us about the program, their experiences, and how it’s preparing them for their chosen careers.

Program Overview

School of Industrial Design, Transportation Design Studio

The Academy of Art University in San Francisco, California offers an industrial design program that brings all we know about collaboration and interdisciplinary learning to life.

At the intersection of art, design and technology, this program aims to translate visions of the future into real-world objects.

And that’s not all. Students have the opportunity to work on projects with top-industry OEMs. Companies like Jaguar, Stellantis and GM are just a few of the partners this Industrial Design program has connected students with.

Midpoint Reviews with students from Industrial Design, Interaction Design, and Graphic Design for the Volvo Truck Collaboration

With interdisciplinary collaboration and industry experience in hand, Academy of Art University graduates have the expertise to be hired by major companies or to start their own businesses. The entrepreneurial spirit at the heart of this program ensures that they’re ready for work both within and outside conventional organizations (their own businesses as well as start-ups).

To hear our conversation with Antonio and several students from the Academy of Art University, click the podcast player below. To read about the Academy of Art University and see images from this program, scroll down.

Academy of Art University Interview

Cross-Disciplinary Teams

Being part of a cross-collaborative project with a corporate partner is a rich and intense experience. Students have described the first few weeks as “chaos” – which is a great way of describing the energy when creative advertising, fashion, interaction design, interior design, architectural design and industrial design come together.

In-class reviews with Tom Matano and Claudia Dallendoerfer for the Volvo Truck Collaboration

These student teams are responsible for creating an experience in response to a particular set of parameters in a particular year. For example, it might be a new type of home, experience, work environment, mobility device, etc. 

How It Works

Contributing Departments

Industrial Design
Interaction Design
Graphic Design
Interior Architecture

We typically have one global design team and five different multi-disciplinary design teams composed of students from the departments above. 

The global team sets a vision for the brand and the design teams fulfill the vision for different target customers.

Teams receive an objective for their project and then tackle their own pieces in order to meet that objective:

Student Spotlight

Brittany Jarjour

Brittany graduated from the Academy of Art in 2021 and began working as an Associate Architect for Restoration Hardware. She is returning to the Academy of Art University to pursue a Master’s Degree in Architecture. Brittany believes in the importance of spaces that break down barriers and push past today’s boundaries to create more sustainable design solutions.

“I had the chance to be on the global team. We had a fashion designer, graphic designer, two web designers…. I reference that class towards everything I do with my current job, in interviews and portfolios. Being able to collaborate on that kind of scale with different departments, you really learn how to work with people in different fields, how to collaborate on a more technical level, and you see things through other people’s expertise.”

Cedric Le

Cedric is in his senior year of the Industrial Design program at the Academy of Art University, where he focuses on Exterior Design Studies within Transportation Design. Cedric has served as Project Lead for design teams comprised of students from Architecture Design, Fashion, and User Experience, creating designs for companies such as General Motors, Stellantis, & Gravity Sketch. Cedric has always had a passion for cars and dream of creating unique automotive art pieces that bring out a sense of our inner and forgotten youth.

“I started doing these collaborative projects through Antonio’s program. It was my first time having to work with individuals from architecture, design, user experience. It showed me how others approach the design brief outside of an industrial design process. That helped drive me as a designer because it shows that there could be an easier way of doing things. And we had to think more about human ergonomics, about how people actually interact, how these products have an impact on the daily lives of others. I’ve learned take that into consideration and apply it to my own design process.”

Gudrun Jona Gestsdottir

Gudrun is an Interior Architecture and Design Junior student at the Academy of Art University. Gudrun strives to design mindful and sustainable spaces for unique user experiences.

“In my program, we have a totally different structure for how we start, how we go do the day-to-day work. So in the beginning, I was a little lost – but then I got the hang of it and it’s so great to learn how to work with people who don’t have your same exact experience, who don’t think like you.”

Program Overview

Student Ernest Ludovic putting the final touches on the steering wheel and cluster assembly for the final presentation to Jaguar
Citroen Aura presentation of Interior Concept created in Virtual Reality in Collaboration with Stellantis
Sketching interior concepts for Jaguar Collaboration
Student hand working clay model for GM Design Buick Collaboration
Buick Velite Halcyon concept for the GM Design Buick Collaboration
GM Design Cadillac Collaboration, Halioi Sea Community
GM Design Cadillac Collaboration, Halioi Concept Renderings done in Autodesk VRED

XR and Digital Collaborations

VRED tools in use for design presentation

Everyone has felt the impact of virtual and digital work over the last two years, even if it hadn’t been part of their experience before. And for students in a hands-on project environment like this, we wondered what kind of role XR has played in their work.

The big draw is not needing to create a full-scale property, Antonio explains. Students put on their VR headsets and visualize the spaces one-to-one, fully immersed in the environments they’re creating.

It might have been the exception before 2020, but now it’s common practice. Although, Antonio notes, instructors emphasize that while XR has a role in the creative process, it is not meant to replace everything else.

“We want the students to be well-trained and able to create real artifacts that we can look at. Because there’s nothing like holding an awesome design in your hand, being able to walk around a vehicle and see the reflections and how it lives in its environment. That’s something that only a physical prototype allows to come through”



The Academy of Art University’s goal for students is to ensure that every graduate can adapt to different tools and technologies in order to realize their creative visions.

Students need their storytelling to be immersive, so that they can communicate their designs concisely and engagingly. Antonio explains to his students, “If you’re not the most excited person in the room when talking about your project, it’s going to be a real challenge to get others excited about it.”

Academy of Art University believes in collaboration across departments and roles, as well as regions. They currently have students in Europe, South America, the Middle East, Asia, North America – a reality that emphasizes the power of digital tools for creative teams.

And, of course, the school focuses not just on hard skills, but the soft skills necessary to be successful in a 21st century working environment. Their industry partners come back time and time again, saying “your students are always ready to work with one another, work as a team.”

You can’t ask for more than that.

There’s more visionary design to see at the Academy of Art University’s Spring Show. You can also check out the Academy of Art University’s Audi Collaboration, GM Design, Volkswagen Group and Creative Minds podcast.

As Director of the School of Industrial Design, Antonio Borja has successfully integrated the latest rapid prototyping, generative design, and visualization methods into the industrial design curriculum. This has made the Industrial Design program a featured partner for companies such as Gravity Sketch, Adobe, and Autodesk.

After graduating in 2004 with a BFA from the School of Industrial Design at Academy of Art University, Antonio launched a professional freelance career and worked for General Motors as a creative designer. Antonio then returned to his alma mater to teach Design Drawing, Transportation Design, and Digital 3D modeling courses. There Antonio led the creation of this interdisciplinary, collaborative program that gives students hands-on experience with companies such as NASA, Samsung, Audi, Nissan, Peugeot, Citroen, General Motors, and Jaguar.

In his role as Director of the School of Industrial Design, Antonio guides students from the schools of Graphic Design, Fashion, Interaction & UI/UX Design, and Interior Architecture to meet client design objectives with a holistic vision.

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