College Corner: Joey Roth ’06, Swarthmore’s Designer

Swarthmore is known for producing economists and activists. The school takes pride in having an engineering program. Our political science department is recognized as one of the best in the nation.

Swarthmore isn’t a school one would expect to produce a master of industrial design. But somehow, it did.

As a senior, Joey Roth ’06 won the Red Dot Award, which Business Week describes as one of the coveted awards in the design industry. His winning design was for a modernist computer case.

In the past two years, Roth has moved quickly to launch his career as a independent designer and entrepreneur. He took up a brief internship, braved a stint as a copywriter, and last year he started to work full-time overseeing the production of his first commercial design: the Sorapot, a sleek teapot which has received acclaim across the design-world.

One blog reviewed the teapot writing, “If Apple did housewares, this might be the iPot.”

The Sorapot is rolling out to stores across the nation, including Omoi in Philadelphia. Roth is already moving on to other designs, most notably a felt computer-mouse.

Roth stumbled into design.

“I wanted to be a novelist,” he admits.

He was first introduced to the design world through Qub, which he founded with a group of friends. His job was to write the business plan, craft the advertising posters, and envision the interior layout. He loved the job, and started reconsidering his aspirations.

“I realized I wasn’t going to be a great writers, and my writing wasn’t up to the standards of the authors I really admired. So,” Roth asked himself, “why add to the crap?”

Instead, he created his own special major in industrial design theory, mixing psychology and engineering. When he switched his focus, he almost transferred. Now, however, he doesn’t regret any of his time at Swarthmore. “If I had gone to design school, I’d probably be designing a vacuum cleaner now,” he said with a laugh.

Swarthmore facilitated his first large design project: the Shane mail room. As the College moved forward on reconstructing the interior of Parrish, the administration ran a contest asking for student designs for the space. “I was really excited,” Roth reminisced. Four student designs were picked and invited to a meeting with Facilities.

It didn’t go quite as expected. “At the first meeting, they showed us a finished design,” said Roth. “The winners were a bit confused.”

Even though his ideas for the space weren’t adopted, Roth believes the design contest was a success. “It encouraged designers,” he explained—something he believes Swarthmore could do a better job of. He dreams of being successful enough to endow a design-oriented professor at the College.

Still, even though Swarthmore doesn’t make an all out effort to nurture designers, Roth approves of the newest additions to campus–the twin dorms, Paul and Kemp Halls. “They are using that Swarthmore stone in a modernist way. I think it is great,” he said.


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