It all comes back to the outdoors

Ben Leibam in the outdoors

After two years of pursuing a degree in engineering, Ben Leibham (B.S. ’18, product design) knew something was missing. What he needed was a field that would combine his interests in art, engineering, and business.

As a member of the College of Design’s inaugural product design class, Leibham continues to chart his own course. Here, he discusses starting his own business (Summit Prototyping & Design) and how he’s applied his degree to his career.

Why did you decide to pursue a degree in product design?
I initially pursued a degree in materials science engineering. I always loved art as a kid, but I didn’t know the design field existed. After two years of engineering school, I felt something was missing. What I find incredibly unique about product design is that it lies at the intersection of art, engineering, and business. I have interests in each of those fields, and product design has been the perfect way for me to combine them.

How has your degree contributed to your career thus far?
The sketching, prototyping, and studio classes helped me as a designer, but the area I’ve had to grow the most is as a business owner. The diversity of the curriculum was beneficial because it provided me with foundational skills in business, entrepreneurship, and the ability to collaborate with people in other fields.

Where do you draw inspiration from?
My love for the outdoors influences everything I design. Whether it is the technical functionality of a new product or choosing to design with more sustainable materials in mind, it all comes back to the outdoors for me. When I’m not working, chances are you’ll find me up in the mountains.

Why did you decide to launch your own business?
Launching my own business was something I always knew I was going to do. I just didn’t necessarily think I would be doing this right out of school. After graduating, I took a leap and moved to Colorado. I found small freelance design jobs to make some money and spent a lot of my free time studying the industry. After talking it over with family and mentors, I decided to launch Summit Prototyping & Design.

What advice do you have for current students?
Fail frequently. Failure isn’t talked about very often, but it’s critical to grow as a designer. You’ll see designers post incredible sketches or product photos to Instagram, but countless failures likely occurred before that. I think failure is the quickest way to learn and grow.

My second piece of advice is to take advantage of your resources and time while at the University. There are thousands of people to work with or learn from, experienced faculty to help you, and tons of great resources. Even if you fail, you’ll learn a lot and still get to go back to class.


See some of Ben Leibham's designs and more in the original story at the College of Design.

See what other graduates of the product design program's inaugural class are up to in "Where Are They Now? Product Design Class of 2018."
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities