The University of Utah
College of Architecture + Planning

Human-Centric Design: Faculty Profiles of Chris Rusay and Jonathan Mills

Human-Centric Design: Faculty Profiles of Chris Rusay and Jonathan Mills

Chris RusayChris Rusay is a visiting assistant professor of the University of Utah Multi-Disciplinary Design program and the design director at KeepHuman, a studio focused on product, brand, and digital experience. We had the opportunity to ask Rusay about the student experience. “We aim to provide a holistic methodology and understanding of product design to our students,” said Rusay. “This requires considering human needs, technological advances, and the larger cultural and business context of projects. At the same time we focus on the necessary skills to execute, visualize, and prototype a wide range of product design from hard goods, soft goods, and digital user interface design.”

This fall semester, Rusay is teaching Design Studio 1 and Design History:

Design Studio 1 is a product design studio focused on developing outdoor gear around areas of food, water, storage, transportation, shelter, and safety.

Design History is a survey course of industrial design and product design history from the early 1700s to present day. “Design is a self-referential human activity that stretches back to the earliest stone, wood, and metal tools,” said Rusay. “We design to improve upon what came before, and to provide creative solutions to specific human needs.”

Chris Rusay launched design studio KeepHuman ( and recently completed Industrial Design and UI/UX work for the Japanese and American divisions of global manufacturing company Amada ( Additionally, Rusay has completed new furniture design concepts and is currently pursuing research in advanced workplace ergonomics with potential solutions in task seating and modular furniture.

Jonathan MillsJonathan Mills is a visiting assistant professor at the University of Utah Multi-Disciplinary Design (MDD) Program. He teaches introductory skills-based and upper level studio courses for MDD minors and majors. “I want my students to understand that nothing that they do is in a vacuum; each decision influences and is influenced by the other elements or components in a vast ecosystem in which, taken to an extreme, every single thing is connected,” says Mills. “In light of this concept, thinking through the phases of influence of their designs (short term, long term, etc.) is key to right-sizing their design efforts for a given problem or situation.” Mills’ current studio projects involve regional partners in health and the natural resources.

Mills teaches Rapid Visualization, the Minor Capstone, and the Design Studio III:

Rapid Visualization involves introductory analog drawing techniques to allow students (and future designers) to express, observe, develop, and communicate their ideas visually.

The Minor Capstone project (for design minor students and MDD Pre-Major students) is focused on developing design solutions to aid the United States Forest Service (USFS) to achieve select objectives from the USFS 2015-2020 Strategic Plan (public watershed and invasive plant awareness, flood monitoring and safety, active fire zone safety, trail maintenance and information centralization).

Design Studio III (for second year design students) is a project in partnership with the Spinal Cord Injury Program at the University of Utah’s Rehabilitation Center and the TRAILS program (Therapeutic Recreation and Independent Lifestyles) to design and develop adaptive sport equipment for ski and kayak sports for various injury level participants.

“Design, in the broadest sense, is the human experience; it is a reaction to an observation or an identification of a non-ideal condition, and equal parts intuition and rigor to change that situation or condition,” says Mills. “It is also a very human experience in that at every stage of the design or decision-making process, there are a multitude of [often changing] parameters, limitations, and motivations that pull us in one direction or another. How we weigh and balance these changing factors is at the core of our existence as humans.”

Previously, Jonathan Mills was the Program Coordinator for and taught in the Industrial + Interaction Design Program at Syracuse University, where his studio teaching focused on public outreach collaboration. With co-design project partners including VA Justice Outreach, ARISE Child + Family Services, WelchAllyn Healthcare, non-profit water accessibility groups in Eastern Africa, and K-12 sustainable energy education organizations in Washington, D.C., Mills’ design education approach challenges students to learn through direct engagement in large and complex social matters.