Who is James Van Niel?

Class Mates Bio

Early Life

I was born in Rochester, New York on June 13th 1993. I am the youngest and the only boy of three sibling. As a child I was always drawn to the type of play that involved creativity, things like Legos, drawing or coloring, and imaginary play. As I grew up I began to enjoy activities that allowed me to use my hands and that involved some level of problem solving and creativity.

Young James
A picture of James as a child.

Background As A Designer

My love for creating things with my hands and problem solving lead me to take several design oriented classes in highschool offered through Project Lead the Way. The first class I took that emphasized design was my Civil Engineering and Architecture, this course introduced me to the design process and set the path for my future in design.

During my senior year in highschool I took a course called Engineering Design and Development. This course entailed defining a problem or need that needed to be addressed and developing a solution to the problem. This was the first time that I was introduced to industrial design. For my project I developed a device that made cleaning the crease (edge formed by the rise and run intersecting) of stairs easier.

After graduating highschool in 2011 I moved on to study architecture at the University at Buffalo(UB). During my time at UB I was able to refine my skills as a designer, developing my own design language and style. After two years studying architecture I found myself uninterested in architecture and was in need of a new path. This is when I discovered the Industrial Design program at RIT.

UB Logo
University at Buffalo's logo.
RIT Logo
Rochester Institute of Technology's logo

In my time studying industrial design at RIT I have worked on several projects that have given me the opportunity to work in many fields of design. For instance transportation design where I designed an electric vehicle off of the Volkswagen Golf chasis. Another area I have worked in was in tool design where I redesigned the power drill that better fits an apartment owner or first-time homeowner. These projects also introduced me into fields like Graphic Design, Packaging Design, and Interface Design.

Car Drawing
Drawing done by James, of his car design.
Drill Render
Computer rendering of a drill made by James
An animation showing how the drill works

Creative Influences

In my work have used a variety of objects as inspiration for my designs. In my water bottle design I found my inspiration from a yacht concept. When I first came across the yacht concept I was fascinated with the form of the yacht itself and the way the material break lines came together. I interpreted these into the water bottle to create an ergonomic yet intriguing form.

Water Bottles
Computer rendering of a water bottles made by James

The idea for a pill management system came from playing with a Zippo lighter. The project called for a pill management system for the elderly population, I chose to focus on system that managed pills while the person leaves the house. As I played with a Zippo lighter one day I thought about how these lighters have been around for decades and how it is an image and sensation almost everyone can identify. This is when I thought that I could apply the feel and look of the Zippo lighter to the system.

Pill Box
Computer rendering of a pill management system made by James


I enjoy any activity that allows me to take something apart, build something, or tinker. I also have a passion for cars and car design. I follow several blogs, websites and shows about cars and interesting things going on in the industry. I even find taking a drive with some music blasting and the windows down enjoyable and a great way to get speeding tickets.

I also spend more time than I probably should cruising through Netflix trying to find a new series to watch, as well as playing xbox. I am not sure if it counts as a hobby but I spend my weekends bartending downtown, which is always an interesting experience. It accounts for some great snapchats and stories to tell. It also allows me to have a few well deserved shots at the end of the week!

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