‘I am mostly a design-obsessed nerd’
Recent industrial design grad grateful for internship opportunities, relationships with mentors
By Lauren Johnson
AMES, Iowa — Surrounded by hand-drawn sketches, computer-generated renderings and countless sticky notes is where Luke Chaney’s creativity truly flourished.
“I’ve always known I wanted to do something art related,” said Chaney, who graduated with a bachelor of industrial design from Iowa State University in May and now works full-time for STEL Design, a design consultancy in Santa Barbara, California.
The Geneseo, Illinois native followed older brothers Grant Chaney (BS 2020 Supply Chain Management & Marketing) and Will Chaney (BS 2021 Industrial Engineering) in receiving an education from Iowa State. He was eager to enroll in the College of Design’s industrial design program, which ranks in the top 10 in the nation for value and excellence.
The program fed both his creative and scientific sides, Chaney said. “A lot of people in my family are engineers, so there was always that influence. Industrial design was the perfect mesh of the two.”
With many of his courses taught in the Armory, Chaney didn’t have to go far to share ideas and get feedback from classmates and faculty, and he enjoyed having a space to hang his work for inspiration and iteration.
For STEL, Chaney creates product visuals like animations, renderings and motion graphics. He’s helped develop a 3D model library for Luno, a car camping gear manufacturer; a product launch video for the Tesla wireless charging platform; and marketing renders for OffGrid, a cybersecurity company.
With each project more complex than the last, he calls his work “tedious but fulfilling.”
“I’m completely infatuated with most industrial design processes. I am mostly a design-obsessed nerd,” he said, laughing.
Chaney’s obsession led to fruitful opportunities as an undergrad. Looking to build his resume, he completed an internship with Streamline Artisans in East Moline, Illinois, in the summer of 2020. “I just walked in with my portfolio and ask for a job for the summer,” Chaney said.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, he worked alongside architects and designers – masked and socially distanced – to curate sculptures and furniture to outfit buildings. One of his most notable projects there was finding a way to convert wooden barrels into outdoor furniture.
While circumstances at the time kept him and his colleagues from meeting with clients in person, the knowledge the internship provided him with was invaluable.
“It was a great experience. It was amazing to get that view of product design in a corporate setting,” Chaney said. “Seeing how things came together there really helped my process when I came back to school.”
The following year, seeking ways to integrate his design skills with his entrepreneurial interests, Chaney launched Rock Creek Design Works, LLC. Since May 2021, his client base has grown through word-of-mouth recommendations and his reaching out directly to possible clients to offer services.
“We have some pretty high-profile projects,” Chaney said, most of which he’s unable to divulge due to nondisclosure agreements. “It’s been really fun.”
Maintaining his business and keeping up with his studies was a balancing act. The experience taught him time management, something he believes was equally as important as perfecting his craft.
“It wasn’t easy by any means. But I learned it was a necessary skill I needed to learn if I wanted to build a life for myself while also enjoying my time at Iowa State.”
Finding mentors he could count on for encouragement and guidance was critical, too. Chaney connected with associate teaching professor of industrial design Dan Neubauer in his first industrial design studio.
Neubauer describes Chaney as a thoughtful and talented student with strengths in computer modeling and visualization skills. Chaney set himself apart by always wanting to learn more, Neubauer said.
“Few students have the same level of passion and curiosity that I’ve seen in him,” Neubauer said. “When I worked with Luke it was always exciting – he is constantly trying to learn a new approach to something.”
Neubauer pushed him to be his best, Chaney said. “I never left a critique or review empty handed. There was always something to improve, change or ideate upon.”
Chaney first joined STEL as an intern in February 2022. He worked out of their Santa Barbara office during summer 2022 and continued employment with the company through his senior year.
He brought the same passion and creativity to his internship, said fellow Cyclone and STEL lead visual designer Kaleb Wika (BID 2021 Industrial Design), who immediately gravitated to Chaney.
“His ability to learn processes and relay it to the team was a huge help while developing projects,” Wika said. “I think what makes Luke an awesome creative is his willingness to output the ideas in his head. Big or small it’s always fun to see the side projects (shoes, headphones, interactive artwork) that he creates.”
As a fellow alumnus and mentor, Wika has offered Chaney guidance on how to compose his portfolio, how to use certain programs and what to consider in his career path.
As he reflects on his time at Iowa State, Chaney shares a little bit of advice to his younger self: “Don’t sweat it as much, especially those late nights when it was 3 a.m. and I was at the Armory and I just wanted to go home,” he said. “But at the same time, those are some of my favorite memories and times I created my best work.”
Lauren Johnson, College of Design Strategic Communications, firstname.lastname@example.org