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A Day With Tom Weis

The designer and RISD professor talks about changing the world with design.

Words: Laicie Heeley
Pictures: Holson House

After realizing that he didn’t want to be a traditional artist, Tom Weis set out to make better use of his hands.

He spent time as a woodworker and cabinet-maker, and might easily have settled into the comfortable routine and satisfaction of the profession. Instead, restless and in need of a creative outlet, he went back to school. At the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Tom helped design a functioning incubator — meant to nurture premature newborns — made of old Toyota truck parts. Headlights provided heat; a dashboard fan circulated the air; a door-chime and signal-light assembly would alert caregivers if the heating system malfunctioned, and the whole thing was powered by a motorcycle battery. In areas where traditional equipment is more scarce, the invention might have changed the world.

Instead, it taught Tom another lesson entirely on the importance of perspective.

Today, Tom is a designer, educator, and co-founder of the design firm Hello. We Are _____. In addition to teaching at the Rhode Island School of Design, he teaches workshops and courses at The Steel House, a makers’ collective in Rockland, ME.

Tom’s wide-ranging experience in general contracting, wooden boat building, furniture-making, and product design help to inform his courses, which include a graduate-level seminar on, what else? Solving the world’s problems with design.

I had the pleasure of spending the day with Tom and his students as they walked me through some of their initial research and ideas to solve one of the world’s greatest threats — nuclear weapons. Their early ideas — ranging from nuclear boba to blockchain technology — felt like a much-needed antidote in a world where the possibilities for change often seem bleak.

Click on the pictures below for my interview with Tom. And stay tuned. We look forward to providing updates from Tom’s class after their final presentations in December.


Laicie Heeley

Editor in Chief

Laicie Heeley is the founding CEO of Inkstick Media, where she serves as Editor in Chief of the foreign policy magazine Inkstick and Executive Producer and Host of the PRX- and Inkstick-produced podcast, Things That Go Boom. Heeley’s reporting has appeared on public radio stations across America and the BBC, where she’s explored global security issues including domestic terrorism, disinformation, nuclear weapons, and climate change. Prior to launching Inkstick, Heeley was a Fellow with the Stimson Center’s Budgeting for Foreign Affairs and Defense program and Policy Director at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. Her publications include work on sanctions, diplomacy, and nuclear arms control and nonproliferation, along with the first full accounting of US counterterrorism spending after 9/11.


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