A conversation with Jay Burnett, a student at the Georgia Tech College of Design and Emerging Lighting Product Designer of the Year 2021.

January 20, 2022

Jay Burnett, a student at the Georgia Tech College of Design won the LIT Design Awards 2021 in the Lighting Product category with a chandelier design called “Trinity”. To produce Trinity’s concrete hub, Jay developed a 3d Printable concrete mold which increased re-usability, enabled highly accurate dimensioning, and allowed mounting hardware to be cast directly into the part all white decreasing cost & machining time when compared to reusable silicon or foam mold at this scale. Jay shares with us his love for design and inspirations for his career debut.

Could you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m 21, an Atlanta native,  when I am not designing, I enjoy making music, staying active through competitive sports, and cooking!

How did you discover your passion for Lighting Product Design?

For the past few years at the Georgia Tech College of Design, the sophomore capstone project has been to design and fabricate a light that explores materials, scale, and experience. This was my first exposure to the field and is the project for which I created Trinity. As I worked, I discovered the power that furniture and lighting design have to create experiences & shape the story of space both passively and actively. I learned that Lighting Design is a mix of engineering, design, and art that I find extremely compelling. So much so that I am now pursuing a career in it!

Why did you choose to study Lighting Design at the Georgia Institute of Technology? When will you graduate?

My road to design begins similarly to many in recent generations- with Legos & the influence of an engineer in my family. FIRST (For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology) Robotics got me hooked as a child on Lego robots & then as a high schooler on 120-pound metal ones. I learned how to CAD, how to make rough prototypes and then fabricate high-quality parts, how to code, & how to creatively and iteratively problem solve. I was mentored along the way by the Robojackets- Georgia Tech students who loved building robots too and wanted to teach kids like me how to do what they did!

Led by their example I applied to Georgia Tech, but I wasn’t sure what I’d major in. I liked creating things, I liked drawing, I liked leading design meetings and debating minute details of each part. Mechanical Engineering was the obvious choice, but my mom happened to find the GT School of Industrial Design webpage, called me over, and said “this sounds like you!” She was right, as she so often is.

Jay Burnett

Can you please share your creative journey behind “Trinity”? Where is your inspiration from?

Trinity is born out of a few core design ideas.

One, I wanted to explore what I could do with concrete. I knew I would be able to get much more complex smooth shapes with the tools I had by using a cast material instead of a solid one, & I thought this was as good a time as any to try it out!

Two, treatment of light. I was fascinated by designs that treated light as a solid that could either fill in negative space to complete a “solid” geometry or could act as an extension of a rigid limb.

Three, smooth material transitions. Finding a way to move from concrete to metal to glass with no visible fasteners was critical for two reasons. One is because I wanted this design to look sleek and professional, not like a flimsy prototype. Two is that it draws people in. I wanted to make people wonder “how does it do that? What’s holding it together”. That interaction takes it from a background piece to a focal point and a conversation starter. Good design is worth talking about.

What does it mean to you, to become the LIT 2021 Emerging Lighting Product Designer of the year?

I am very honored to have received this award, and It honestly could not have come at a better time. All designers face imposter syndrome at one point or another, and as I search for jobs it has been easy to doubt myself and my skill.  But receiving the LIT 2021 ELPD of the Year reminds me that I am talented and passionate and my future is bright! It also reminds me that I am just emerging. I have a lot still to learn and explore in design, which is daunting but also very exciting! So, thank you very much for selecting my work!

You are just starting your career as a Lighting Product Designers… what do you want to do next? What are your dreams?

Over the past four years, I’ve gained an education in Industrial Design; I have learned sketching and modeling communication skills and prototyping and rendering; basically all the stuff one must know in order to say “I have a degree in Design”. But what I’ve really learned is how to serve others. How to put the user first, to try & understand their needs, that I should strive to design such that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability, & to be selfless in my designs because it’s not about me.

In short, I found a profession worth devoting my life to. That is why I stand on the edge of a precipice ready and excited to begin a career in design. This may sound cliche because I am sure most young designers hunger for the same thing, to improve lives and make eyes shine brightly. But I am proud that I am not unique in this goal. My heart swells to know that my peers and I truly want to make this world better, & I wholeheartedly believe that even if all of us don’t achieve such lofty things, a few of us will. So, having secured my Bachelor of Science in Industrial Design this December, I’m excited to start! I don’t know where I will work or what I will make, but I know I do my best to try and become one of those few.

Last, what makes light magical to you?

Light sets the mood. With light, you can take one space and make it feel like two. You know what I mean if you’ve ever been to a bar or club near closing time. When the tired staff turns off the soft, warm lights that leave ample shadows and accent the face of that person you met at the bar so well in favor of the bright, aggressive fluorescents. Nothing looks mysterious and sexy anymore… you realize that everything is dirty & wet & that the room resembles a warehouse more closely than anything.

With the click of a switch or a turn of a dial, we can change everything about an environment. Something that powerful can only be magic.

Read more about the “Trinity” light.