In Memoriam – Professor James (Jim) Hennessey

News - 16 April 2020 - Communication

Prof. J.M. Hennessey (Jim) was Professor of Design Techniques at our faculty from 1986 until 2001. He was Chair of the Design (Vormgeving) Department until 2000. Jim loved Porsches, the blues and was a gifted guitarist with a passion for Fender guitars. He passed away on 6 April 2020.

Jim Hennessey came to Delft in 1986 as a visiting professor, on invitation of professor Erik Jansen and Norbert Roozenburg. In 2001 he retired and moved back to the United States. During his time at Industrial Design Engineering, TU Delft, he laid the foundations for the development of research and design for user experiences. With his research and education efforts Jim inspired students, PhD candidates and fellow researchers to design consumer products, medical equipment and life-altering technologies that the world has benefitted from for decennia. Former colleagues and students remember him as someone who always took time to listen and could be trusted for good advice.

“Jim was a visionary for his time and a champion of computer tools for creative ideation” says Raghu Kolli, former IDE colleague and current managing partner at Leapfrog Investments. “He put together a talented team of engineers, designers and psychologists to explore how designers can sketch and visualise product forms. Under Jim’s leadership, a team consisting of Ralph Stuyver, Martin Gribnau, Gert Pasman, me and others prototyped IDEATOR, a sketching device for designers which used gestures for manipulation. It is gratifying to see the early concepts from our pioneering work done almost 30 years ago evolved further and manifested in devices like the iPad now. Jim was popular with the students too and supervised many cutting edge graduation projects including using a virtual reality toolkit for product design. By the time he retired and moved back to US, Jim had made his impression at the faculty with his international flavour and eased the way for the Masters’ programme in English that was launched in the 1990s.“

“My favorite quote of Jim’s, he’d used it sometimes when one of us was presenting a not so ingenious design solution: “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit!”, says Lek Thixton, former student and current Senior Product Designer at Oakley. “He meant it as a reminder that we shouldn’t shoot down a project with a poor presentation. Instead he encouraged us to talk creatively about the design which might even even ignite an idea from those in the audience. He was a truly wonderful professor. His lectures were entertaining, informative and inspiring. In fact, after listening to any one of them, we, the students, would just want him to lecture all the time. Of course we did have to go to work at some point, whether we put it off or jumped right in, but the lectures gave us the knowledge and curiosity to learn more as we went and did our own research.” 

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