Faculty Spotlight: Lecturer Zack Kohrman

Zack Kohrman

Zack Kohrman has been teaching in the School of Industrial and Graphic Design (SIGD) since 2020 and was appointed to a Lecturer position last fall. For the last two and a half years, he has been paired with Professor Emeritus Randy Bartlett at futures studio, an off-campus instructional site in Mobile, Alabama, where industrial design students can complete a semester of studies while working on projects with local businesses. Kohrman says that working with Bartlett was a great chance to learn about setting up projects, managing budgets, coordinating learning experiences and locating materials. “With Randy as my mentor, I had the chance to learn about the management of design classes and the ins and outs of the design education process, lessons that were an exceedingly valuable experience for a young educator.”

An alumnus of SIGD, Kohrman earned a bachelor’s degree in 2014 and a Master of Industrial Design in 2017. During his time at Auburn, he served as a graduate teaching and research assistant and managed the SIGD shop. The transition from adjunct to Lecturer was a smooth one for Kohrman, but he says there are still things that surprise him in his job every day. “Having been at Auburn throughout the years in various capacities, the parts of the transition that caught me off guard were the small idiosyncrasies like seeing my name on grant proposals, making it onto the building directory list and having an office when I was used to working out of the studio,” he said. “Those are the things that have taken some getting used to!”

Over the past few semesters, Kohrman has been busy designing and coordinating projects that excite and challenge his students. He and Associate Professor Ben Bush co-instructed a semester-long collaboration with Dauphin Island Sea Lab to create an outdoor classroom design. The pair also directed an outdoor signage design workshop with the Alabama Contemporary Art Center and another workshop to help Auburn University Facilities find easier ways of de-rolling the trees at Toomer’s Corner. This past spring, Kohrman’s studio worked with the University of Southern Mississippi to help develop a system of outdoor learning stations to promote STEM learning and engagement in locales across the Gulf Coast.  The studio also had a contract to develop a new type of personal floatation device (PFD), and Kohrman’s students did plenty of prototype testing at Auburn’s Martin Aquatics Center. “I was once told that a designer should become familiar with the operational use of the related products and become an expert in that subject matter,” Kohrman said. “From that standpoint, the world’s foremost experts in this new PFD design currently are me, the client and the students who worked on it.”

Much of Kohrman’s research surrounds human biomechanics and ergonomics, with a focus on personal protective equipment as well as backpacks and load bearing equipment. His long-standing interest in patents, history and military history has also led him to work on tactical gear and firearms and their mechanisms. “I’m also keenly interested in patent law and rapid prototyping. My goal is to learn from the past to create novel and functional designs and find ways to better integrate CAD programs with 3D printers, laser cutters and low volume production processes into a design workflow to decrease time from inception to testing.” Kohrman and his father, a physician, recently applied for a patent for a respirator design they created. Their product can be configured for multiple uses and can be disassembled for cleaning via autoclave or simple soap and water. Kohrman and his father researched historical gas masks and aviation oxygen masks before creating their respirator, and they are currently simplifying their design in preparation for production.

In addition to teaching and research, Kohrman also owns a business called Warbird Illustration, creating aviation-themed artwork based on aircraft blueprints and historical images. This personal passion-turned-business endeavor allows him to combine his design skills with investigative research to create accurate representations of aircraft. “My process starts with the technical drawings, using those to CAD model the aircraft and make sure the surfaces and details are correct,” he stated. “From there I combine a series of surface light, markings and detailing and weathering renders and then process them together with actual photo backdrops, most of which I’ve taken from altitude, to create a composite image that bridges the gap between a photo and rendering.” Kohrman has loved aviation since a young age and has a particular interest in military aircraft. He says that his most satisfying experiences are when he recreates aircraft for clients who had a friend or family member who actually flew in that specific plane. “That has been a particularly special privilege. That’s also where the research really becomes a focus, since often clients have only a few anecdotal notes and a grainy black and white photo to start with. Pairing that with my resources and pouring through the records to provide the client a piece of their personal or familial history in a form that is accurate has been especially rewarding.”