Wine Wednesday with Stanford artist Angel J. Olvera

A spirited discussion of art, Product Design, Stanford, and life

Angel J. Olvera is a Stanford senior, Product Design major, and gifted artist. He is also one of my best and oldest Stanford friends. On the wine-hazed eve of Angel’s 22nd birthday, we found ourselves discussing Stanford, Product design, art, and the future. I decided to record our brilliant fodder and transform the discussion into an article. Read on.

So, I’ll set the scene: It’s 11:30 on a Wednsday night, and we are in Angel’s colorful room in 680. “Birthday Sex” by Jeremih is playing, and we are drinking red wine from the bottle.

Sylvie: So, when did you first feel that you wanted to create something?

Angel: When I first came to Stanford, I started taking computer science classes, and I thought it was really fun to create projects in those classes. It was really empowering to create things.

Sylvie: You liked the idea of putting something together?

Angel: Yeah, like being skilled – being educated, gaining skills, and then executing my ideas. CS is an awesome way to do this, but at a certain point I just shed it. I wanted something different. I obviously love visual stuff, and CS offers that, but not in the way I wanted. I loved working with my hands. And then junior year, I took my first art class and I kind of just blew my own mind. I realized I was on top of my shit, and I knew I could impress the professors and my friends. And then that just kept going.

The song changes to “Birthday” by Katy Perry.

Sylvie: Do you remember your first piece of feedback? The first thing someone said about something that you made?

Angel: Can I have some more wine?

I reluctantly hand him the bottle I’d been cradling.

Angel: Junior year was a rush. That’s when, in Product Design, you start creating. You get past physics and all that shit. I remember my winter quarter junior year I was taking three product-based classes: a digital art class, an industrial design class, and a design fundamentals class. And, literally, I was creating two or three things per week… This song’s not giving me good energy. I hate her.

We change the song to “Ridin’ Solo” by Jason Derulo. Angel is satisfied, and continues.

Angel: I think one of the best pieces of feedback I’ve gotten here was from my Professor John Edmark. He’s my favorite professor here. He’s this really sassy man in his forties, and he’s so funny and just throws shade so hard at everyone. I think the very first piece I showed him was that (points), and the second was my witch design.

Angel looks through a portfolio and rifles through his creations. All of Angel’s work is in his room. He notices another piece that sparks a memory, and picks it up.

Angel admires one of his first creations.

Angel: I remember painting this, and this is when I realized I have a really wild imagination. I was really impressed that I could execute that. I’ve always had weird thoughts and I’m always into drama.

“Trumpets” by Jason DeRulo comes on.

Angel: Every piece is an opportunity to share this crazy image in your head.

Sylvie: What do you think is the “ideal” image in Product Design, right now? Is there sort of a paradigm? Or maybe not, since it’s so new.

We discuss whether we should leave for EBF’s weekly happy hour*, since it’s almost midnight. Angel decides he’d rather ring in his birthday at 680, and then go to EBF after. It doesn’t get fun until later, anyway. (*Note: EBF is a house on campus. The acronym stands for Enchanted Broccoli Forest.)

Angel: I don’t think it’s fair to say Product Design is new. It definitely started in the 50s with Bauhaus in Germany. And I know it’s cliché but everyone’s really into human-centered design. That’s what Stanford’s all about – design thinking is human-centered design. It’s not just designing a product, and then trying to make it fit. It’s looking at humans and building around them. Building what matters.

Sylvie: Go on.

Angel: Honestly just sitting with a pen and paper and talking to someone about something in their life, and then observing moments when they’re really passionate, or really emotional, or there’s a contradiction – that’s when you notice an opportunity for design.

Sylvie: Coming in as a freshman, I had no idea that product design was even a thing here.

Angel: Neither did I.

“Work” by Rihanna starts playing.

Sylvie: So when did you realize Product Design might be the path for you?

Angel: I was deciding between Computer Science and Symbolic Systems. I remember really specifically telling Sam, like, “what if I majored in PD?” And I remember his response was like, “that would be really cool.” And I remember his validation was just, like, I could do it. And I knew it was going to be a huge challenge. But then I was like, “I don’t care, I’m up for the challenge.”

Sylvie: You’re kind of, like, the ultimate Stanford student. Like, someone who comes in and, at first, just assumes Computer Science is the right path for them. It seems like you like the process and methodology of engineering, but you also like the passion and the storytelling behind art.

Angel: Exactly. I think Product Design is a really cool tool, and I encourage everyone to use it in interesting ways.

“Down in the DM (remix)” starts playing.

Angel: I had an interview today that was really interesting. It was with Google Creative Labs in New York City. It was really cool, because she really loved when I talked about my short story, The Boy who Ran Away with his 3D Printer. She was like, “I think it’s so awesome when people can think of the future, unhinged, and think about what’s possible.”

An illustration in “The Boy who Ran Away with his 3D Printer”

Sylvie: I think that’s what makes Stanford really great.

Angel: We go to a nerd school. That’s the reality. I think it’s so cool that we all have this unique Stanford experience. We all went through this shit.

We argue over who is going to finish the wine.

Sylvie: If you could sum it up, what would you want people to know about Stanford Product Design? Or anything – your future, your past – anything. What do you want people to know?

Angel: I think that when you’re tasked to design for some group, some things easily pop into mind – design for diabetic mothers, design for underprivileged kids, design for etc. etc – and I think those are super noble, but every designer is so unique. There are a lot of people who are under-designed-for, and that we don’t think about. There are people who are in need of design and attention, who are not necessarily the ones that spring to mind. I’m talking about designing products that change people’s life for the better.

“HyperHomo Easter Egg Hunt” by Angel J. Olvera

Sylvie: Tell me about your newest work.

Angel: Sam and I wanted to design for teenagers who want to have paranormal experiences. And I remember my professors’ faces being like: “what the fuck, that’s so weird.” The point was that those kids obviously have so much taboo. They’re like the weirdos. Kids who make weird art – we shun them. Kids who do weird things – we are just like “ew.” But, what if we empowered those people? And, imagine the possibilities of what they could create in the future if we just gave them the tools.

Sylvie: Any last thoughts before we head over to EBF?

Angel finishes the bottle of wine.

Angel: You learn in school to use product design to help these extreme groups – which is really cool from a learning standpoint. But, in reality, you should really be designing for people you just really care about and connect with. Stanford teaches you not to design for people like yourself. In order for you to make the best product ever for a group of people, you have to want to see the group succeed. If you have that link, and that passion, that’s really what’s going to drive you to keep going. Product Design is a long journey. You create a product, it fails, you have to try again, you have to create tons of versions, spend tons of years testing… and the only thing that’s going to get you through all that is if you really care about that group. So I think Product Design should just be really fun.

Angel with his piece “Laugh Now Cry Later”

To learn more about Angel J. Olvera and his artwork, visit


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