Meet Boris Kontorovich: Principal Engineer
Engineering is a crucial part of the design process that involves many different moving parts and processes.
Sometimes it’s about inventing a new product category. Or creating an ecosystem that combines the physical and the digital worlds in unique and beneficial ways. Our engineers and technologists work together to understand customer and client needs, design and iterate solutions, and build products and services that enhance the user experience—and grow brand value. With our heritage of product design and cutting-edge technology frameworks, Smart Design is well-positioned to create the next generation of connected products and services.
We sat down with Boris Kontorovich, Principal Engineer, to learn about the new frontier of building end-to-end ecosystems blending physical and digital components, how design is more meaningful when it aligns with your ideals, and why he avoids daredevil stunts when snowboarding.
Tell us about a time you solved an intimidating engineering challenge
I usually work on some of the most challenging technical problems at Smart Design—like the Gatorade Smart Gx Bottle hydration-tracking ecosystem we created. This goes back to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and is part of the company’s commitment to stay relevant with new technologies that help athletes perform. At the time, nobody knew what this “smart cap” would look like, except that it had to have a sensor and also be waterproof as the bottles are kept on the field in a cooler with melting ice. The first two iterations focused on getting the battery, cap rigidity, and wireless communications right. The final version can bee seen in the recently released Gx cap that incorporates all the learnings from previous pilots and connects to a mobile device and is easily adaptable to various sports. It was the kind of project that shows how Smart Design consistently carries through on long-term, complex challenges with many moving parts, bringing together technology, engineering, and user experience.
Expanding the field: The prototyping journey of the Smart Gx Bottle
Expanding the field: The prototyping journey of the Smart Gx Bottle
What are the new frontiers of your discipline?
Design firms traditionally gravitate to more-human aspects of products that involve physical or mechanical design components. But Smart Design has pioneered building end-to-end ecosystems blending both the digital and physical worlds on a new level, such as our work with Gatorade. More and more, these will integrate machine vision, wireless communications, and the latest developments in material science and engineering simulation. We’ll see products that function not only as physical objects you can put on a shelf, but ones that also generate and collect data and create value—for both the user and the company.
So what is engineering anyway?
As engineers, we’re taught to find solutions to clearly stated problems. But in product design, you don’t always know what that is beforehand. A big part of engineering at Smart Design is working with other disciplines to understand more concisely what the problem is. This might involve human behavior and how people adapt— usually not something within an engineer’s expertise. We’ll look at it and say, “What would an impactful solution look like?” Then we devise simple and effective testing and apply our engineering skills to build working prototypes that eventually become products and services.
What types of problems do you find exciting?
The most exciting problems are those I feel most passionate about, and that align with my perspective and ideals. They can be as simple as reducing paper waste, or as complex as creating a technology or innovation that improves people’s lives, whether an OXO kitchen appliance or the La Lumiere face mask that uses UV light to heal acne. A lot of what we do at Smart Design can be classified as making lives better, and these are the most meaningful to me.
At the time, nobody knew what this “smart cap” would look like, except that it had to have a sensor and also be waterproof as the bottles are kept on the field in a cooler with melting ice.
Describe the qualities of a technologist at Smart Design
Being a technologist at Smart Design means getting comfortable with change, as tech is continually evolving and improving. The computer language you learn today won’t be helpful five years from now. If you’re not okay with constantly learning new things, it’s going to be rough. We’re also deeply committed to human-centered design and the importance of being compassionate and empathetic. Because engineers can sometimes struggle with understanding how non-tech people see the world, we always remind ourselves that design is about making products easy to use. Otherwise, we’re not doing our job.
Talk about the leadership at Smart Design
When it comes to leadership, I have many of the usual responsibilities such as mentoring and managing reports. But I also help develop new capabilities. I’m an uber-geek and enjoy everything to do with electronics. One of my accomplishments was to stand up our first electronics lab. This grew out of client work and also changes in the marketplace—as well as my interests. First, I simply set up a workbench near my desk. When we moved to our new studio at Brooklyn Navy Yard, leadership backed me when I said we needed a dedicated electronics space. The Lab has basic tools for working with electronics like soldering, as well as more advanced diagnostic equipment such as oscilloscopes, which together allow us to build more complex digital prototypes.
“The computer language you learn today won’t be helpful five years from now. If you’re not okay with constantly learning new things, it’s going to be rough.”
On a personal note, tell us about what you’re reading, learning, and creating
Besides spending lots of time geeking out in the electronics lab, I like learning new programming languages like Swift and engaging with the engineering community on platforms such as Slack and Discord to help me figure stuff out. I’m also an avid runner—mostly on the boardwalk in Brooklyn where I live—and I like to go snowboarding with my Smart Design colleague John Anderson. We’re hardly daredevils. You could say our special move is taking it easy, while trying to come back to the office without injuries!
About Boris Kontorovich, Principal Engineer
Boris Kontorovich is a system engineer with a deep understanding of the technology stack required to make some of the most advanced products in use today. Boris brings expertise in integrating technical knowledge and engineering with creative discipline. His most notable clients include NASA, JPL, Sirona Dental, PepsiCo, Starbucks, and UCB.