Tiger Studio, Burning Bright

To feed the ambition in your heart is like carrying a tiger under your arm. -- Chinese Proverb

Luciano Hernandez is keen to make the world a better place through design. Founded in 2001, his Zeeland-based industrial design firm, Tiger Studio, is a testament to that zeal.

“We’re passionate about design,” says Hernandez. “Our company is about inventing new things and making our clients successful in the products we design -- we’re about creating jobs and creating new markets.”

Hernandez and his team of 15 employees design their hearts out at the Zeeland office and rotate manning their new Grand Rapids satellite office on 38 Commerce Ave. SW, which opened in December.

“We chose the Commerce street location to be closer to our clients and also to be a part of this exciting downtown community,” Hernandez says. “It’s a lot different from Zeeland as far as facilities and location -- it’s an urban experiment for us. We use our Grand Rapids location for brainstorming, client conferences and meetings. There are no permanent employees there currently.”

Tiger Studio is so named to convey the firm’s core attribute: passion-driven design created by a natural, agile and inventive group of designers. The firm serves clients in several markets, including health care, home products, commercial, transportation and furniture.

“It’s a challenge to do what we do, but it’s a fun challenge,” says Hernandez. “We enjoy taking our process to different markets and different fields.”

It sounds nebulous because it is. The folks at Tiger Studio transform ideas into compelling products, a lot of which is top-secret stuff. Hernandez will say this much: “We design products that work and always push the envelope. We have the ability to bring the right people into a room together to design a compelling product.”

Hernandez is easy-going, down-to-earth and quick to laugh. He says that he enjoys cultivating relationships with clients, leading the studio and having fun, the latter of which seems ingrained.

“As a child, I loved watching cartoons,” says Hernandez. “I was fascinated by Bugs Bunny, superheroes and other animated characters, and I sketched cartoons on anything with a flat surface, including my school desk. I didn’t realize then that the seeds of humor and cartoons planted in me during my childhood would grow into a passion for industrial design.

“When I was young, I didn’t know there were creative careers other than animation,” he continues. “In school, I didn’t gravitate to the fine arts because my mind likes logic and geometric shapes. Industrial design is literally the cross between art and engineering.”

Active in the community and determined to make a difference, Hernandez has served as a Holland city councilman and Ottawa County commissioner. He also ran for a seat in the Michigan House of Representatives in 1995, an experience he calls “interesting.”

“It’s not truly enjoyable when you come in second, but I learned a lot about people’s views and the process, as well as a lot about my strengths and weaknesses,” he says.

Since his foray into politics, Hernandez has stayed out of the limelight as much as possible, but despite his efforts to remain low-key, his business and name keep coming up in the context of community reach-out and design excellence. In 2010, the Holland Area Chamber of Commerce honored Tiger Studio as Minority Business of the Year.

The team at Tiger Studio enjoys giving back to the community and on several occasions has volunteered to work on Habitat houses. Last July, a team from the firm traveled to Esteli, Nicaragua in partnership with Grand Valley State University and the University of UNAN (Nicaragua) to teach product and business development to student entrepreneurs.

“We focused on economic development and creating jobs in Nicaragua,” says Hernandez. “We love to help others, and we also have fun doing it through teamwork and hard work.”

Hernandez, 48, has known hard work all his life. When he was seven years old, his family moved from Texas to West Michigan to work in the fields, picking blueberries, cucumbers and apples. From the age of 10 until his mid-teens, Hernandez helped out during his summers off from school. The backbreaking work gave him the motivation he needed to go to college, and he obtained two degrees: a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Design from Western Michigan University, and an Associates in Science in Technical Illustration from Ferris State University.

Hernandez is married to Janie, who is a sign-language interpreter. They live with their two children, Luciano V, 17, and Belicia, 16.

“I’m not sure they’ll follow in my footsteps,” Hernandez says. “Belicia is art and design-oriented. Luciano is more outgoing, mathematically smart.”

Well, if they’re anything like their dad, the world will be an even better place. Time will tell.

Originally from Milwaukee, Victoria Mullen is annoyed that a certain ice cream company is stingy with the caramel in its dulce de leche. Besides writing articles for RGM, she acts, paints, does lawyerly stuff, and is the Research and Media Maven for MP Talent Management Group.
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