Baylor alumnus harmonizes creativity, technology as inventor

Baylor alumnus David Cranor poses with a lamp he helped make from flexible circuit board. Photo courtesy of David Cranor

By McKenna Middleton | Opinion Editor

Baylor alumnus David Cranor has always wanted to be an inventor. His educational and professional journey has been defined by a synthesis of creativity and technology.

“They kind of feed off of each other,” Cranor said of his two passions.

Cranor graduated from Baylor with a degree in engineering and a concentration in film and digital media in 2008. He then went on to the MIT Media Lab, where he received his Masters of Science in 2011 and gained a new understanding for how to harmonize his love for the creative and technological realms.

Before coming to Baylor, Cranor grew up in Fort Collins, Colo., which is home to a Hewlett-Packard plant. Cranor said a lot of his friends’ parents were engineers, and when he graduated high school, he got an internship at Hewlett-Packard. Though he said the experience was rewarding, he found that type of engineering to be boring.

“It wasn’t creative; it was just super technical,” Cranor said.

Cranor initially pursued a degree in communications, mentored by film and digital media professor, Dr. Michael Korpi, who helped him work on harnessing his diverse skill set.

“He started doing stuff in the [FDM] lab, and I don’t know if he slept — ever. I think he probably slept two or three hours a night. But he’d be in there at four in the morning, doing stuff constantly after that,” Korpi said.

While at Baylor, Cranor discovered the engineering school offers more than just mechanical or electrical engineering. Baylor’s general engineering degree allows students to choose a concentration outside the engineering program such as biomedical, environmental or communications. According to Baylor’s website, the program helps “prepare students for the complex and multidisciplinary problems that face our contemporary society.”

This multidisciplinary approach to engineering resonated with Cranor, whose interests occupy a broad spectrum. He had already taken courses in communications, specifically in film and digital media, and the addition of an engineering degree complemented this coursework.

“I thought it was really important to combine these two areas. Moving into the future that we’re moving into, it’s really important to understand how the world around us works,” Cranor said. “It’s important to understand the technical side, but it’s also important to understand how people use them for good and how people use them for bad … and for me, going into design, it was very useful to have that knowledge.”

Cranor said the book “Hacking the Xbox: An Introduction to Reverse Engineering,” which explores ideas of digital rights activism and the future of intellectual property, further informed his direction in life.

“I read that book and realized that these engineering abilities and knowledge can be used to affect some kind of qualitative change in the world,” Cranor said. “So that’s when I realized engineering can also be a superpower, and you can use it however you want.”

Cranor further developed his engineering “superpower” at the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms, which sought to synthesize digital knowledge with physical creation. It was there that Cranor took the class called “How to Make (almost) Anything,” which gave him the resources and knowledge to truly realize his dream of becoming an inventor. After graduating from MIT, Cranor co-founded Formlabs, a company that made low-cost, easy-to-use 3D printers. He said Formlabs stemmed from a desire to empower other people to take the ideas in their head and make them a reality.

While working on the Kickstarter video for Formlabs, David said he was able to utilize both his creative and technical skills. While the prototyping took a lot of engineering skills, the video used his film and digital media knowledge. That video helped the company raise a lot of money and grow in potential. Because he had designed the printer, he was able to direct the cinematographer to which parts of the 3D printer to shoot, ensuring the best story was being visually told to investors.

Korpi even said Baylor’s film and digital media department bought one of the first Formlabs printers off Kickstarter.

“That was one time I really bridged all the different parts of my skill set,” Cranor said of the experience.

After spending a few years with Formlabs, Cranor shifted into consulting where he works on a diverse cadre of projects ranging from art installations to early prototyping for corporate clients like Google and even helping with the opening ceremony of the Paralympics in Rio in 2016. Cranor said this variance in projects is his favorite part of his profession.

“I’m very intellectually promiscuous,” Cranor said. “So I like finding new problems that people need help with and then solving them in creative ways. I like to keep learning about tons and tons of areas of technology and everything. It’s refreshing to be working on something different multiple times a year.”

Cranor said he loves “having built a reputation as the guy who solves problems.” His dedication to lifelong learning and value of multidisciplinary thought has helped him realize his dream of becoming an inventor.

To Baylor students who aren’t sure what direction they want to take their education, Cranor says they should just learn as much as they can while they’re in school.

“Flat rate tuition is great – Take classes in everything that you’re interested in until either you learn everything, or you physically can’t do it anymore,” Cranor said.