For the last two years, our team has had the great pleasure of working with Brandon Lê, a spring 2024 graduate of the Industrial Design program at ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. During his time on our team, Brandon designed housing for two SolarSPELL projects: the SolarSENSE soil sensor and the SolarSPELL Mini. 

SolarSENSE is a solar-powered soil sensor we’ve been designing to measure and track the moisture level, temperature and pH level of soil. The goal is to help smallholder farmers adapt to climate change and enhance their crop yields by providing them with data insights and actionable conservation agriculture information from the SolarSPELL Agriculture Library. Last year, Brandon’s SolarSENSE housing design was featured in the Salone Satellite exhibition in Milan. This semester, Brandon has been designing a more compact version of the SolarSPELL library — SolarSPELL Mini — with the goal of providing the same amount of library content in an even smaller, sleeker case.

Brandon shows his final SolarSPELL Mini designs to staff, demonstrating each layer of components.
Photo by Abby Johnson / SolarSPELL

We sat down with Brandon to ask him about his time at ASU and with SolarSPELL:

Can you start by giving us your backstory? What brought you to ASU, and how did you get interested in industrial design?

B.L. — So I was born in Phoenix, and ASU’s the local school, I guess. Being local to Arizona you get scholarships, so it was the most affordable option. As far as industrial design… growing up I was always really interested in technology, and I would take apart stuff — like computers — but I was also really into photography, and in high school I did a four-year film program. Industrial design is kind of that medium between mechanical things — and making things that look cool — and telling stories.

What did you work on during your time with SolarSPELL, and what was your proudest achievement?

I was really brought on for SolarSENSE. That’s what I spent most of my time on. I’m really proud of that; we’ve done really good with that. I’m always really proud of all the places it’s been. And this semester I started working on SolarSPELL Mini, so we’re still working through that, but I think that’s been really cool, too.

It was the first real project I did — like a project that people are going to use — but also there’s not too many requirements. Like Bruce just told me, ‘Here’s the sensors that need to fit in there; just make sure the design represents the ASU and SolarSPELL brands. Go free and be creative. Try everything.’ And being this is my first project, my initial concepts—some were pretty tame, and some of them were looking like aliens. And so it was really nice to have a project that’s real, but also it’s rare that you can kind of do whatever. Last year I was working at General Motors, and when you’re working on larger projects, even when the overall project might be exciting and innovative, everyone just gets assigned a small part. So it’s rare, especially early in your career, to get the chance to have a lot of ownership over a project and be really creative with it.

Brandon explored different shapes and form factors in his early concepts for SolarSENSE.
Image courtesy of Brandon Lê
He then used Rhino 3D to model different designs and iterate to the final form.
Image courtesy of Brandon Lê

You’re graduating this week — congratulations! — what are your hopes for future Brandon?

Ultimately I just hope to work on projects that have some societal benefit. When I was at General Motors, the head of my department asked me the same question, and I was pretty happy with what I was doing there. It was very innovative stuff, but also it was electric vehicles and clean energy, which I think is really cool. I don’t have one narrow focus that I want to work on, you know? Some people graduate from design and go, ‘I want to work on toys’ or ‘I want to work on furniture.’ For me, I just want to work on anything that’s cool and helps people. I want to do something that has some sort of wider benefit.

What do you feel you gained from your time with SolarSPELL and ASU?

I learned a lot! SolarSPELL’s a really interesting project — working on a really small team where I’m in charge of the design, and then you have the engineers… It’s an interesting experience working on student-led teams because everyone sort of has the same goals. We’re all ASU students. We all have the same priorities of wanting to learn and gain experience, but also this is a cool cause and a cool mission that we want to be a part of.

After Brandon’s first semester, our team brought a SolarSENSE demo featuring his housing design to Rwanda to test it in the field. He worked to refine the design the following spring.
Photo by Laura Hosman / SolarSPELL

Do you have any advice you’d like to share with future ASU students?

What I want to share is if you believe in something and see potential in something, take initiative and push to make the change you want to see. It’s easy enough to watch and complain about how things are; it’s harder and more important to do something about it and shape the future you want to see.

To connect with Brandon or see more of his work, check out his website at

Brandon poses with SolarSPELL co-founders Bruce Baikie and Laura Hosman next to his SolarSENSE exhibit at ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.
Photo by Abby Johnson / SolarSPELL