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News . Feature Stories . A typical student design experience? Not even close!

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June 04, 2014

A typical student design experience? Not even close!

Design Center course connects CIA students to real companies with real design problems to solve

A typical student design experience? Not even close!

By Cindi Deutschman-Ruiz

If you were to imagine how a CIA student spends a typical day, you might envision her painting, printmaking, or drawing—or maybe working on ceramics, photography, or graphic design. You probably wouldn’t picture her carefully observing how an orthopedic surgeon utilizes a bone cutting tool during joint replacement surgery.

But, that is how Design Center students kicked off this past spring semester.

Design Center has been offered as an Industrial Design course since 2006, and each semester brings a new corporate client and a new project. Students are recruited into the elective with an eye toward matching their skill sets and interests to the needs of that semester’s client, which explains why Biomedical Art major Cameron Lada ’15 signed up this year.

According to Associate Professor Douglas Paige, who has taught the course since its inception, projects are very often conceptual, and “companies see us as an extension of their own R & D [research and development].”

In fact, a focus on concept, rather than production-ready design, is part of what characterizes projects chosen for Design Center, according to Industrial Design Chair Daniel Cuffaro. The course gives students valuable experience in how design teams operate, he says, but “we are very careful not to take business away from the local design community.”

The most recent Design Center class focused on the ergonomics of surgical tools. Students were tasked by the client, an innovative medical technology company called Stryker, to develop “new concepts and form factors for orthopedic reconstructive and trauma power tools,” according to Aaron Johnson, a portfolio manager in Stryker’s marketing department.

Following their observance of the knee, hip, and ankle surgeries mentioned earlier, students developed initial test tools, which they observed surgeons using on cadavers at Stryker headquarters in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Industrial Design major Katelyn Petronick ’15 says that experience was very helpful, allowing “us the time to stop and discuss every movement with the surgeons,” something that wouldn’t have been possible in a real operating room.

After that visit, according to Industrial Design major Alex Price ‘15, “We drew countless sketches, made nearly thirty form models made out of foam, and continually tested and revised our work until each group was able to develop a final concept to propose to Stryker.”

According to Petronick, the results surprised even the students.

“We presented almost flawlessly,” she says, but what was most exciting for her was Stryker’s response. “They treated us, a team of students, as complete equals, as if they had hired an established design firm.”

Stryker’s Aaron Johnson describes the collaboration with CIA as a “great success.”

“In the end,” he says, “the high talent and fresh perspective from this student group was evident and showed through with their impressive new concepts and form factors for power tools.”

This success comes as no surprise to Cuffaro.

With a proven track record, and an impressive list of former clients, including Moen, Nestle, Diebold Systems, Nissan, and many others, it’s understandable that, as Cuffaro says, “A lot of companies want to work with us.”

Above, the Stryker project team with a few of their prototypes. From left: Steve Clifford (Stryker), Adam Valco ’15, Jim Beachneau (Stryker), Kevin Zehe ’14, Alex Price ’15, Geemay Chia ’15, Cameron Lada ’15, Katelyn Petronick ’15, Jose Calderon (Stryker), Caitlyn Moss ’16, Duke Matelski ’15, Aaron Johnson (Stryker), and Associate Professor Douglas Paige ’82.

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