RIT’s Metaproject Immerses Students in Real-World Design Challenges

The Rochester Institute of Technology’s senior studio Metaproject is a lesson and exercise in market reality.
RIT Metaproject

Courtesy Afifi Ishak

What’s the most important life lesson a design student can learn? You could make a case for highly conceptual theories about inspiration or creative flow. But what students at the Rochester Institute of Technology experience in a senior seminar called Metaproject is a dose of market reality: It’s not always about big ideas, but about how you meet a need.

Every year, Professor Josh Owen, who chairs RIT’s industrial design department, invites a manufacturer to share a specific challenge it’s facing in an upcoming product line. For Umbra, the Toronto-based housewares company that worked with Owen’s students this year, the problem was “designing for small spaces.” Once the objective is assigned, students immerse themselves in the company’s previous design collections, studying everything from aesthetics to viable price points. Then they spend their semester crafting prototypes that can fit stylishly and seamlessly into the firm’s next line. “We’re not just making stuff,” says Owen. “We want to add value.”

At the end of each Metaproject–and there have been seven so far–partnering companies sponsor a booth at ICFF each spring. There, students play the part of freelance designers and talk up their products to passersby. For some students, like Afifi Ishak, who created a dodecahedron stickynote memo ball for Poppin during last year’s Metaproject, the whole experience turns into something even more exciting than a life lesson: his first product on the market.

Metaproject 06: RIT + Poppin

RIT Metaproject

Courtesy the designer

Student: Veronica Lin
Project: Foot Pebble

This prototype by Lin was her interpretation of Poppin’s “Work Happy” tagline. She calls her ergonomic foot elevator a way to engage in “a playful and versatile dialogue with the rest of your body without disrupting the work flow.” Jeff Miller, Poppin’s VP of design, says that he loved seeing how inventive RIT students could be. “As you get older, you get better,” says Miller. “But you don’t explore as much.”

Metaproject

Courtesy the designer

Student: Stephanie Saucier
Project: Poppin Power

RIT students made a careful study of Poppin’s office accessory collection before they began designing, and Saucier saw an opportunity to create an add-on for a colorful desk tray already on the market. She turned the tray into a small power tower, adding a wired base with a gap for cord storage. “These pieces work cohesively to create one unit that provides power, organization, and convenience,” says Saucier.

Metaproject

Courtesy the designer

Student: Emily Moore
Project: Task Chair Overhanger

No more hanging your coat, scarf, or hat precariously over the side of a cubicle wall. Moore wanted to provide a little more security for office workers, so she designed this bright chair accessory to make use of oft-overlooked space. She also liked the idea of decluttering foot space by keeping bags and backpacks off the floor.

Metaproject

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Student: Afifi Ishak
Project: Sticky Memo Ball

Ishak, a student from Malaysia and the creator of this 12-sided sticky-note ball that will retail for $12 this autumn, said he was astounded when Poppin offered him a design fee. “I’ll buy as many as I can for my family and friends,” he says. “My first product! I’m going to have it on permanent display.”

Metaproject 07: RIT + Umbra

Metaproject

Courtesy the designer

Student: Tadhg Duffy
Project: Popup Room Divider

Duffy was able to identify and satisfy a huge need in small rooms: privacy. His Popup Room Divider uses the same materials as expandable photo reflectors, with a compact, retractable stand for stability. Suddenly, one small room becomes two, he says, “whenever the mood strikes.”

Metaproject

Courtesy the designer

Student: Pauline Dziama
Project: Power Bucket

Just a little bigger than a coffee mug and tapered to fit into a standard cupholder, Dziama’s “charging vessel” is a portable solution to a bane of modern existence: cord management. Designed for use on a desk or during a car commute, the power bucket is both a charging port and a cord caddy.

Metaproject

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Student: Jeff Bruha
Project: Pail

Food composting is often a challenge in urban spaces. Who wants to add another waste container to an already tiny kitchen? And more importantly, who wants to deal with the smell? Bruha attacked both these challenges with his slender compost-collecting container design. “Its charcoal filter ensures that odors are contained,” he says. “Your kitchen remains clean and comfortable.”

Metaproject

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Student: Christopher Groves
Project: Rocket

Groves went after one of the most cluttered spaces in any dwelling, the bathroom vanity. He says his portable “rocket” stand “fits in wherever it is needed to hold toothbrushes, towels, toilet paper, and more.” The oval shelving in the stand provides adjustable heights as well.

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Categories: Design Education, Furniture

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