Design for Social Change

Collaborating with students from Detroit Community Schools

Nick is an Associate Professor at A&D and a public performer whose work is rooted in the social lives of public places.

Last fall, I taught the first of what I hope is a regular class and partnership between the School of Art & Design, the Center for Entrepreneurship, and a community school in the Brightmoor neighborhood in Detroit. The class uses the principles of human centered design to develop art and design projects that will impact the community in a positive way.

Let me try to give a concrete example to illustrate the meaning of human centered design and why it is essential for a collaboration like this.

Think of an object you use habitually—a chair, shoes, a wallet. Each of these has a recognizable and designated function. I don’t know about you, but my wallet doesn’t always work for me, and so I stuff receipts, bits of paper, business cards and other ephemera in my more capacious pockets. The chairs, they’re OK, but I find myself, like right now, sitting on the floor. 

Think then not of a chair but of asking someone what they do or need when they sit. Not of a wallet, but of how someone spends their day, what they need access to, when and how much of it.

This kind of problem solving is called human centered design.  The human centered design approach recognizes that better design solutions come from asking more questions, and getting to know a person, a place, or a situation before developing an idea.

So when we began our class with Detroit Community Schools (DSC) last fall, we began by getting to know one another. Through conversations, interviews, field trips, working side by side and sharing life journeys, the students from A&D and the students from DCS began to understand one another not as archetypes or ideals, but as complex individuals with insights and aspirations, needs and assets.

The projects we concocted together – a mobile pizza oven, a line of solar-powered bicycle lights, a shoe design workshop – are essentially all prototypes; trial balloons that we launched, together, to see how they fly.

The class is over now, but the hope is to set up an ongoing design-build program with DCS as its hub, and the School of Art & Design as a partner. Along the way, we are contributing to a movement within our school to develop links with experiential education, the community and the classroom, to generate hands on projects that link public and civic action.

Here’s a glimpse into our collaboration with the Brightmoor community, as told by the A&D design teams: 



Mobile Pizza Oven

Team; Nairi Bagdasarian, Chris MacKenzie, Ran Li, Alana Hoey, Allyson Zelinski, Vaishu Ilankamban

After spending time talking with the Brightmoor students and seeing all the amazing gardens and spaces that have been cropping up in the neighborhood, our team wanted to come up with a design project that combined the two.
We designed this mobile pizza oven for the students.
The pizza oven is an after school activity, but it’s also a way to learn about cooking and build relationships with local people doing urban farming. (Basil and tomatoes for the sauce!)
Our hope is that the mobile pizza oven will not only be an after school activity, but also turn into a great business venture for the students.

Shoe Design Workshops

Team: Zack Moscot, Jennifer Silverstein, Neil Zemba, Methula Naik, Daniel Gold

Talking with the students got us inspired to create a project that would bring together the students' interest in athletics and art and design.
Neil Zemba, one of our team members, had been a winner of the NIKE Shoe Design Competition.
We decided to do a series of workshops called 'Design Your Sneaker' that would introduce students to the skills they would need to create a design that they could enter into the 2012 NIKE competition.
The workshops were designed to also raise awareness around potential career opportunities and spark motivation for further education in an area of interest.
Our hope is that there could be many hands-on workshops in different fields between students from Detroit Community Schools and the University of Michigan. This kind of mentoring helps to disentangle the complex web of perceptions and apprehensions that students seemed to have about college.

Solar-Powered Bike Lights

Team: James Reich, Sunny Kim, Oleg Kolbasov, Stephanie Schutter, Lara Slotnick

After talking to the students and learning more about life in Brightmoor, we heard a general consensus that the young people feel unsafe in their neighborhoods at night because there are no street lamps.
Our response was to create a low-cost lighting system that the students could create themselves out of recycled materials.
We decided to create these solar powered bike lights because the students also felt stuck in the neighborhood and this would empower their mobility.
After a series of workshops, the students had enough skills in soldering, electronics, solar power and craft to create these solar lights on their own.
The students were engaged and excited, and seemed so proud to be working on something as new and complex as solar lighting.
The total cost for making each light is $2.10.


Table vs Chair

The Fight of the Century

Teshia Treuhaft is currently chained to her desk documenting the process of surviving senior year at A&D and her obsession with wood veneer.

        So the fact of the matter is that as artists and designers, exhibiting work is part of the game. The other fact of the matter is that as an undergraduate artist or designer it’s really hard to exhibit work because all of your time is dedicated to making the work. Showing it off is inconvenient while you’re in school. 

        Well, Ryan Herberholz (senior in A&D) decided to do something about that. After spending a few years hitting the ground looking for viable gallery space to use, he realized something had to be done about giving undergrads the opportunity to show work without needing to fill an entire gallery by themselves – something that most of us don’t have enough work to do yet.

        With that (and the thoughtful support of Rebekah Modrak) the new student group A.D.E.O. was born (Art and Design Exhibition Organization).

        A.D.E.O. works with the existing student government in the Art and Design School to give student curators space to propose their own exhibitions curate these shows and get first hand experience hanging them.

        Right now the fledgling group has taken over the Slusser Lounge to show student work and installations on a weekly rotating basis in the Egress 11 shows. This way students can have a quick turn around (and all the learning experience that goes along with that) without proposing a show months out.


        The current show was proposed by myself and fellow Furniture friend Dylan Box to throw down in true furniture style posing the age-old question, 

Table or Chair?

        I think it’s pretty clear that my allegiance will always be to Chair (The superior competitor…) but you should go see the show yourself. 


        Come check out the contenders, strap on your boxing gloves and place your bets for TABLE vs CHAIR. 

Note: No Chairs or Tables were harmed in the curation of this show.



Paper Sculpture

Andre Grewe makes websites for the School of Art & Design.

Students in Matt Shlian's Winter 2011 advanced course, Paper Sculpture, ran the gamut from A&D freshmen to grad students in Dance and Architecture.  They explored the concept of collapsibility, investigating the physics behind accordion folds and telescoping instruments in a series of projects that included greeting cards, pop-up books, egg packaging, and wearable paper designs.  
Matt Shlian (left) and Papercraft class at Festifools parade, Ann Arbor.  Images by Melissa Squires.
Check out some of the amazing work they created in the video and images below - click the thumbnails to view larger versions.
Amber Kao - Folding/Unfolding: Paper Engineering & Dance


Furniture Making

Andre Grewe makes websites for the School of Art & Design.

It's not easy to take an object as familiar and functional as a table or chair and turn it into something new and exciting - but this semester, students in John Baird's Furniture Making class did just that, creating usable and beautiful works of art & design.  


Baird's class had two major assignments.  For the midterm project, students were asked to create a piece of furniture using a 48x48" square of Medium Density Fiberboard and mechanical fasteners. 



L - R: Dylan Box works on his MDF chair;  Charles Samuels - MDF Table


For their more open-ended final projects, students designed and developed chairs, tables, cabinets, and other objects.  They were allowed to follow their interests in fabrication methods and materials, so the finished projects incorporated everything from cement to carbon fiber to fiberglass.



Penn Greene sketches and displays models.  Scale drawing and model making were emphasized in the class.


John Baird meticulously documented the process and the final furniture pieces – modular stools, guitar stands, a fabric filled hanging nest chair and much, much more.  Take a look: click the thumbnails below to view larger images.



Crazy Ideas?  Yes, please.

(bill & TED)

Zack Jacobson-Weaver is the Materials Fabrication Studio Coordinator at A&D.


In case you've been living in a vacuum (I hope it's a Dyson) for the past couple months you should know about TEDxUofM: an event encouraging CRAZY ideas worth sharing. This one is being organized by students (lots from A&D), faculty, and a couple measly staffers who are bringing the format of the amazing TED talks to the Michigan Theatre on April, 8.  If you can't make the event (which is almost sold out), you can watch the live streaming version at several campus locations and on-line at the website.

My involvement grew out of a heavy addiction to TED injections from the past several years including talks by Ray Kurzweil, Theo Jansen and Mae Jemison.  So, naturally, when A&D undergrad Dylan Box sent out the open call for design team members, I signed up as fabricator for the students' crazy design ideas, including the Michigan-Daily-Frontpage-Stealing Diag Day X-Table which was built by Teshia Treuhaft, Dylan, and myself (with sanding advice from Erika Cross, duh).

This is just one of several custom designs of every dimension which will adorn the Michigan Theatre in just over two weeks.  Watch for updates on the TedXUofM website.  Check out the speaker list and sign up to attend via the link above.

Oh! And quit using facebook to tell your friends when you're dropping a deuce, instead use it to connect to the energy surrounding this event showcasing some of the most wicked-brilliant people who work and play around you every day!

Share your CRAZY ideas!

And one more thing,  START USING THESE BLOGS TO SHAPE THE FUTURE OF A&D!!!  Think blogs are tired, stale, washed up? Tell that to this woman:

Donia, one of your fellow students and TEDxUofM speaker, used a blog to give Egyptian revolutionaries a voice when theirs were cut off.  Maybe you heard how that turned out?  Crazy idea.  Crazy.





The Votes are in for the ultimate Pooper Scooper

A doo-zy of a design problem

Kath Weider-Roos is the Creative Arts Producer at A&D. She snaps photos and asks questions.

The votes have been tallied for the pooper scooper contest. This was an important vote – students grades were involved. These were pooper scoopers designed collaboratively by students from the Ross School of Business, the College of Engineering, Architecture and the School of Art & Design for a class called Integrated Product Development (IPD).

Working in interdisciplinary teams, the students had 13 weeks to develop fully functional, customer-ready "dog waste management systems" at a price point of exactly $19.95 and then subject them to assessment by voters in simulated markets.

Each year, the public vote is the 'simulated markets' part. Voters weigh in online at the IPD website and in person at "the trade show" on at the Duderstadt Center Gallery. (Sorry, no dogs allowed.)

The IPD course has been consistently named one of the top design courses in the world by Business Week. Each team works together on the market research, design, manufacturing, and costing of their product, as well as graphic identity, websites, and trade show presentations. Past classes have tackled such products as a personal hygiene stations for disaster areas, a kitchen area for people with one arm, devices to enhance social eating and now, the pooper scooper.

According to Shaun Jackson (School of A&D) who co-teaches the class along with Bill Lovejoy (Ross School of Business), it's not easy to come up with a real world design issue that can be implemented and manufactured from start to finish in the short 13 weeks of the class. Shaun explains the choice, "Each year we make a list of possible products. I've had the pooper scooper on the list for a couple years now but Bill, frankly, thought the whole thing was a bit off-putting. I just thought it was humorous. Then, his wife and daughter kept bringing up the idea until finally Bill relented."

Despite the 'ickiness' of the project parameters, dog waste is actually a real issue and a real design problem. "The current solution is a plastic bag. So the product has to be useful enough to warrant someone shelling out $19.95 for a different solution. There are also alot of environmental issues involved with this product,"  says Shaun.

It did, however, involve some creative use of materials for prototyping. "We used some sort of oatmeal mixture for the soft poops and a realistic modeling clay for the hard ones. What's interesting. really, is how comfortable you get with using the word 'poop"."

The premise of the class it to recreate the competitive environment that real businesses face every day as perfectly as possible. So the teams are graded on the actual profitability of their products which will be measured by combined votes from the online and trade show events. All the design development is done in complete secrecy. Reviews are conducted behind closed doors. "Even then," Shaun says, "people always claim some sort of idea-stealing. It's very competitive!"

In addition, students are asked to predict their market share for both the online and trade show voting. These predictions are part of what real businesses have to do and will therefore factor into the profitability of the product (and hence, the students' grade.) Shaun explains, "for example, if they underestimate their market share at the trade show, even if they end up getting the votes (ie. the sales), it means they wouldn't have the inventory, so the sales will be passed on to the other teams."

This year each team was asked to produce a 30 second commercial for their products, which you can see on their website.  The online campaign brought 1,344 votes, while the physical trade show boasted 412 attendees who reviewed the products and cast ballots for their favorite.

And, finally, the market has spoken. As in real life, winning is not based solely on popularity but rather cost and profitability.  The winner of this year's Integrated Product Design course is... Doodad!

For a fascinating and detailed analysis of the results, including details on projected profit margins and market share for all the projects, make sure to take a look at the full announcement (PDF).


For more about IPD, check out this interview with Professors Lovejoy and Jackson
(3 min 11 s; requires QuickTime version 7.0 or later).


TMP 1: Construction

Foam core gladiators, breakdancers, boats and more.

Andre Grewe makes websites for the School of Art & Design.

Last Friday, I was on my way back to my office with a second cup of coffee when I ran into a group of gladiators, breakdancers and pirates on the first floor - and even here at the School of Art & Design, that is something that just doesn't happen all the time.   I eventually figured out that they were students in Matt Shlian's TMP 1: Construction class, and were in the middle of a performance/critique.  I managed to get a few pictures...

The assignment: Student teams had to traverse the street gallery (the hallway outside of Slusser Gallery), staying at least 6" off the ground. This traversal also had to be performative, keeping their audience (the rest of the class) in mind.

The tools: foam core board and glue.  

The teams of students tackled this assignment in pretty amazingly different ways:

A gladiator, complete with foam core armor, shield, and sword danced across the space in really high platform sandals.


The second team created foam core shades and a boombox, and used them along with the music of… um, Vanilla Ice(?!) to stack, unstack, and dance across a series of foam platforms.


A giant foam core music staff became the platform for the third team's Lady Gaga-inspired performance (as seen from above).


In a Pirates of the Carribean-inspired performance, the fourth team got pretty technical: one student piloted a tiny boat that rocked and pivoted on two cylinders to rotate around her teammate.


The fourth team went American gladiator: in a blue vs. red battle, the combatants advanced and retreated in a series of matches.

Pretty impressive stuff, especially on a Friday morning - and this is only the first project! Stay tuned for more TMP 1 images, coming soon!


for the love of prototypes

why, when redesigning school lunch, one starts with plastic fruit

Kath Weider-Roos is the Creative Arts Producer at A&D. She snaps photos and asks questions.

On Monday, Mark Fisher from IDEO/ Chicago visited the interdisciplinary class, Design for Social Change, to talk about using prototypes in the design process. The class is taught by Nick Tobier from A&D and Moses Lee of Engineering.

The design challenge for the class is "the school lunch", a woefully lacking meal for most school children across the country. During the past few weeks, the students have been interviewing parents, children, cafeteria cooks, teachers and other relevant parties to assemble some problem statements to work from. They are now ready to start prototyping.

Mark Fisher has been at IDEO for 14 years but hails from the Detroit area originally. Mark was so enthusiastic about prototypes he was practically evangelical. “We make hundred of prototypes when we’re working on a product. We use foam core, clay, anything we can get our hands on. This is how you think,” he says, “through making!” Mark described bringing a kind of ‘beginner’s mind’ to the design process. Surround yourself with people that don’t think like you. Let your potential users design an ideal prototype for you, not because you want their designs but because, in the act of making, they will end of showing you the problems they can’t verbalize.  And seek out the extremes-- the user who would use the product three times a day and the user who would use it once a month.  That’s where you find the most interesting problems to solve.

After Mark’s talk, Nick Tobier handed out plastic fruit and vegetables and other supplies so students could begin thinking through their design problems with prototypes. Stay tuned for more from this class. Next week, they'll be handing in the prototypes they come up with on Wednesday.


Zack Jacobson-Weaver has a moment of reflection with a plastic weiner.


iPad rocks!

Touchdown Michigan

Zack Jacobson-Weaver is the Materials Fabrication Studio Coordinator at A&D.

Cripes!  Sorry no updates from the studio for 3 weeks, but the truth is, we're too damn busy right now to stop and take pictures.  If anyone else has some, send 'em in.  Because slow, we are not.  The studio is re...diculous busy right now.  One thing I didn't miss was the esteemed Jeff Han of TED talks fame.  Jeff was brought in by TCAUP who also brought in a delicious rotisserie-ed goat today in a bacchanalian great-Friday feast.  Nice one Lone Star Kennedy!


Mr Han is famous for being one of the first developers of the multi-touch computer screen now almost made ubiquitous via iPhone and Droid.  Everyone was truly engaged in the presence of the source of their incessant IM-ing and F-booking.  Han definitely put on a show, nearly two hours, of his company's recent innovations on the now-expected interface.  For some of us, the highlight was the development of 3D apps, including texture mapping, which is notoriously tedious stuff.  

Han's hardware is underwritten by a marvelously elegant bevy of mathematics.  If there's one thing I think the visual learners in the crowd took away from the evening it was that, compared to mathematicians, we all have second-order jobs the recent past!  The beauty of Perceptive Pixel's work is in the invisible algorithmic magic happening behind the scenes.  Something I won't pretend to comprehend.


There remains room for observations from other disciplines such as I.D. (Which Han wholly embraced). I thought it was interesting that he acknowledged a shortcoming in the ability of two hands to articulate certain "natural" movements particularly where one hand could not pass around or through the other.  I thought it was weird that their hardware was presented as EITHER multi-touch, OR employing an external element such as a stylus.  It seemed immediately obvious to me that, like alot of hind-sight solutions, the answer lies in the space between.  Try as I did, I was not chosen to ask my question....s: Is Perceptive Pixel considering a hybrid Touch-Tool approach?  Can we gain value from all of the game controllers that have spun throught the market.  The Rock Star drum kit for example.  Is there a combo meal in the works?  Is there a future for the mouse?   And if not, why did you use one to present your awesome talk, Mr Han?



The Personal Cartography of Emma McNally

John Kannenberg is a first year MFA candidate in the School of Art and Design.

Emma McNally creates beautiful graphite drawings whose intricate lines evoke maps, networks, and many other forms of data representation in their stark complexity. A 2008 essay by Ana Balona de Oliveira discusses some of the theoretical underpinnings of McNally's work, and includes some insight from the artist herself.