Industrial Design program shines in first year

Nicole Wiegand

As spring semester comes to a close, so does the inaugural year of the College of Design’s industrial design program.

The program, which was approved by the Iowa Board of Regents in the fall of 2010, is one of only 10 industrial design programs in the Midwest and 60 nationwide. It seeks to provide students opportunities in a wide range of disciplines under the umbrella term of industrial design — a subject so broad that it is sometimes hard to define.

“[The program] is hard to describe because it includes so many things,” said David Ringholz, associate professor of art and design and director of the industrial design program. “At its heart, it is structured creative activity.”

Ringholz explained that the main objective of the program is to teach students to design “products, services and systems to be sold that meet specific commercial objectives.”

“There’s always a business or commercial angle, as well as an engineering angle,” he said, noting that the mass production of such products must be taken into account.

The program allows for students to choose an area of concentration within industrial design that aligns with their future career goals. Some of the current sequences of classes include courses in textiles and clothing, materials engineering and systems engineering. In the future, Ringholz said the program is looking to add emphases in aerospace engineering and perhaps entrepreneurship.

“We have a formal relationship with the College of Engineering,” Ringholz said, “but we’re always looking to open the doors with other colleges.

“We’re specifically looking for more ways to interact with food science and agriculture since those programs are such an important part of the university,” he said.

Ringholz referenced the department of food science’s recent work developing bio-based polymers as one specific area in which the two programs could intertwine.

Though the program has progressed rather smoothly over the course of the past year, implementing it it was not without the occasional obstacle.

Ringholz explained that one obstacle was fine-tuning the curriculum as the year progressed.

“It’s hard to write and define a curriculum at the same time you’re applying it,” Ringholz said.

He noted that one of the most useful resources over the course of the year was direct feedback from students.

“[Their feedback] helps to minimize the gap between idea and execution,” he said. “The curriculum is all very fluid.”

Luis Rico-Gutierrez, dean of the College of Design, recognized this as a typical characteristic of new curricula.

“Curriculums are living organisms,” he said. “They must respond to the needs of students and faculty.”

One of the more tangible challenges in implementing the program, however, was the lack of adequate fabrication facilities.

While planning is under way for the construction of a state-of-the-art industrial design fabrication laboratory in the Armory, the absence of such spaces certainly affected the curriculum in its first year.

“I taught things differently and required different things from students [this year] than I would have had we had the fabrication lab,” Ringholz said.

Plans for the lab’s safety measures, power and ventilation are currently being refined and construction will begin over the summer, Ringholz said. While the entire renovation will likely not be complete until the end of 2011, he said portions of the lab will be functional for students by fall semester.

“Theoretically, if there are 20 total machines going in, I’ve said, ‘These are the 10 that need to be done by the end of the summer,'” Ringholz said, emphasizing what an important step the construction of the fabrication lab is for the future of the program.

“The money given to us by the university [for the construction of the laboratory] represents a very serious commitment to the industrial design program,” Ringholz said. “We want to show that we’re thankful for their support and that we’re smart with how we spend the money.”

According to Rico-Gutierrez, though, each of the obstacles the College of Design faced in the implementation of the program paled in comparison to what the program has accomplished in its first year.

“These challenges were not huge or unexpected,” Rico-Gutierrez said. “We are facing challenging times in general. I expected having to put some extra work into making certain aspects of the program function.”

One of the more positive surprises that faculty encountered over the course of the year was the unexpectedly high interest in the program by not only undergraduates in the Design Core, but high school students as well.

“I am definitely seeing more students identify industrial design as a major pre-college than ever before,” Ringholz said.

Rico-Gutierrez echoed this sentiment.

“I knew there was a trend of people becoming interested in industrial design, but I didn’t expect [the program to attract so much attention] that quickly,” he said.

The program currently enrolls up to 20 students in each year of coursework. Last spring, the program saw 25 students apply for admission. This spring, however, Ringholz expects as many as 50 to seek admission.

While expanding the program’s enrollment may be an option in the future, administration is currently focused on ensuring adequate space for each studio.

“The biggest constraint to expanding the program is space,” Rico-Gutierrez said. “This can be daunting, but there is nothing you cannot do if you have the will and the drive — and we have the will and the drive to serve our students.”

In addition to such high interest in the program, Rico-Gutierrez noted another positive in that the faculty heading up the program could not have been better selected.

“Seda [Yilmaz, assistant professor of art and design and industrial design program faculty member] and David [Ringholz] fit the ideal profiles for a director and faculty member,” he said. “We had high expectations for them in the beginning and they have exceeded them.”

Outstanding faculty flanked by dedicated students turned out the be the perfect equation for the program’s success.

“Any student that signs up for a program that isn’t really there is special,” he said. “They’ve been a delight to teach and have been very resilient.”

Despite not working directly with the students in program, Rico-Gutierrez has witnessed the effect of a blossoming program on the students as well.

“It has been interesting to talk to faculty about the cohort of students in industrial design,” he said. “They’re so full of positive energy.”

While jumping into a program somewhat still in development is enough to make anyone apprehensive, it has proved to be a rewarding experience for the students admitted to the program.

“It’s very exciting and a little scary,” said Monica Noske, sophomore in industrial design, of being a part of a first-year program. “It’s really interesting to see this program being built from the beginning and to be a part of that.”

“The classes are great — I have learned more than I had imagined I would in just two semesters,” she said. “It is such a diverse field … I love that.”

Amy Edmondson, junior in industrial design, has had a similar positive experience with the program.

“I was concerned about joining a new major,” she said, “but David [Ringholz] has created a very organized program of study. What we have sometimes lacked in space or equipment, we have made up for with camaraderie and enthusiasm.

“Because we are the only students in the program, we get to have a unique role in planning our futures and the future education of others,” she said. “Though I was hesitant at first, I have come to see that getting in on the ground floor of this exciting new program is an opportunity and an asset.”

Overall, Rico-Gutierrez feels the industrial design program adds a element that was formerly missing from the college’s curriculum.

“[In integrating industrial design], we’re that much closer to being able to say we are a comprehensive design unit,” he said.

While the process of launching a brand-new program was not always easy, he said that the effort was more than worth it.

“All of the challenges of implementing the program are eclipsed by [the students’] commitment to the discipline,” he said. “It is absolutely a success — I’m very happy with the first year.”