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design + engineering + business + sustainability
It seems inevitable that Jon Paul White’s future profession would trend in a creative direction. His father’s career was in advertising and his mother is a hair stylist. His brother does web design while his two sisters work in fashion and dance. White, a Lego enthusiast from childhood, considered adding architecture to his family’s occupational portfolio. But his dad suggested that he investigate the field of industrial design instead. What’s that? he asked him, unaware that he already was getting his feet wet in the field when he and a friend in high school started a small business making custom longboards.
Looking back some four years later, White, now a senior in industrial design at ASU, observes that his choice of academic study was a good fit for his own brand of creativity, one that he describes as “very hands on.” In a shoe-design project during his junior year, for example, White wasn’t content to simply tinker with surface styling. He cut an athletic shoe in half in order to fully understand how it was constructed. “I was interested in learning about more than just the aesthetics,” he says. “I wanted to know why the sole had a certain grip, what it was made of, why some parts used stitching instead of glue, why one material was used over another. I discovered all these different layers that nobody usually sees.”
In another project, he created a versatile 70-liter backpack that could accommodate long wilderness excursions as well as break down into smaller units for carrying lighter loads on short treks. To create a prototype, White bought a sewing machine. His mother then made a special trip to Arizona to teach him to sew. “I never thought I would pick up a sewing machine. But that’s one of the great things about industrial design. You learn so many things that you probably wouldn’t learn any other way. Now when something rips around my house, I can just sew it,” White says, laughing.
But it was his passion for socially responsible design–not just this kind of roll-up-your-sleeves ingenuity–that helped White win the 2014 Paul Rothstein Scholarship which is awarded annually in the Design School to an outstanding industrial design student with a commitment to creating design solutions that have a positive impact on society. “I’ve always liked traveling and learning about other cultures,” White observes. “I like understanding where other people are coming from.” During the summer between his junior and senior years, he came a little closer to realizing his dream of working as a designer for products in emerging markets when he interned at BioLite. This Brooklyn, New York-based, company is renowned for producing a clean-burning stove that cooks food efficiently as well as captures waste heat to generate household electricity in such developing markets as Africa and India.
In this year’s InnovationSpace program, the desire to improve daily life for people who currently are not well-served by design prompted White to sign up for a team that is focused on creating product concepts that increase access and well-being for wheelchair users. White is not only interested in improving wheelchair functions, but he also wants to upgrade their look–which is no superficial matter. The wheelchair users he and his teammates interviewed consistently complained about the fact that wheelchair design is intrusive, clunky and offputting, often creating physical and social barriers between occupants and the people around them. Wheelchairs are expensive, White points out, and “if you’re paying that much they should have a lot more style like bikes, which are considered a cool accessory. I’d like people to see wheelchairs in the same way.”
White understands the importance of the aesthetics of devices firsthand. As a child, he suffered two bouts of leukemia. “When I was in the hospital going through treatments, all the instruments looked big and weird. They can be traumatizing. You’re already going through a hard-enough thing,” he observes.
“I want to give back, which is why I’m doing industrial design,” White adds. “I don’t just want to create another product and have it go into the garbage in six months. I want to impact society.”
By Adelheid Fischer
When David Anaya graduated in 2011 with a B.S. in engineering, he says, "I was like many grads. I didn’t know what to do with myself." But Anaya had a hunch. During his senior year in InnovationSpace, a transdisciplinary product-development program at ASU, he helped his team create a product concept for recycling e-waste. In the process of researching the subject of garbage, "I became passionate about waste," Anaya says.
Since graduation, Anaya has completed two internships with the City of Phoenix Public Works Department, "refining my knowledge about our solid waste streams," he says. At the same time, he began pursuing a graduate degree at ASU's School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment. In 2013 he joined the nonprofit Keep Phoenix Beautiful. Housed in City Hall and funded by public works, the organization promotes recycling and waste reduction in the valley. Anaya serves as manager of a special project called PHX Renews, which seeks to revitalize 15 acres of vacant land in the heart of central Phoenix through developments such as urban agriculture and community gardens. It is the largest project of its kind in the nation.
In spring 2014 Anaya will complete his master's degree. But he won't be idle for long. In the course of his research for his degree, Anaya created a sideline enterprise, the Philyra Paper Company, which diverts palm tree trimmings from landfills and uses their high-quality fibers in manufacturing paper and packaging. In recognition of this achievement, Anaya, along with fellow engineering graduate student Sam Johnson, were awarded the $10,000 grand prize in the 2014 Innovation Challenge. This ASU competition supports promising student-generated products and services that address big societal challenges. Their venture already has been adopted by the City of Phoenix in its goals for waste diversion.
"It's now time to work even harder and put in longer hours to truly make this a success," Anaya says.
InnovationSpace is a joint venture among the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and the W.P. Carey School of Business.
After graduating in 2004 from the University of California, San Diego, Heman Au landed what many mechanical engineers would consider a plum job. He collaborated with NASA's Mars Science Laboratory on the design of a sensor for the drill bit of the Mars Rover. One interesting assignment followed another, but Au grew restless. "I've always enjoyed problem solving. That was the reason why I got into engineering in the first place," he observes. "However, I always thought something was missing. Engineering was all about efficiency and costs. It was missing that human aspect." It wasn't until his wife suggested that he investigate industrial design that Au found his life's career. As he learned more about the field, his excitement grew. "It was exactly what I was looking for," Au says.
So in fall 2010 Au enrolled in the industrial design program in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, where he's finally getting the chance to focus on the "human aspect" of design. Take, for example, his Duo Kitchenware project which tied for first place in the Student Design Competition at the 2013 International Home + Housewares Show. The project owes its inspiration to Au's aunt Kathleen Foley-Hughes who is a community activist for people with disabilities and founder of Ada's Café, a California-based nonprofit that is dedicated to hiring, training and empowering people with disabilities in the food-service industry. "Over dinner one night, she mentioned how much she needed adaptive cutlery for her staff," Au says. "The knives that are currently available on the market just do not fit the needs of people with disabilities. Unfortunately, they just learn to live with traditional kitchen knives or they try to modify them to fit their needs. Those solutions can be frustrating, time consuming and even dangerous. Others rely on caretakers, which can be very costly.
"While adaptive equipment is available to aid a disabled person with eating, there are few products that can assist people in preparing a meal. My initial goal was to empower disabled individuals and improve their lives by providing them with the tools they need to perform one of the activities of daily living. As it turns out, the design is also great for seniors and children as well."
Au's winning design features a knife and chopping board set for cooks who lack steady hands, finger strength or fine motor skills. To increase safety and ease of use, the set's knife features an angled shaft that can be grasped with two hands and a curved blade that can be operated in a rocking motion, keeping fingers far away from sharpened edges. A complementary cutting board incorporates features for stability including an anti-slip surface and a cutaway along one edge of the tray that allows it to nestle securely against the user's torso.
The Duo Kitchenware not only nabbed an International Home + Housewares award but, in May 2013, it was one of 20 student projects at ASU to win funding from the Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative. In addition to $5,000 in start-up funding, Au will receive office space at ASU's SkySong incubator in Scottsdale, industry mentorship and other educational opportunities in entrepreneurship. Au's goal is to develop a suite of beautifully designed kitchen tools for all users and to sell these products not on pricey boutique websites but in such affordable, mass-market venues as Target.
The Edson entrepreneurship primer also will help prepare Au to realize another one of his dreams—starting his own design firm after graduation. "I would love the ability to work for myself and pick my own projects and clients," he observes. "That way, I can work on projects that matter, on the ones that would make a social impact and not just on another product that will go out of style and into the landfill. I would also like to have a voice in the design community to promote responsible design or environmentally conscious design by teaching at a university. I love the idea of teaching and sharing my experiences with others. I have always found instructors and guest speakers to be so motivating. I would like to be that person that motivates someone else to reach for his or her goals or get someone excited about design."
In recognition of his design excellence, Au also has garnered another award this spring: the inaugural Paul Rothstein Scholarship given to a senior industrial design student with a demonstrated commitment to socially and environmentally responsible design. The $1,500 award is named for the late Paul Rothstein, ASU associate professor of industrial design (1998–2005) and founder of the award-winning InnovationSpace program. An entrepreneurial joint venture among the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and W. P. Carey School of Business, this transdisciplinary education and research lab teaches students how to develop products that create market value while serving real societal needs and minimizing impacts on the environment.
"Paul's work at ASU was about inspiring design students to improve the lives of ordinary people, especially to focus design attention on important needs that often have been overlooked in the marketplace," say InnovationSpace Director Prasad Boradkar and Program Manager Adelheid Fischer, administrators of the scholarship. "Heman's work is an exemplar of the kind of work that Paul sought to encourage among students. We couldn't be more pleased to award this inaugural scholarship to him."
Shortly after graduation in May 2011, InnovationSpace industrial designer Raphael Hyde landed a job in a Silicon Valley company that develops “stylish, functional, compact, portable and, most of all, cost-effective products,” he says. Apple? No, but a company that is just as ambitious about transforming the marketplace through beautiful, user-centered design.
Meet 6dot Innovations, Hyde says, a Palo Alto startup with a goal to revolutionize the products that help people with disabilities live independent, fully functional lives.
Hyde points out that assistive devices, especially products for people with visual impairments, have been slow to incorporate new materials and technologies or take advantage of strides in ergonomics. Design-conscious companies like 6dot, he says, have “a chance to make a big value-added change,” he says.
And Hyde hopes to be on the forefront of that change. He joined the company just as it was finalizing the design of its first product – a device that allows users to imprint braille lettering onto plastic labels. For people with visual impairments, such labels are the essential navigational aids of daily life, enabling them, say, to distinguish a blue shirt from a red one, blood pressure medication from vitamins, a light switch on a microwave oven from a timer.
But until the 6dot label maker came on the market, users were forced to operate a device which Hyde says resembles a clunky, cast-iron typewriter from the 1940s. Taking its redesign cues from interviews with many users, the new 6dot solution features a molded plastic chassis that is ten times lighter than its competitor, enabling the device to be easily stowed in a backpack or large purse. Smooth, rounded edges and an ergonomic keyboard give users a stable and comfortable work platform. A USB port connects the labeler to a computer, extending its versatility so that sighted users such as teachers, physicians, pharmacists and grocery store personnel, for example, can print labels in multiple languages. And the crisp white and green colors lend the device a stylish, contemporary flair. Blind users may not be able to see these colors, Hyde points out, but their research shows that people with visual impairments are just as concerned as sighted individuals that their personal objects make a favorable impression on the people around them.
It’s the kind of multitasking that InnovationSpace’s transdisciplinary teamwork has prepared him for. “When you design something in InnovationSpace, you’re always asking, Are we going to be able to sell this? Is it manufacturable? Is this something we can scale or distribute? Is this something that people from all different demographics are going to like? InnovationSpace gives you a very good top-down view of the process. You’re always thinking, we’re not just developing this amazing product but we’re developing something that has to be sold, maintenanced, repaired or maybe refurbished. Those concerns are really important because in running a business, if you don’t organize the company in a way where all of the parts work together, nothing’s going to come together in the end.”
By Adelheid Fischer
If you had to choose a venue for your professional design debut, few locations could beat the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. – just ask Aaron Smith, senior industrial design major in The Design School in the ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.
For the past nine months, Smith has been working with ASU’s GlobalResolve, a social entrepreneurship program housed on the Polytechnic campus, to design, build, test and refine the prototype for a cook stove. Smith’s design was part of an exhibition of student projects that accompanied the 2011 annual conference of the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance. Out of hundreds of submissions, only 15 NCIIA-supported projects were selected. ASU was the only university to be represented by two projects, including Smith’s prototype.
Why, you might ask, is a cook stove being showcased at a conference on innovation? Well, it turns out that Smith’s design could help save lives – millions of them – in poor nations around the world. Common to many of such countries is the problem of dirty cooking fuels such as wood, dung, coal and crop residues. Burning these fuels in close quarters concentrates such dangerous emissions as smoke, particulates, carbon monoxide and benzene. According to estimates by the World Health Organization, each year indoor air pollution from cooking fires claims the lives of 1.6 million people in the developing world. Nearly two-thirds of these casualties are children.
The stove project grew out of trip, which Smith took to Ghana in the summer of 2010. It was led by engineering professor Mark Henderson. As cofounder of GlobalResolve, Henderson oversees university-wide groups of faculty and students who tackle public health and environmental problems in poor nations, most notably in Ghana.
To help combat the problem of indoor air pollution, GlobalResolve developed a cleaner-burning, ethanol-gel concentrate that can be made from plants such as sugar cane. To make the gel fuel cost competitive with charcoal, the program also has been working on refinements for a super-efficient companion stove that could be constructed of cheap and readily available materials.
In July 2010, Henderson contacted Smith for help on the project. It turns out that the industrial design student was the perfect candidate for the job. Before returning to school at ASU to study industrial design in The Design School, Smith worked for 12 years as a professional welder. And several design courses at ASU prepared him for hands-on, transborder design. In spring 2010, for example, Smith participated in a Global Impact Entrepreneurship class that partnered ASU students with teams from TERI University in Delhi, India. Together they created a concept for a portable water-treatment device that could be deployed in a shantytown near the city’s airport.
But perhaps Smith’s most useful qualification was this: he’d already spent time in Ghana observing the cooking habits of people in their homes environments. Ghanians favor two basic kinds of cook stove designs, Smith points out. Commercial stoves often repurpose the metal rims of car wheels that have become too damaged for use in transportation. Scrap metal pieces are welded on to this basic frame to provide legs, a food grate and potholders. Another stove, known as a coal-pot stove, is made from a series of metal sheets that are cut and shaped by hand.
Smith’s redesign melded the two stove traditions and then retrofitted them to accommodate the gel-fuel source, calibrating its proper placement so that the fuel's BTUs were directed into heating food rather than the surrounding air. To make cooking easier for users, he also incorporated into his design the round, wide-bellied proportions of a pot that is commonly found in Ghanian households.
During the 2011 spring semester a team in Ghana is putting the new prototype through rigorous field testing at the Mount Olivet School in the city of Kumasi. Staff cooks, who prepare twice-daily meals for more than 600 students at the school, are using the new stove design alongside traditional charcoal-burning ones. The on-the-ground team in Ghana also has collected data from surveys with hundreds of Ghanian women who have commented on the redesign. Armed with the feedback, Smith will return to the drawing board and the metal shop for further refinements.
This semester, Smith also is part of a student team working on the design of a physical therapy system to help patients in the U.S. with their in-home rehabilitation routines in The Design School’s product-development program InnovationSpace. The team is sponsored by the global design giant Herman Miller.
In fall 2011 Smith will begin graduate work in The Design School. He plans to resume work on his real passion: the design of human-powered transportation in developing nations. Among his goals is the design of an affordable cargo-hauling bicycle that can be locally built and sold in countries like Ghana, where people have been forced to import such basic, but expensive, technologies. Smith already has a stockpile of design research, returning from his trip to Ghana with 2,000 pictures of people riding bikes and pushing carts.
“I came back invigorated by the possibilities for using my skills as an industrial designer to help better the lives of people in countries like Ghana,” says Smith. “I discovered that social entrepreneurship is the direction I want to take.”
As the end of her senior year at ASU was drawing to a close, Angela Hardison embarked on a busy round of job interviews in graphic design. But nothing seemed to capture her interest. After much consideration, she suggested to an InnovationSpace classmate that they start their own business after graduation. Fellow graphic designer Raquel Raney, who was having a similar experience, quickly rose to the challenge. “We decided to go for it,” Hardison recalls. As they spent their last semester preparing for their InnovationSpace final exhibit, the duo also began laying the groundwork for their new enterprise. In May 2007, with freshly minted diplomas in hand, Raney and Hardison opened the doors of their business, SeeSaw Designs.
In little more than a year, SeeSaw Designs has grown from two to four designers. The firm’s portfolio now features a wide range of clients, from yoga studios and insurance companies to real estate developers, jewelers and wine producers. Raney says, “Our field of work allows us to build relationships with all sorts of people. The variety keeps things interesting.”
Raney and Hardison credit their experience in the InnovationSpace program for helping them to master the communication skills necessary for running a complex operation. “Communicating with clients takes up a lot of our time, whether it’s e-mailing, sending out estimates, explaining projects or giving client updates,” Raney observes. Working in crossdisciplinary teams offered both designers a dry run for the real work world. “InnovationSpace gave me an insight into how business really works,” Raney says. “We worked with real clients like Herman Miller. We also saw how students in other disciplines approached projects, and have been able to relate some of these skills in our business.”
And in the early months of launching SeeSaw Designs, they routinely showcased their final InnovationSpace books when meeting with potential clients. These polished, professional-grade Innovation Proposals contain everything from the team’s final product concepts and engineering specifications to marketing analyses and communications plans. “Our clients are impressed by the high level of student design work,” Raney observes.
These days, the SeeSaw partners are applying as much creative know-how to designing the future course of their business as they are to client websites and brochures. In their spare time, Raney and Hardison have been scouring Craigslist in search of letterpress printers. For now, the antique behemoths are stored in the garage adjoining their Scottsdale office, where Raney and Hardison are mastering letterpress design and printing techniques. They recently began selling their handmade letterpress cards through the company’s website. Their dream is to open a storefront where, in addition to offering retail designer products, the pair would house their letterpresses and an office area for client design services. “Good design makes us happy and we want to share that with others,” Hardison says.
For more information about SeeSaw Designs, visit the company website at seesawdesigns.com.
In fall 2008, when InnovationSpace students Gabe Holland, Christie Chiapetta, Josh Tong and Henry Braun formed Team Nexus, little did they know that they would be creating a partnership that would persist long after graduation.
Their project in the InnovationSpace class focused on the problem of sudden cardiac arrest. The acute condition has become a major public health concern. Sudden cardiac arrest claims the lives of nearly 325,000 people in the U.S. each year. For the majority of those stricken, help arrives too late. Of the five percent who can be resuscitated, most suffer extensive brain damage.
Research has shown that brain damage is significantly reduced in cardiac-arrest patients who undergo therapeutic hypothermia in which body temperatures are cooled between 89.6 and 93.2 degrees F. The sooner the treatment is administered, the better the patient’s prognosis. So Team Nexus designed a portable therapeutic cooling system, known as Kelvin, that could be deployed by emergency response teams in the field and in ambulances.
Kelvin caught the eye of the judges in the 2009 Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative competition. The team was awarded $18,000 in seed funding, office space at the ASU SkySong Center in Scottsdale, Arizona, and a full year of business mentorship.
Edson monies allowed the group to spend three months combing the medical literature. Under the guidance of Linda Mottle, director of ASU’s Center for Healthcare Innovation and Clinical Trials, the students crafted a position summary for their product concept.
With a prototype of Kelvin in hand, they conducted user focus groups with nearly 30 emergency-response professionals in the Phoenix metro area. In the meantime, they continued building their business including assembling a board of advisors, developing a brand and communications strategy for their product and constructing a website. In spring 2010, Kelvin’s bio-inspired design was featured in Designed by Nature, episode three of “The Innovators” series produced by Bloomberg TV in New York.
Their progress so wowed the judges in the 2010 Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative that Nexus, now known as the company InnovateLife, won another round of funding. Out of the 190 applicants, Kelvin was one of only 23 funded projects.
The $20,000 Edson award will allow the team to nudge Kelvin closer to commercialization. For starters, they will craft a proposal for a $200,000 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Institutes of Health. The funds will underwrite the costs of a small clinical trial. The results from this initial testing will allow Nexus to compete in a follow-up phase for a larger grant that will support the more extensive clinical trials that are needed for taking a medical product to market.
In the meantime, InnovateLife is pursuing a patent for Kelvin. And they’ve already returned to the drawing board for a second product in their developing portfolio of products for emergency medical situations.
But for now, the team has its sights firmly fixed on the goal of equipping every ambulance in the U.S. with Kelvin. “I’ll be satisfied when it’s out there being used,” says team member Josh Tong.