Program puts focus on product aesthetics

Towson University plans concentration to address industrial design demand

March 26, 2000|By JoAnne C. Broadwater | JoAnne C. Broadwater,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A well-designed vegetable peeler has to do more than peel vegetables to be marketable.

Like any well-designed consumer product -- whether it's an iMac computer, a new Volkswagen Beetle or a CrossAction toothbrush -- it has to be aesthetically appealing, functional and comfortable to use.

As more and more businesses recognize that design can make or break a product line, colleges are moving to meet a growing demand for industrial designers -- artistic professionals who work to achieve good design through the integration of function and aesthetics.

At Towson University, the art department is finalizing plans for an industrial design concentration that will be offered for the first time in the fall. Sixteen students will be accepted in the program each year.

"There are more jobs available for industrial designers than there are designers to fill those jobs," said Jon Meyer, chairman of the art department. "We think we're going to have a very high job placement rate when our students graduate."

It's a booming profession, said David Love, spokesman for the Industrial Designers Society of America in Great Falls, Va.

"Over the years, businesses have begun to recognize how design can impact the bottom line," Love said. "That has created an employees market."

Towson University developed its industrial design concentration in partnership with Black & Decker Corp. The manufacturer of professional and consumer products, such as the cordless screwdriver, the Mouse sander/polisher and the DeWalt cordless circular saw, also provides assistance to other area colleges in a several disciplines.

The Black & Decker design staff at corporate headquarters in Towson assisted the university with curriculum development in the industrial design program. The company also helped the university organize a forum to gather advice from industrial business leaders across the country.

Martin Gierke, vice president of industrial design at Black & Decker, is teaching a pilot course in industrial design at the school this spring.

"What we attempt to do is advise colleges on the content of their programs so they will be relevant to the needs of those in the profession today," said Gierke.

Towson University plans to collaborate with other businesses to provide site visits, guest lecturers, mentors and internships for students. By working with businesses, the university believes its graduates will be better prepared to meet the needs of industry, Meyer said.

"Through our partnerships, we want to try to predict what the students are going to need to know," he said. "We want to be forward looking so that our students can help with the success of these companies."

The four-year Towson program will include courses in industrial design, computer media, computer three-dimensional modeling, computer art, the history of modern design, model making, and materials and processes.

Students will study drawing, basic design, two-dimensional and three-dimensional design, art history, sculpture, modern art, crafts and photography.

"In the art department, we teach students how to think visually," Meyer said. "They learn how to create ideas that can be translated into a variety of media."

Students in the program will learn to work as part of a team to design functional products that can be mass-produced and meet a need in society, Meyer said. They also will learn to consider human factors that are important to design, such as how a tool will feel when held in a human hand or how a chair will feel when sat upon.

Students will research design successes and failures, make prototypes, choose the proper materials for a product and develop an understanding of the processes involved in manufacturing.

They also will develop products and present designs for critique by professional industrial designers from the business community.

Those skills have an immediate application for industry.

"Design is one of the main motivators for a person to choose one product over another," Gierke said. "We've become a society that is more design conscious, more aware that we have a choice of a well-designed product vs. one that merely works. Black & Decker recognizes the value of design."

Employment opportunities in the industrial design field include producing computer games or other computer products; developing hand tools, cosmetics, audio systems, heavy equipment and cameras; and designing functional three-dimensional objects to create special effects in movies, Meyer said.

Industrial designers also may play a role in designing home appliances, office equipment, electronic communications equipment, bathroom and lighting fixtures, furniture, hardware, tableware, photographic equipment or trucks and automobiles.

Some of today's most exciting products are spotlighted at "National Design Triennial: Design Culture Now," a recently opened show at Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York.

"Today's products are very sensual, seductive and emotional," said Ellen Lupton, one of the curators of the exhibit.

Lupton, chairwoman of the graphic design department at Maryland Institute, College of Art in Baltimore, said: "There's a big interest in designers making products that are more like life and less like machines. Industrial designers work with technology to make a design that is more useful, more fun, more understandable and more relevant.

"Sometimes that has to do with beauty, and sometimes it has to do with common sense."

Information on the industrial design concentration at Towson University: 410-830-2808.

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