Metaproject —‘mega’ opportunities for industrial design students

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Elizabeth Lamark/RIT Production Services

Alexander Cloutier explores Aaron Jackendoff’s wooden toy creation “BeeKeeper” 
during Metaproject 03 judging.

In three short years, an interdisciplinary and collaborative design project between RIT and high-level industry sponsors has opened new doors for industrial design students and gained the university visibility on an 
international scale.

Metaproject, the brainchild of Josh Owen, 
associate professor and industrial design 
program chair, began in 2010 as an 
industrial design course and industry 
partnership that each year gives industrial design seniors a real-world commercial 
project and a global stage.

This year, 22 industrial design students in RIT’s College of Imaging Arts and Sciences exhibited their work from Metaproject 03 at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF), held annually in New York City in conjunction with Design Week.

The assignment was a playful take on 
industrial design: creating a “universal 
toy” out of wood for Areaware, a world-
renowned avant-garde accessories manufacturer. In addition to displaying each piece during the ICFF, Areaware chose three selections for commercialization while also pipelining two more for future mass production.

“Metaproject 03 was a great opportunity for us to work with a company that was not only interested in maintaining their brand, but also promoting the creative process and 
philosophies of their designers,” says James Paulius, a May graduate from Chicago, this year’s first-place winner. “This allowed us 
to have a collaborative, honest and creative 
discussion with Areaware, enabling us to create toys that we mutually believed in.”

The ICFF is one of the most visible 
annual international design-related events in the United States, featuring more than 550 exhibitors. RIT was among a select few 
universities and design schools showcased at the event. Owen’s strategic placement 
of the class output in the ICFF enables 
students to connect with potential employers, industry luminaries and media contacts. 

“I’m always looking to expose our students to high-level industry sponsors—especially those that have powerful international identities,” says Owen. “This approach to partnerships passes on many lasting lessons and connections to our 
students while simultaneously positioning them firmly on the global stage.”

During and after this year’s event, Metaproject garnered RIT coverage in 
leading publications such as Fast Company, Curve, Domus (an Italian design publication of note), and Design Milk. One student even landed a job with Areaware.

Owen notes that thanks to the vision of College of Imaging Arts and Sciences Dean Lorraine Justice—and the support of RIT’s legal team—he was able to negotiate the use of the RIT brand on Areaware products that students designed.

“Today’s designers not only need to 
be highly talented, they have to show 
companies such as these industry partners that they are prepared to meet their 
demanding requirements and be 
work-force ready,”says Justice. 

Owen has already lined up a “highly 
visible company” for Metaproject 04.

“It has become tradition that this will be 
a surprise, delivered to the students on the first day of class,” says Owen.