RIT Metaproject is heading to ‘Sesame Street’

Annual student project will design products focused on ‘Urgency of Play’




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Elizabeth Lamark

Theresa Fitzgerald ’84 (graphic design), vice president of brand creative at Sesame Workshop, announces the next Metaproject partnership to the 15 industrial design students who are charged with creating a modern Sesame Street product for play.

Metaproject 09 is being brought to you by the Sesame Workshop and the letters R, I and T.

Fifteen students in Rochester Institute of Technology’s industrial design program will spend the semester designing products for Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street. It’s part of the university’s annual Metaproject, which pairs students with a different industry partner each year with the task of designing a product that solves a specific problem or works within a set of parameters set by the industry partner.

This year’s theme is “Urgency of Play,” and students will be charged with creating a modern Sesame Street product for play. Winners will be judged in December, with a chance to have their work on display at Design Week in New York City in May.

“Partnering with Sesame Workshop presents an ideal opportunity for our students to apply our ‘Design is One’ philosophy to create products that are semantically and syntactically correct, and pragmatically understandable, but also visually powerful, intellectually elegant and timeless,” said Josh Owen, professor and chair of the industrial design program in the School of Design, and the founder of Metaproject. “The ultimate goal is to create objects that makes children’s lives better through family engagement, addressing simplicity, functionality, beauty, uniqueness and cleverness, while clearly targeting a need.”

Owen, who will teach this year’s Metaproject course with fellow College of Art and Design Professor Lorraine Justice, said one of the challenges will be for students “to think beyond their visual associations with Sesame Street into a new vocabulary of modern concepts.” Sesame Street is celebrating its 50th year this season.

Working with RIT, a university noted for innovative leadership in design, art and technology, presents an exciting opportunity for the Sesame Workshop, said Theresa Fitzgerald ’84 (graphic design), vice president of brand creative at Sesame Workshop. “Our mission is to help kids grow smarter, stronger and kinder,” she said. “We are very much looking forward to seeing what the students design and sharing it with children and families.”

The announcement was greeted by very enthusiastic cheers from the students in the class, who did not know the sponsor they would be working with until today's event. Owen said it's a tradition to keep the project secret until the course begins, part of the students' training in the need to be flexible and responsive in their chosen field. 

The Metaproject initiative, true to RIT’s mission of providing experiential, innovative learning opportunities, has seen industrial design students work in collaboration with photography, glass and new media design and other partners. The course offers them a taste of real-world experience, connections with leading design industry professionals, and the possibility of having their design put into production.