Industrial design program bursting with young talent

Published Jan. 25, 2011

Designing Style

“I really like this because it’s geometric and serves multiple purposes,” says Kari Calenzo, a fourth-year industrial design student, who has paused mid-aisle in the housewares department at Target. She is peering up at a sleek wooden floor lamp that features shelves and an Asian-inspired rice paper shade. “Target is really good at putting aesthetically pleasing, well-designed products in the hands of everyday people.”

Target’s attention to design and detail, coupled with Apple Inc.’s iPod product line and sleek yet functional smart phones, has resulted in a higher awareness of sophisticated product design by young consumers.

The popularity of industrial design can be traced to a growing market of consumer products targeted directly to teens and young adults.

“Because the technology has gotten so ubiquitous in terms of video games, MP3 players, cell phones and smart phones, design is the only way that manufacturers can differentiate themselves,” says Alan Reddig, a lecturer in RIT’s industrial design program.

August Kawski

In his Consumer Product Design class, August Kawski and his classmates dissected the visual brand identity of a popular consumer brand. His team, which chose the Dove product line, applied the company's visual brand to kitchen appliances. Kawski designed a coffeemaker that supports Dove's branding messages.

Kari Calenzo

Kari Calenzo finalizes the design of a tradeshow display for Bolle, a sports performance apparel company.

Freshman Applications

Industrial designers are the creative minds behind the design of everyday products, from cell phones, laptops and furniture to sports cars, kitchen appliances and housewares. The program’s curriculum emphasizes sketching, product renderings, technical drawing, computer-aided design and model making. Students work with a variety of materials and learn to utilize ergonomic and human factors when designing products.

RIT has experienced first hand the impact Target, Apple and other companies have had on its industrial design program, which has seen a nearly 200 percent increase in applications since 2006. Last year, 184 prospective students from all over the country were vying for 45 spots.

“There’s definitely a competitive nature to the program,” says August Kawski, a third-year industrial design major. “We’re all pushing each other to do better work and we’re all really excited to see what everyone else is doing.”

Class projects vary from creating housewares, furniture and appliances to developing products with sustainability in mind. Calenzo, stunned by the civil conflict in Darfur, saw an opportunity to alter a lamp design project into something that could help those in need. She created a multipurpose box that could ship medical supplies and then be reconfigured as a lamp. “Keeping in mind that designing things to have as many purposes as possible is always great because you’re minimizing products and materials and you’re optimizing the use of a product,” Calenzo says.

RIT’s focus on sustainability has created opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration. Marc Priddy, a fourth-year industrial design student, is part of a sustainable design class that’s working with doctoral students in the Golisano Institute for Sustainability to redesign the recycling system for laptop computers.

“We went to different manufacturing plants and saw all the terrible things that happen after you get rid of your laptop,” says Priddy. The tours pointed out materials too toxic to recycle and the amount of waste produced. The teams are not only redesigning the system, they are exploring design options that make use of sustainable materials to reduce or eliminate waste altogether.

The program’s flexibility, along with its equal emphasis on design and technical expertise, make it one of the best in the country. In the seven years the Industrial Design Society of America has presented the National Student Merit Award, RIT students have won top honors three times in the Northeast Division.

“We have a very well rounded program,” adds Reddig. “We’ve had some very complimentary evaluations of the performance of our recent graduates. They seem to be able to hit the ground running.”

Recent graduates are employed in design positions at some of the most well known companies in the world, including Reebok, L.L. Bean, Bose Corp. and Fisher-Price.