RIT’s Metaproject features ‘purr-fect’ pairing with alumnus’ Modkat

Annual student project will design products for award-winning company

Elizabeth Lamark

Josh Owen, right, RIT’s Vignelli Distinguished Professor of Design and director of the Vignelli Center for Design Studies, and Modkat co-founders Brett Teper ’94 (industrial design), center in the blue mask, and Rich Williams, in the red mask, at Thursday’s reveal of Metaproject 12 partner inside industrial design program studios at Booth Hall. The annual project pairing RIT industrial design students with an industry partner has become a seminal project for the university’s nationally ranked industrial design program since 2010.

Metaproject 12 promises to be the cat’s meow this academic year.

Students in Rochester Institute of Technology’s industrial design program will spend the semester designing products for Modkat, the award-winning maker of cat litter boxes “where modern cats do their business,” the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based company proclaims on its website.

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.

Since 2010, the design project has regularly demonstrated that education partnered with industry is a successful vehicle for fostering innovative thinking and thoughtful product design. It has become a seminal project for the university’s nationally ranked industrial design program.

Modkat, co-founded by Brett Teper ’94 (industrial design) and Rich Williams, is widely hailed for creating an entirely new category of litter boxes inspired by innovative design. The company’s original Modkat Litter Box made its debut at the 2009 International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF), where it earned The Editor's Choice Award for Best Accessory. Shortly thereafter, it received the prestigious Red Dot Design Award.

“Brett was profoundly impacted by an interaction he had with the Vignellis during Modkat’s introduction at ICFF,” said Josh Owen, the Vignelli Distinguished Professor of Design and director of the Vignelli Center for Design Studies.

“This was before the Vignelli Center was completed, so it is perhaps not surprising that the success of Brett and Rich’s company is built on strong intellectual and practical skills and experiences, many of which are foundational here at RIT,” he added.

Owen noted that Modkat designers “are on a mission to make the litter box experience more intuitive for cats and their human partners alike,” adding, “the company has designed a thoughtful, elegant, and functional product that consistently incorporates observational feedback and sustainability.”

Working in collaboration with Modkat, RIT students will be charged with designing a product that fits within the company’s values and procedures while keeping with the “Design is One” philosophy espoused by RIT’s Vignelli Center.

Top projects will be selected in December, and all students will have a chance to have their work on display as part of Design Week in New York City in May 2022.

The Metaproject initiative, true to RIT’s mission of providing experiential, innovative learning opportunities at a university noted for innovative leadership in design, art, and technology, has seen industrial design students work in collaboration with photography, glass, interior design, graphic design, 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 project put into production.

Owen made the announcement Thursday at the industrial design studios inside Booth Hall.

The announcement was greeted by enthusiastic cheers from the students in the class, who did not know the sponsor they would be working with until Thursday’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. 

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