On most days, I say to myself and others: “It is a great time to be a student.” I say this with respect to all the new technological advances and tools to which students currently have access. I would even argue that we are at the crux of the golden age of design. Anyone with internet access and a modern cell phone can shoot, edit, and publish a short film. Anyone with a modern computer or laptop can create a three dimensional Computer Aided Design (CAD) drawing. Anyone can take this CAD drawing and print a prototype using a desktop 3D printer. The line between imagination and reality is disappearing.
I was reminded of this on Lab Atlanta’s recent Midtown exploration: more specifically our faculty meeting at the Museum of Design Atlanta, (MODA). As one of my coworkers would say, I "nerded out" on an exhibit titled, “Revenge of the User.” Designers had shared with MODA varying prototypes at different design phases showing the progression of prototyping and testing. There were modular prostheses, redesigns of handles, Ikea hacks, and redesigns of a water pitcher on display. I would highly recommend visiting MODA just for this exhibit.
The exhibit spoke to me on multiple levels. It spoke to my love for the interplay between science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics (STEAM), and it spoke to my teaching philosophy of empowering learners through making. At the risk of overly analyzing this, design is a wonderful container of STEAM. Serving the user is at the root of design. The design process starts with getting to know the user and discovering an issue or need for that user. By re-imagining a system or product so that it better fits the user in form and function, designers engage with users through multiple iterations and feedback. Collaborations across the disciplines are inherent in the design process, in order to produce elegant, purposeful designs.
As we move closer to the LAB ATL launch date, reminders like these push me to design inquiry-based, user-centric projects for our learners exploring a spectrum of engineering fields relating to the city of Atlanta. With the progression of technology that allows users to re-design, prototype, and test their own designs, we are raising a generation of makers who are fighting back against one-size-fits-all models. Using design thinking and engineering design principles are essential for effective, elegant, and customized products. Not only are they customizing mass-marketed products; this generation of makers is already creating innovative new products that serve needs not even entertained by large-scale manufacturers. My hope is that our LAB ATL learners can build a vibrant, sustainable future where each individual can be celebrated and acknowledged for the gifts she or he brings to build a better society.
Now for the hard part: Can you imagine it, too?
Karl Hwang, LAB ATL faculty