Design Swarm

Over 60 design professionals and students gathered for an unusual get-to-know-you event on a recent Friday night at the TechShop in downtown San Jose. The group was here for an annual meeting of the Industrial Designers Society of America.

“What architects do for buildings, industrial designers do for products ranging from toothbrushes and cars to chairs and laptops,” said Assistant Professor of Industrial Design Joshua Nelson. “This involves collaborating with engineers and other experts to produce products that will be comfortable, useful and innovative.

Nelson invited his students to attend the event, which was a design swarm that functioned much like the rapid prototyping events that have become popular here in Silicon Valley as a means of brainstorming ways to use innovative, new products.

In this case, six teams, each comprised of professionals and students, were asked to design a homeless shelter for earthquake relief or a portable toilet for emergency scenarios using a new type of fiberboard provided by Ditto Sustainable Brand Solutions.

In just a few hours, the teams went from sketches to prototypes, which they shared with the entire group in five-minute pechakucha presentations. What was the best part for Professor Nelson? Watching the pros and students bond over doing what they love.

“The interaction that occurs while attempting to creatively solve problems is very deep and meaningful,” Nelson said. The professionals  “really get to know how our students work and become interested in hiring them or referring them to a friend. At the end of the event, all kinds of business cards were being shared.”

Innovation Lab Opens

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Plaques and an iPad offer information on the more than 300 patents earned by the late Calvin Seid, ’83 Industrial Design (photo by Michelle Vaquilar, ’15 BFA Graphic Design).

While sorting through the belongings of his younger brother, who died suddenly of heart disease, Vincent Seid was stunned to find scores of plaques his brother received for his contributions to more than 300 Apple patents.

Calvin Seid, ’83 Industrial Design, was a member and director of the company’s Industrial Design Group from 1993 until his death in 2007.

“He was very unassuming,” said Vincent, who was 16 years older than Calvin. “He didn’t like to blow his own horn and you didn’t know much about him until you got to know him very well.”

Generations of Industrial Design majors joined members of the faculty, staff and administration at the Calvin Seid Innovation Lab opening reception the evening of Oct. 9.

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Classmates and colleagues remember Seid as a teacher and mentor (photo by Michelle Vaquilar, ’15 BFA Graphic Design).

Guests included Vincent and his wife Zenaida, whose gifts to the university provided the initial funding and an endowment for the lab. Also in attendance were many of Calvin’s classmates.

When Professor John F. McClusky asked classmates and colleagues to describe Calvin, they settled on the same thought: He was an outstanding teacher and mentor.

Thus, McClusky explained, it is fitting that Seid’s name now graces the lab, equipped with the latest technology including 3-D printers to help faculty members show students how to take a product from start to finish, from design concept to completed prototype.

In between comes lots of problem solving, said Lawrence Lam, ’85 Industrial Design, and it is precisely that practical knowledge, which he described as “working around the environment to get the job done,” that distinguishes SJSU Industrial Design alumni.

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Seid’s patents are for familiar products, from an ear-bud case to chargers (photo by Michelle Vaquilar, ’15 BFA Graphic Design).

You can check out the enormous breadth of this Spartan’s contributions to Apple’s design acumen, including the ear bud case, charging devices, the Power Mac and much more, in an exhibit open on the first floor of the Art Building, below the lab itself.

“We are putting on display,” McClusky said, “the story of someone who is really the story of San Jose State.”

Man holds a prosthetic limb. Photo by Randy Leu

Prosthetic Limbs for Less Than $30?

Man holds a prosthetic limb. Photo by Randy Leu

Students showcase Simple Limb Initiative prosthetic limbs that they created and interact with guests at an open house event (Randy Leu photo).

What can you do with $30? How about creating a life-altering device for a child who lost a limb in a landmine explosion? This was both the mission and the challenge for a group of industrial design students, who introduced their completed projects at a May 13 open house.

Poster boards lined the walls of an Art Building room with different prosthetic limbs for above and below the elbow amputations and above and below the knee amputations. Three countries, among the most affected by landmines, were represented: Afghanistan, Cambodia and Colombia.

Corey Higham, a junior industrial design major, showed a prosthetic leg that he designed and built out of materials including PVC pipes, bike tires and rubber washers.

“I’m proud of the work that we’ve done,” he said. “It was a lot of work. I think we’ve come up with a lot of creative solutions that can be useful.”

Introducing Simple Limb Initiative

Computer monitors throughout the room displayed a website created by senior graphic design students, recognizing the launch of Simple Limb Initiative. This is a collaboration between SJSU Associate Professor Leslie Speer and Professor Gerhard Reichert of HfG Schwäbisch Gmünd, a university in Germany. Reichert had applied to be a visiting scholar to SJSU from December 2012 to February 2013. One of his proposed workshops focused on affordable prosthetic limbs, catching Speer’s eye.

“The area of research that I focus on is ‘design for the majority,’ problems of the world that affect great numbers of people,” she said.

According to a project brief that the two professors presented on the first day of class, children are among the most affected victims of landmines worldwide. The loss of a limb can be devastating for people in developing countries. A typical prosthetic limb costs thousands of dollars, whereas Speer said, “A lot of people in impoverished parts of the world earn less than a dollar a day.”

For this semester-long project, industrial design students kept in mind using raw materials that were cost effective and readily available or attainable in their assigned countries. The prostheses had to be functional in the countries’ natural terrains and for the cultural lifestyles, whether it’s working in the fields or praying five times per day. The countries’ residents have to be able to make simple fixes and adjustments to the prosthetic limbs when necessary, and the aesthetically and ergonomically sound prostheses have to be adaptable to a child’s growing body.

“It was a really big learning curve, but it was a really beneficial learning curve,” said Irene Rose, a senior industrial design major. “You step outside of your comfort zone and walk in other people’s shoes.”

Making Connections

The entire process involved several stages of research, evaluating and testing. Industrial design students reached out to relevant organizations and groups in their assigned countries. They also received support closer to home, including testing out their work on people who have undergone amputations. Occupational therapy students, led by Professor Heidi Pendleton, provided insights into the technical and medical aspects of these patients.

This cross-disciplinary interaction is what Speer would like to continue encouraging in the future. The Simple Limb Initiative could eventually become a continuous university-based research initiative involving departments all across campus, such as occupational therapy, engineering, business and graphic design, as well as Reichert’s classes in Germany.

A spirit of generosity presents itself on the initiative’s website, which features manuals and diagrams for each of the prosthetic limbs. The intention is to make the information open source to encourage others to build and build upon these ideas.

One Spartan alumnus whose work already focuses on prosthetic limbs invited the students to visit his workplace. Scott Summit, ’94, Industrial Design is co-founder of Bespoke Innovations, which uses 3D printing to create customized coverings for prosthetic limbs. Summit and his colleague Chad Crittendon attended the open house.

Complex Balance

I was impressed by the range and thoughtfulness that went into the projects,” Summit said. “Many of them managed to achieve a complex balance of cost, human need and design. I appreciate the devotion that went into their work, and I especially applaud Leslie for taking on such a challenging topic and handling it so superbly.”