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Industrial Design gets top-5 rank

Joseph McMahon | Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Tucked into a basement studio of the Riley Hall of Art and Design, Notre Dame industrial design majors labor for long hours, drawing sketches and building models. Although only staffed by two faculty members, the industrial design program has become a powerhouse, and was recently ranked as one of the top five international programs by BusinessWeek magazine.

“[Industrial Design] is a way that you can use the thinking or the methodology of the artist and apply it to real world problems,” Industrial Design professor Paul Down said. “In the last 11 or 12 years we’ve had students that started to win awards because we started to enter more competitions.”

The program gained campus-wide recognition last year when former senior Mallory McMorrow placed first in the Mazda Design Competition, an online contest, where contestants entered their vision of the 2018 MAZDA3.

Industrial Design has won numerous other awards in the past several years, including four very esteemed International Design Excellence Awards (IDEA).

“The IDEA awards are the most prestigious, and the fact that we’ve won so many competing against international schools is very exciting,” professor Ann-Marie Conrado said. “It is very difficult to get an industrial design award because generally it is a professional competition. Our students have been winning IDEA awards for some time now.”

Industrial Design attracts a wide variety of students. Senior Kaitlyn Benoit, a former engineer, said the field combines a variety of disciplines in order to create a solution to a problem.

“Industrial Design is the meeting point between Marketing, Engineering and Art. It pulls everything together to create a simple solution,” she said.

Although many may consider the program’s small size a handicap, Down said having to manage only 40 students is actually an advantage, especially when preparing for competitions.

“We don’t run a gravel pit here, we polish jewels. We must keep our numbers down in order to do well,” he said.

Down himself recently led a team that developed the AdapTap, an apparatus that allows blind swimmers to swim faster and straighter. The team was awarded the prestigious Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award.

Conrado, whose most famous creation is the xBox Live headset, also brings extensive design experience to the classroom. Determined to have students tackle problems in the field, she leads an eight-week service trip each summer to Nepal.

“One of the things our department champions is the concept of social design, which is using design and design-thinking to solve some of the problems of society. One of the projects we do annually is our Nepal Fair Trade Initiative,” she said. “The goal of that is to use design to create attractive, desirable, contemporary handicrafts – things that people want; not because it’s fair trade, but because it is an attractive product.”

Several projects have grown out of the trip, including one graduate student who designed a $3 washing machine based on the twisting action of a Chinese finger trap after watching Nepalese women labor for hours washing clothes.

The program continues to gain recognition, and projects from Notre Dame students will most likely be found at all the major design fairs this upcoming year.

“I think that we’re building momentum and that we’re getting notice on campus and in the larger Industrial Design community,” Conrado said.