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Design students bridge gaps

Tori Roeck | Friday, October 26, 2012

Over fall break, 14 design students attempted to bridge the gap between Notre Dame and the South Bend community through a design blitz led by John Bielenberg, founder of the design service program Project M.

Bielenberg is a pioneer of the “thinking wrong” approach to design, which involves drawing inspiration for projects in unconventional ways, and Project M implements design projects conceived through this method to address social problems.

Senior industrial design major Alisa Rantanen said students followed the thinking wrong approach in conceiving of their projects, starting with brainstorming words.

“It started with brainstorming and mind-mapping random words, not even design related,” Rantanen said. “Each group was given a prompt. So my group was given ‘Rick James’ and ‘chalk,’ and all in one day we were told, ‘Go make a project based on that.'”

Three different projects emerged from the brainstorming session: chalk talk, PROJECTiiON and IN South Bend.
Rantanen said her group worked on chalk talk and painted a chalkboard wall in downtown South Bend so people could share their thoughts with the community.

“It’s a way to give them a voice where otherwise many people wouldn’t be heard,” she said. “The next phase is to bring it to Notre Dame.”

The prompts on the wall say “I am,” “I think,” “I feel” and “I dream,” Rantanen said.

Industrial design graduate student Kevin Melchiorri said PROJECTiiON stands for “Projecting Interactive Images On Neighborhoods.” The project’s goal is to project meaningful images on visible buildings in downtown South Bend at night, he said.

“This process creates a beacon that invites, unites and empowers viewers through selected content,” Melchiorri said.

PROJECTiiON also works with chalk talk to project images of the chalk wall, Melchiorri said.

“We are currently collaborating with chalk talk and have plans to create a series of projects in the future that involve video games, movies, lighting, restaurant and local business promotion and kinetic energy from the audience’s physical participation,” he said.

IN South Bend is an initiative to get a trolley to run from Main Circle to downtown South Bend to encourage more students to visit. Junior graphic design major Jeff McLean said the idea for the project was based on the phrase “insane clown posse struggle bus.”

“We used this to drive our concepts around creating an atmosphere of fun, new experiences and excitement around student trips downtown,” McLean said. “An important component of doing this effectively was to make going downtown a tangibly branded experience for students.”

To promote the project, McLean said his group built a “bus” out of PVC pipe and tied balloons to it. They filmed themselves traveling downtown, leaving a balloon at each place they stopped. The group then posted the video online and asked viewers to sign a petition to make the bus a reality, he said.

Senior industrial design major Bobby Reichle, a part of the group that developed IN South Bend, said he hopes the project will draw more students downtown because the area has a lot to offer.

“For me, my favorite place in South Bend is the Main Street Coffee House, and no one knows it exists,” Reichle said. “I want people to move beyond the cookie-cutter stores of Eddy Street and actually see the local character of downtown South Bend. There is actually some worthwhile stuff there.”

Senior industrial design major Airi Kobayashi said the design blitz forced the students to interact with South Bend in a new way and to talk to community members to learn more about the area.

“We realized how much South Bend has more to offer than we thought there was and how much of a disconnect there was from the Notre Dame community to South Bend,” Kobayashi said.

The blitz’s format and short time limit also enabled the students to put design skills they learned in the classroom to practical use, Rantanen said.

“I knew this was going to be a super-creative, super-intense process, and I wanted to get … the messier side of actually making things real,” she said.

Rantanen said seeing her project come alive was one of the best parts of the blitz.

“This was a great opportunity to do something and see the direct impact,” she said. “Our chalk wall – less than 24 hours later, people had written all over it, so it was really rewarding to have that immediate impact.”

Contact Tori Roeck at
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