Student design solutions well received by industry

Zijing (Jennifer) Zhuang shows her design project for signage at Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens. ART AND DESIGN
Zijing (Jennifer) Zhuang shows her design project for signage at Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens.

The real-world solutions of UniSA industrial design students have potential employers standing up and taking notice.

The major projects of the Graduate Diploma of Design (Industrial Design) class of 2016 were showcased through an exhibition at the Kerry Packer Civic Gallery late last year. As a result of their efforts, several students have been invited to present and develop their concepts further with local companies, agencies and not-for-profit organisations.

Andrew Whittaker and Dr Peter Schumacher are course coordinators for the Masters of Design (Industrial Design) studio courses and Dr Schumacher says the postgraduate program enables students to build on the skills and knowledge from their undergraduate studies through engaging in industry-based projects and learning how to work with clients.

“It’s a very intensive process requiring a diverse skill set. The students are learning through industry engagement and learning by doing. This is a gateway to their profession,” Dr Schumacher says.

Each student’s year-long project involved working closely with an external client, undertaking extensive research to understand the nature of their client’s problem and exploring the context and available technologies to propose design solutions.

These solutions were presented in a range of ways including animations, prototypes, model-making, videos and the creation of displays and signage.

After presenting to the client, students often gain an even greater understanding of a client’s needs and may then provide further solutions, Dr Schumacher says. In some cases the students identified problems that the clients did not see.

This was certainly the case for Chinese student Zijing (Jennifer) Zhuang whose project centred around potential improvements for Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens. An anticipated outdoor furniture design project became something much more.

Zijing spent lots of time at the Botanic Gardens looking at the way visitors used the gardens and what they visited.

“She uncovered a way-finding problem and areas for improvement around the signage systems,” Dr Schumacher says.

Zijing says she found it very hard to find directional signs and the contours of the land meant that sometimes the signs that did exist weren’t visible to visitors among other issues. During her research she encountered people who were having trouble following the signs or getting lost.

As a result of her observations, Zijing’s solutions included creating a common brand identity for the signage, a hierarchy of important information, and using colour and number matching to help visitors make connections between the gardens’ brochure and fixed signage.

She also created new-look plant markers by adding transparent resin moulds containing seeds and plant specimens, to provide a visual representation of species for visitors even in the non-flowering season.

Zijing, who has been in Australia for two years, learned that most visitors to the gardens came from China and to assist people from her home country she added Chinese descriptions to the English language information signs.

Her hard work paid off and Zijing was asked to present her project to the director of the Botanic Gardens for consideration.

Dr Schumacher says fellow student Nick Jolly looked at problems in aged residential care – an industry that is going through a lot of changes in the context of Australia’s aging population.

“Nick said let’s see if we can make a better bed for aged residential care,” Dr Schumacher says.

The resultant design has a host of useful features that make the bed user-friendly and increase client safety.

Dr Schumacher says one issue Nick uncovered was that the array of technology required in patient care – such as sensors – can create a jumble of cords beside the bed which can be a potential tripping hazard.

His new design puts that technology into the bedhead and also fits the lamp into the bedhead with the switch fitted alongside the bed in easy reach. This solves the issue of a person needing to reach a long way to switch off the light – which can be a cause of many falls. Another innovation is lighting that illuminates the ground when people get out of bed at night, also increasing safety.

Dr Schumacher says Nick is now talking to an Australian furniture manufacturer about his aged-care concept.

A number of other students chose to look at design solutions for a local fireplace manufacturer, producing impressive and diverse results, and, as a result, one student has been invited to spend time at the company and develop his concept further.

Students needed to gain an understanding of exactly how a fireplace worked, how to move air around a firebox and the best way to design the doors.

Michael Summers with his fireplace design project.Michael Summers with his fireplace design project.

One of the students who chose this project was Michael Summers who says that once he got into the project he realised just how technical fireplaces are.

“It was a challenge as there was so much involved,” he says.

Michael says he worked on solutions for maintenance and cleaning, wood storage, airflow and the best way for the door to open.

“The major project was good because we had the experience of working with a client,” he says.

“We came up with ideas, showed the client, and learnt what to do if an idea was not what the client wanted.”

Michael will continue on this path and undertake his Master of Design (Industrial Design) next year.