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News . Feature Stories . Design students create solutions for disabled drivers


April 09, 2015

Design students create solutions for disabled drivers

Students participated in national Design For America challenge

By Alyssa Brown

What do you get when you cross CIA design students with a passion for social change?

You get an ideal candidate for Design for America (DFA). CIA design students and Case Western Reserve University engineering students have established a Cleveland chapter of this national organization and its students meet regularly to work on design challenges above an beyond their class assignments.

Industrial Design students Bernadette Marconi ‘15 and Josh Crespo ’15, along with four CWRU engineering students, formed a six-person creative team that participated in one of DFA’s Fall 2014 Sponsored Projects. Their assignment was to improve automobile experiences for drivers and passengers with disabilities.

Sponsored by Chrysler, the Cleveland team developed plans for a device that would help parents in wheelchairs move items in the trunk of their car close enough to be reached. Their solution functions like a drawer.

The first step in the nine-week-long project was identifying the problem. “Everybody’s experienced this,” Marconi said. “You open your trunk, and there’s that thing in the way back and you can’t reach it. When you’re in a wheelchair, you can’t reach over to get it. So our project is really very simple.”

Marconi and Crespo both noted their solution could also be helpful to people who may not have a disability, but may instead have other reasons they cannot reach the back of their trunk.

“People told us, ‘It’s very hard to make a universal design, but somehow we made it,’” Crespo explained. “We focused on one general problem that a lot of people had, especially people in wheelchairs, and created something that can be used to help others’ problems.”

“It benefits anyone from short people to the elderly; maybe you broke your arm,” Marconi said. “I think that’s what constitutes for good design. It’s not just something for somebody who needs it, but it affects everyone else in a positive way.

The CIA/CWRU DFA team competed against teams of students from across the country from several other prestigious schools and universities including University of California, LA, Northwestern University, Rhode Island School of Design & Brown University, and the University of Illinois.

While researching online and in books was a vital part of their project, the team’s insight on the subject grew during a group visit to the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center where they gained firsthand experience working with individuals with disabilities.

At the end of the project the students presented their projects at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles headquarters, a task Marconi and Crespo explained was less nerve-wracking than they had expected.

The classes at CIA played a significant role in preparing the students to take on this sort of a large project.

“You’re constantly talking to people every week, constantly critiquing, so you’re breaking down that barrier of being shy,” Crespo said. “You can know everything you need to know, but being able to communicate that clearly and effectively is huge.“

Industrial Design Chair Dan Cuffaro is impressed by the hard work of the students involved. “This is a great example of students taking ownership of their education and reaching out beyond the walls of the institution to network and collaborate with others and, in the process, supplement their CIA experiences,” he said.

Marconi and Crespo highly recommend fellow design students get involved with DFA during their college careers because of the invaluable experience they both had, especially working closely with engineers.

“You can’t really teach collaboration,” Marconi said. “Realistically, you’re not going to just work as a designer without the influence of engineers. When you can get them involved with the creative process, and us involved in the engineering process, that’s kind of rewarding as educational value.”

“I am so passionate about this field that I am going outside of school to do what I love. If anyone loves design they should totally do it,” Crespo said. “I am so glad I did.”

Alyssa Brown is a marketing intern.

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CIA alumna Josette Galiano’s passion lies in exploring behavior and designing immersive experiences. Fittingly, she’s a consumer insights analyst at @NottinghamSpirk​ and a designer at Florette by Josette​.

about 17 hours ago via Twitter


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