Events stress design’s function, importance

Katie Hunhoff

From the construction and development of the automobile to the ergonomically correct chair, design plays out in every aspect of life.
Raising awareness of the importance of design is the focus of Design Week at the University, which began April 7. Throughout the week, 10 events and activities, ranging from a social gala to an educational lecture, aim to emphasize the different ways design can create and change our perspectives.
At the University, design plays a major role. It is the culmination of the University’s Design Initiative, one of five academic goals recently supported by the Legislature. It is also key in the communication and collaboration between the numerous departments.
“We tend to be fragmented inside the University and not engage effectively with the community outside the University,” said Tom Fisher, dean of the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. “Our goal is to build bridges internally as well as externally.”
The centerpiece of the week, “Designing the Future, The Future of Design,” featured a panel of internationally renowned design specialists. They spoke about some of the problem-solving aspects of design, from automobile safety to city planning.
“We have to ask: What is our purpose?” said Peter Hancock, professor of kinesiology and leisure studies at the University. Hancock, who attended the summit on Saturday, said, “Designers have to ask bigger questions. We need to teach students broader perspectives — I believe we can design our world.”
Jessica Loucks, a graphic design major, said the summit enabled her to see the impact design has on society.
“It is valuable to hear opinions that help gear my studies toward a broader theme like community involvement,” Loucks said. “Instead of designing just an advertisement, it is important to see how it impacts the community.”
The panelists also discussed the future of the Design Initiative at the University, as well as plans to expand into a design institute.
“I still find myself arguing for the validity of design,” said summit panelist William Stumpf, a Minneapolis industrial designer and owner of several patents. “One measure of relative power or success of this profession is that there is satisfaction in what we produce.”
Another measure of design success is how it affects the communities and economies into which it is incorporated.
“The role of design in the community is to position them to thrive and to attract employees,” Fisher said.
“Design is good at answering the ‘what ifs,'” he said. “What are the ways we can — in the simplest, most economic manner — solve the most problems?”
Throughout the year, as part of the initiative, researchers have been working to solve design problems. Courses geared at teaching interdisciplinary design, communications efforts aimed at educating the public and additional University research and outreach programs have all been developed as a result of the initiative.
Additionally, the University is creating a design minor, which is currently not offered.
Design Week continues today with a panel discussion titled “Interdisciplinary Design Teams” at 4 p.m. in the Architecture courtyard and a discussion of the works of architect Ralph Rapson at 12:15 p.m. in the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum.