Exploring ways to make a positive impact in our Design Community

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May 2022

With a passion to help shape the future of the design industry, a collective of designers here at the Kalamazoo Design Center formed the “Newell Design Education Team.” Fueled with one core belief - to give back to our Design Community and to grow the next generation of young talent.

Over the last 2 years we have explored ways to make an impact, and we focused our efforts to three main areas; giving visibility for K-12 students about a career in Design, College student studio sponsorship, and college/young professionals mentorship.

We are a talented, multidisciplinary crew that uses our spare time and energy to supercharge the next generation of talent by engaging with students and young creatives.

After looking at the many facets of design education, we realized that engaging students below the college level is an exciting new opportunity. Many Students at that age may not be aware of Industrial Design as a career path.

An event that first sparked the team’s interested was “Career Day” at a local kalamazoo Public school. In past years Career Day meant that all eighth graders in the school would gather in the gymnasium and peruse through card tables set-up with various professionals and occupations.
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It was more complicated in 2021. “This was the first virtual event the school ever had,” Matt continues. “We knew that students at a Career Day want to ‘try stuff out,” not just hear us talk and see a Powerpoint. They want to ‘turn on the hose,’ not hear a fireman talk about what they do.” And while an experiential connection is hoped for, students need to hear about things like the educational path, where they might study (like Western Michigan University), financial expectations, the day-to-day experience, and how their interest in ceramics, drawing cartoons, or building with Legos may demonstrate inclination and aptitude.

“We tried to show a full spectrum to encapsulate the many areas of interest - Virtual Reality modeling or rendering with photo-realism, 3D printing, and digital sketching” Matt says. “We showed students how to repurpose parts to make models of chairs, wagons, whatever you have lying around.”

After conversation and showing the videos, the Newell ID Team opened a chat box and video chat for individual conversations. “After the initial conversations, we noticed that some kids were in and out, and some stuck around for 45 minutes,” Matt says. He remembers one student, Kaitelyn, who had a backdrop of her own art and held a cup that she’d made. “Kaitelyn, you’re a shoo-in for this career,” Matt told her. Kaitelyn stuck around and asked more questions.

“It’s so refreshing to witness that new perspective, and their excitement is contagious”
- Savannah Walters, Senior Industrial Designer

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“It was a ton of work to put together what ID is,” Matt says, “and then distill it down for fourteen-year-olds to understand—while we try to understand what’s possible in this kind of virtual event. And as practicing industrial designers, we also need to carry on our day-to-day work, which can be very demanding.”

For the Industrial Design team members who participated, the receiving was as good as the giving. Sean Simmons, Senior Industrial Designer, says, “Young designers fuel out-of-the-box thinking and they help to remind me to look at a design problem from all angles.” Savannah Walters, Senior Industrial Designer, concurs: “It’s always rewarding to interact with the next generation of designers, and is an instant way to reactivate my own passion for industrial design and the work I do. It is so refreshing to witness that new perspective, and their excitement is contagious.”

“Giving students an intro to design allows us to emphasize the importance design has in our world,” says Michael Diaz, Associate Industrial Designer, “and open their minds to a creative career that is not talked enough about in school curriculums.”

After observing Kaitelyn’s engagement in Career Day, Newell’s liaison with KRESA texted Matt: “This is the reason we do this.” The Design Ed team had a similar moment of reflection – Matt mentioned “From the beginning we all agreed that if we could have one student realize they want to be a designer when they grow up, then we’ve done our job” The sense of purpose was shared.

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