What happens when you give 150 industrial design students a challenge to, say, design a better pen? That’s what Newell Rubbermaid officials will find out through the 11th annual Philadelphia University industrial design sprint challenge, which kicked off Jan. 22 in PhilaU’s DEC Center Forum.
The Innovation Nexus Sprint project is a fast-paced, one-week intensive design challenge that offers students the opportunity to test their design and collaboration skills with a real-world challenge from a top consumer company.
Newell Rubbermaid, a global marketer of consumer and commercial products—including Paper Mate pens, Rubbermaid storage and organization products and Calphalon cookware—gets to work with the newest generation of innovators to create market-ready concepts and provide applicable solutions for their brands.
As part of the PhilaU-Newell Rubbermaid collaboration, the industrial design students—including freshmen through graduate students—will work in teams on one of two challenges: to redesign an everyday writing instrument and to design a storage solution for some of the busiest areas in the home.
Students were kept in the dark on the sprint details, including who the industry partner is, until Tuesday’s kick-off, when PhilaU faculty and Newell-Rubbermaid officials delivered the challenges. After a long week with little sleep, the student teams will present their designs on Tuesday, Jan. 29 to faculty members and Newell Rubbermaid representatives.
“When we talk to graduates of the industrial design program, they tell us how much they loved the sprint project, which is really puzzling because it is painful,” said Gotz Unger, director of PhilaU’s industrial design program. “Students will be running around for a week, burning the candle at both ends. But in the end, really great work is produced.”
“We are really excited about the format,” said Lisa King, vice president of research and development strategy for Newell Rubbermaid. “This is our first partnership with Philadelphia University and we think we are a really great match. Our products are very accessible, but we are also a great reminder to designers that consumer products can always be improved.”
King was on campus to present the project details to students, along with two colleagues from Newell Rubbermaid: industrial design director Ian Cunningham, who will lead the home organization project, and Gretchen Claus Hickman, who manages the Paper Mate brand and who will lead the writing instrument project. Students will break into teams to design product concepts and solutions to the challenges posed by the sponsor, asking questions and receiving guidance along the way.
For the home organization project, students will tackle what Cunningham called “the problem of the first flat surface.” In many homes, the area right inside the entrance is cluttered with personal items ranging from keys and homework to phones, wallets and purses. Students will come up with ideas to help people organize their entryways with a convenient product that doesn’t get in the way.
Other students will work on new product ideas for the Paper Mate brand Inkjoy pen line, experimenting with different design ideas to create writing instruments that are comfortable, easy and fun to use.
“One of the things always asked in an interview is ‘what experience do you have?’” said Mike Leonard, associate professor of industrial design and academic dean of the School of Design and Engineering. “For most students who just graduated, it is hard to answer that question. But this project lets our students experience the kind of energy and connections you get when you first start working. It is real-world experience.”