Wearable technology, which is estimated to become a $12 billion market by 20181 , is comprised of companies across dozens of industries. In order to meet this growth prediction, companies will need talented Industrial Designers to ensure success in this innovative space. The design, technology, and innovation of wearables is imperative to bringing a successful product to market. When Rich Walters, LSR’s Product Design Group Manager, had the opportunity to host a sponsored class project for the Industrial Design program at his alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Stout, he reached out to Professor Jennifer Astwood. “I always wished we had more professionals come in to help teach when I was in school, so I'm happy we were able to partner with Jennifer to make this work” said Walters.
As the semester wrapped up, we sat down with Rich to see how the students embraced this experience to learn and experiment in the space of wearable technologies.
Hi Rich! So the sponsored project recently wrapped up at UW-Stout, and it looks like it was a very successful semester! Can you tell me how this all started, and why you were interested in sponsoring such a project?
Yes, thank you so much, it has been a great semester with this class. Well, I have been on the Professional Advisory Board for the School of Art & Design at UW-Stout for the past 7 years, and I know they’ve had other companies and professionals reach out to sponsor a class project. LSR is very much open to working and helping students and I thought this would be a great way to bring that ‘real-world’ experience to the classroom. When I attended Stout I always wished there were more professionals to come in and work with us.
We started out by donating a small 3D printer from LSR to the Industrial Design program. The students were excited about working with the printer because it allowed them to print more detailed and finished models.
What was the goal of this project for the student?
The goal of the project, titled ‘An Introduction to Wearables’, was to design a hands-free wearable device that solves a specific problem in one of the following areas: emergency, fitness, or communication. This junior level required course focuses on human interface design. Personally, I wanted them to design a wearable that solved a real human problem or need in an innovative way. These projects tend to be deeper and more complex, but ultimately the most rewarding. Sometimes if you don’t push the students they tend to pick familiar, easier paths, and they do not learn nearly as much. We wanted them to understand how technology can be properly integrated into a product, that you can’t just plop items into a plastic housing. In great products, the technology and the design are so intimate. We required them to observe how people used hands-free devices and document how they utilized the technology to discover the challenges people face, and base their solutions around that research.
What challenges did the students face during their first mid-semester review?
I think the biggest challenge was understanding how electronics can be fit tightly into the product design. At first some students were just too conservative with the technology. The concepts were a bit unnecessarily bulky, and I had to remind them that technology can be thin! Think how small the battery, antenna, and other electronics are to fit in the space of a smart watch.
It was great because I got to be the client in a way, pushing them to make it smaller, thinner, and more integral with the human. They were excited to be driven to go further as a designer.
What was your favorite part of this whole process?
I really think it was the ‘ah-ha’ moments from the students. When going through reviews it was great to be able to give them guidance and see it on their face and hear them say ‘Oh yeah! That would help me’. They would take that feedback and the project would be transformed into something even better than you thought it could be. They were so open and curious about the whole process. This class was definitely a high performing class. It was exciting to see the variety of interpretation on what a wearable could be, we didn’t put a whole lot of limits on what they could do.
At the beginning of the semester it was decided to reward the students. Can you tell me how and why you made this part of the project?
We wanted to reward them like in the real business world. Good work will get noticed, elevate a designer’s status, and results in monetary benefits. The reward reminds them that the countless hours will pay off when they are able to enter the profession with skills that will benefit them their entire career. The students did such a great job that we had such a hard time picking a single person for each category, so we ended up awarding 2 winners for three of the four categories. We based the awards on things that were important to LSR and design in general. Our categories were: Innovation, Communication, Craftsmanship, and Technology. Here are the winners:
Not only did the students receive invaluable perspective and feedback from Rich and their professor Jennifer Astwood, but each student appreciated the experience this gave them, specifically those who had not yet had an internship. “It is always great to get an outside perspective, and Rich provided that for us,” said Astwood, “It inspires the students and adds more interest to projects. It was so great to see the students get noticed for their hard work, and they appreciated that.”
LSR’s Design Studio is a team comprised of industrial designers, interaction designers, app developers, mechanical engineers, and prototype specialists who work alongside RF and antenna engineers to truly integrate wireless connectivity into products. “We believe it takes an integrated, diverse team to efficiently and successfully bring the right product to market” said Walters, “Having these students learn that connection will help them in the years to come.” Learn more about LSR’s Design Studio and the UW-Stout Industrial Design program.