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ASU students take on the world – one design problem at a time


March 19, 2015

Graduate students in The Design School at Arizona State University are challenged to think not just outside of the box, but also outside of the country.

These students, who come from multiple disciplines, are required to choose one of a variety of trips led by faculty in architecture, graphic design, industrial design, interior design and landscape architecture. Each trip is designed to take the students away from Arizona to explore a particular set of design issues somewhere else, together.

For the fall 2014 semester, those places included Brazil, Australia, Japan, Italy, Canada and, within the U.S., New York, Washington, D.C. and New Orleans.

“Design is increasingly a global practice, and designers, regardless of their discipline, are tasked with making spaces and artifacts which reflect cultural practices,” said Craig Barton, director of The Design School.

According to Barton, the graduate travel studios provide opportunities for students to glimpse the complex world in which they will practice. The students bring what they learn during their two-week investigational trip back to the classroom, where they continue to build upon their research and experience to develop solutions during semester-long studio courses, in collaboration with fellow students from their travel studio experience.

“Our students come away from the experience better prepared to address the challenges of working outside of familiar contexts,” Barton said.

The students faced challenges such as: thinking about how design can have a positive impact on a city struck by natural disaster; determining how design can include more than just the typical consumer; and figuring out how to mount a museum exhibition about the work of a groundbreaking architect.

Trevor Kowal was one of 15 students who traveled to Japan for a studio with a focus on universal design and the principles of universal design. Also called inclusive design, universal design produces buildings, products and environments that are inherently accessible to the widest range of people possible – including people with different physical, perceptual and cognitive abilities.

The purpose of the class, Kowal said, is to expand the target design population and to take design to populations that don’t “unfortunately get included in most designs.”

Leo Zhang said of his experience in Japan: “We got to see the culture and most of the tourist sites, but we got to actually go to the companies that were doing what we’re doing, and we got to actually see how they did it. This is stuff that people don’t usually get to see, so we’re very fortunate that we got to go to these companies and they gave these workshops.”

“It really puts your global citizenship in a bigger perspective than I’ve previously had," said Daniel Gault, who also traveled to Japan. "So that I’ll take with me – just an awareness of the needs of different people in different areas of the world.”

Loretta Wall, a registered nurse working toward a master's degree in health innovation, was part of a group of students and faculty from the College of Nursing and Health Innovation and The Design School’s Healthcare and Healing Environments program that spent seven days in Australia looking at the intersection of restorative environments and health care for indigenous population.

For Wall, the most important part of the design studio experience was getting the perspectives of different professionals on this critical issue.

Lane Plattner, who also traveled to Australia, found the health care and design combination “really unusual, just because school is generally so siloed."

"They’re two totally separate schools, so why would they ever normally come together, but it makes a ton of sense," said Plattner. "As a designer, you know that your built environment affects every aspect of your life, including your well-being. So why would they not be more combined?”

Leilani Carr, who participated in the New Orleans studio, said, “We wanted to look at the city as a whole, how it functions, and then see what all of us could kind of narrow in on as far as how we might be able to help.”

“We went to study a city that was actually affected by a disaster,” added Megha Parashar, “where we could see the effects of it and how people have tried to make it better and how the rebuilding is happening in the city.”

“It’s just a really different experience, and being in a world culture like this gets me really excited,” said Parashar. “They encourage you a lot, and I definitely want to work here for some time."

Rob Huff was part of a group that traveled to Montreal, New York City and Washington, D.C., to study exhibition design. The group then returned to Phoenix and worked with ASU Art Museum staff to design an exhibition about the work of architect Glenn Murcutt; that exhibition, “Architecture for Place: Glenn Murcutt,” is on view at the museum through April 4.

This year’s fifth-year students are in the process of finding out where they’ll be going next year; their options include France, China, Turkey, Italy, Japan, Mexico and the Netherlands.

The Design School is part of ASU's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

Deborah Sussman

Communications and media specialist, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts

480-965-0478