The Providence-based Rhode Island School of Design, or RISD (“rizz-dee”), as it’s more informally known, is one of the premier design schools in the country. RISD offers 19 majors including undergraduate and graduate programs from ceramics to textiles to illustration.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Industrial Design Department Head, Adam Smith to talk about the machines and tools used in the ID program at RISD.
What are some of the important tools and skills that all students should master?
That’s a difficult question because there are so many phases to the design process. The ability to conduct research, formulate a problem and try to answer that problem. At the end of the project you’d look back to that mission statement and the student would have to validate what they’re proposing. When companies contact me regarding student internships, they stress communication skills along with the digital skills.
The digital tools change so quickly and evolve throughout the year. However, students are required to learn SolidWorks and Rhino, two software programs that appear to be the most widely-used and taught design programs. From an output perspective – analog tools like rapid prototyping machines, CNC machines, 3D printers, and wax output machines help students realize the 2D designs they create on the computers. Having a balance between the two results in a well-rounded education.
What’s very important also is the ability to understand materials. Non-digital coursework, in which students work with different materials and gain an understanding of the properties of wood, metal, etc.
Do you think there will ever be a time when there’s no hands-on experience with materials?
In terms of the digital experience and what computers might offer in the future, it’s hard to say how realistic that experience will be. But for now, when you just sit at the computer and make choices for materials, so we make sure our students are well-versed in making things, and then grasping the digital presentation skills.
What has been the most exciting technological advancement since you began your career?
From a non-technology standpoint, back when I was a student in the early 1980s, the designers were not a key figure in terms of the business aspect, but nowadays, they’re on top of the decision-making chain. That’s very exciting.
Additionally, sustainability wasn’t talked about when I was in school, but now it comes into the dialogue. For me, it’s very exciting, that around 2006, we saw a rise in people talking about sustainability from inside the schools to inside of companies. Making the world a better place from social innovations to development of products.
Unfortunately, there aren’t too many tools available yet that help students and designers consider sustainability in their designs. European software seems to be ahead of us — there is lifecycle assessment software out there that helps one consider the impact of a product and its development on the environment. These softwares are very cutting edge and expensive, highly technical and complex. In the meantime, we have to follow the mantra of “thinking globally and acting locally.”
What do you see as being the next biggest technological advance?
The ability to offer manufacturing on a smaller scale that’s less expensive. These days if you’re a smart person with some software that cost under $1,000, basically an individual can do what it took an entire company to do just a few years ago. Previously, you would have had to get a job at a big company to be able to do it. We encourage entrepreneurial thinking and many of our students go on to work for themselves.
Rapid prototyping machines are becoming less expensive, perhaps every household in the future will have their own prototype machine. For example, if your TV was broken, you could contact the manufacturer who might be able to forward you a model of the knob or part that was broken and you could print it yourself.
Also, people are looking more for personalization in products these days, so small-scale manufacturing and custom designs are on the rise.
What is an exciting project your students are working on right now or recently completed?
An ongoing project has been “Design for extreme environments,” in which students design based on unconventional situations. For example, a shower in a zero-gravity situation, a ladder for the moon, etc. and this is not only fun for students but it’s a great experience for our students to engage with companies like NASA.
For more about the tools that RISD students use every day, see this complete list of all their tools, gadgets and such.
The RISD ID department also keeps their own microsite complete with blog, so follow the students along here. There’s even a page called “ID Porn” with the tagline, “for everything ID that gets you going.”
Photos by Jo Sittenfeld for Design Milk.
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