College of Liberal Arts | Spring 2021

Design collective aims to do good

At the heart of an ambitious design project founded at Purdue is a desire to ease the everyday burdens, both large and small, that disabled people face.

After witnessing the success of a remote global design workshop that Purdue held annually in the past, associate professor of industrial design TJ Kim sought to expand upon the concept. He wanted it to be interdisciplinary, combining input from biomedical, engineering, and design contributors. He wanted it to include global perspectives in real time. And he wanted it to be assistive, with participants examining the challenges of disability and designing solutions that address specific conditions.

The result was the Design Good Now hackathon. The global design initiative will enter its third year on Nov. 2-4, when, for the first time, it will be part of Purdue’s Dawn or Doom conference.

“Our goal is to design and develop product ideas that are useful for people with disabilities, people who cannot see, hear, walk, or who have no hands and legs,” Kim explained. “All kinds of possibilities are considered for them. We design to make their everyday life easier. That was the whole topic and expectation in our global workshop.”

After a modest debut in 2016, with five universities around the globe participating, Design Good Now exploded in size last year. Approximately 2,000 students from 30 universities — from North America to the UK to the Middle East to Asia — participated in 2017. Student teams contemplated solutions to a provided real-life condition, conceiving adaptive products, and then used technology-based tools like computer-aided design (CAD) generation or 3D printing to build them.

The university groups across the globe communicate remotely with the Purdue-based participants, who work out of the MatchBOX Coworking Studio in downtown Lafayette.

“It’s happening simultaneously across the world, and then we’re sharing process and methods on social media,” Kim said. “That’s a way we communicate, sharing our thoughts by showing them what we are doing and have done. Visually communicating has helped us to better understand how participating universities are approaching the solutions with their own point of view.”

Among the product solutions that the design groups created last year were a spring-mounted knee support to make it easier for a pregnant woman to return to an upright position after bending down and a device that would allow someone with arthritis to open a jar by pressing down on the lid instead of having to twist.

Kim expects the two-day, nonstop design event to continue to grow in size, particularly now that Dawn or Doom has joined the Patti & Rusty Rueff School of Design, Art, and Performance’s Department of Industrial Design and the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering as a sponsor.

“Dawn or Doom invites everyone from the school, so it’s the same idea. We’re trying to invite everyone from the school, not only design students, but engineering students, liberal arts students, anyone who has interest in developing product ideas for people with disabilities,” Kim said.

“We’re trying to make this an interdisciplinary activity and a campus-wide event to make a bigger impact for our own communities.”