Student feature: “Saving space”
ANN ARBOR— Nisha Mohan is a second year graduate student at the University of Michigan School of Information with a concentration in human computer interaction. She is currently taking Integrated Product Development (IPD), a cross-disciplinary class with students from the Ross School of Business, College of Engineering, School of Information, and Stamps School of Art & Design.
Organized by the Tauber Institute for Global Operations, students and faculty members from different disciplines at U-M come together to participate in the course, which culminates in the form of an innovative product design competition.
As part of the IPD curriculum, students are presented with a “problem” to solve through the creation of a new product. This year, all of the products developed as part of the course focused on creating an efficient use of small living spaces.
They then create a prototype for and present at the annual IPD Trade Show, which takes place at the end of the semester.
Mohan spoke with Rabab Jafri, U-M Arts & Culture intern, about her experience taking course.
Jafri: What is the format of the Integrated Product Development class?
Mohan: It is interdisciplinary, so we work with students from engineering, art and design, business, and then us, the school of information. And then we’re given a prompt at the beginning of the class that outlines where we should look for a problem. So for this class it was come up with a product that helps people in hyper-urban areas.
Jafri: What product did your team make and what problem is it intended to solve?
Mohan: The product we decided to make is a hanging dish rack because the biggest problem that we found that people faced in these small apartments was the lack of counter space in their kitchen. And one of the biggest things that took up a lot of counter space was their dish rack. So, we wanted to come up with something that was stylish, easy to use, and that can be put out of the way when you don’t need it—and something that obviously saves counter space.
So we came up with a hanging dish rack that you can hang over a cabinet or drill into your wall depending on the layout in your kitchen. It has two racks and they both fold down. When it folds down you have this minimalistic, contemporary piece of art hanging on your cabinet, but when you want to use it you can hang either one or both of the racks up. And after you are done washing your dishes can put your dishes in the racks. It also has a tray at the bottom of the second rack to catch any dripping water from the plates so you don’t have any water dripping onto your counters. So that’s our product and we created it because it actually addressed a problem and designed to not only look nice, but also to be easy to use.
Jafri: How do you feel about working with students from other disciplines on this project?
Mohan: I loved it! I didn’t know what engineering entailed, until I worked with our engineer on this product. For art and design, I had no idea that they knew how to use so many tools, and that they were so hands on. They used the laser cutter, and we used the wood shop and it was very cool. I had a business undergrad and so I knew what business entailed, since they were mostly focused on cost and how we can reduce cost and make a larger profit. I definitely learned a lot from each of my teammates and I don’t think I would have gotten that exposure if it wasn’t for this class and getting the opportunity to work with an interdisciplinary team.
Jafri: How did you and your group come up with the idea for your product?
Mohan: It was iterative, so we didn’t sit down one time and say “Oh hey, this is what we’re doing.” It took several weeks to come up with it and finally decide on our final idea. Initially, we reached out to people who lived in these areas to get an idea of the problems they face. From the different problems we brainstormed product ideas to solve those problems. Then we kept doing that over and over again and we were validating these ideas with the research as well.
Jafri: What drew you to the design aspect of product development?
Mohan: The umbrella that drew me to design and product development is user experience, because I do really care about helping people and creating products, designs, and services to actually help people and meet their needs as opposed to creating something cool that no one using or is really difficult for them to use. So, that’s my goal at the end of the day regardless of the product or design that’s being made.
Jafri: How do you feel about the role of art and design in this project, and how does that relate to you?
Mohan: I’ve always been interested in art. I’m an artist in the traditional sense—like painting and drawing. User experience drew me because it’s very multi-disciplinary. It has art, it has design, and it has research. This is why this class was attractive to me because I could work with people from different backgrounds that I can learn from. Moving forward, I’m definitely interested in UX research and how research informs design because research is all about getting out there and talking to real people and getting context for the problem and understanding the problem from the user perspective—and how we can use that data to create not only delightful designs, but designs that make it easy for people to use the product and for people to enjoy using the product.