4th Year Open Design Project

I am a Senior at Auburn University and am faced with the great opportunity to design anything I want for my studio. Up until now all my classes have been sponsored by various companies (EASTMAN, Dell, Yellawood). Now I have the opportunity to design anything I can imagine. The problem is I do not want to screw up this opportunity and I want to make sure I do a project that can make an extreme impact in my portfolio. Right now my projects in my portfolio lack form, detail, and numerous other things. I want to make sure I take full advantage of my opportunities and do a project that takes me through th whole design process and ends with a great solution.

I am just returning from an internship with TTI (Ryobi) in South Carolina and now know what is expected of me in the design field. I guess my question after all of this is, how do you find a problem to solve when the possibilities are wide open? I have brainstormed and have pages upon pages of ideas, but I want to know what other peoples processes towards design are. So any thoughts on this would be greatly appreciated.

Well, I haven’t been where you are now since I’m only a junior, but my advice would be just pick a subject and start doing research. I don’t remember who said it first - it’s on Bruce Mau’s “incomplete manifesto for growth” - but I would say ‘start anywhere.’

Secondly, make it something you’re passionate about. Make it something that represents you as a designer and person.

I look at the immediate people around me, friends/family and see what they struggle with, what’s badly designed. My Gran struggles to get into packaging, struggles to get out of the bath, do her shoe laces up, grip her cutlery, carry heavy pans of boiling water, fill a kettle, put her socks on. struggles to understand/use a mobile phone or the DVD player. It isn’t glamorous, but one day I’m going to be in her shoes (not literally) and whatever I can do to make things easier, will not only help her, but also help me in the future. Whats good about designing for her, is I have first hand resource, I can get information straight from the horses mouth, I can test my designs on her and her friends, watch them interact with models etc (beware of positive feedback about bad concepts - old family members don’t like giving negative comments to their grandsons). This has been done before, Its an oldie but a goodie.

I agree. I would look at what your interests are and go from there. This will insure that you will not get overwhelmed or bored in your project. It will also allow you to solve a problem that effect you personally.

Another way to look at it is look at the world around you and what problem can you solve through design. One that I always thought would be a great senior project for someone would be to redesign the interior of a cop car. There a ton of touch points and it is not very user friendly, not to mention it would be cool research with the ride alongs.

Thanks guys, I have been brainstorming for a week about all those things you all mentioned. Problems around me and what things I may want to design, going to the library, talking with each and every professor about their opinions on projects and ideas and I really think I am making progress. I am making progress towards finding a project that I can take ownership of and really make a difference on a problem with design. It’s a very exciting time and I appreciate all of you guys input!

Yup pick an area is the best bet.

I spent weeks trapsing through newspapers, magazines, books watching friends familes for problems…

The best bit of success i had was just going and observing in quite broad areas and seeing things from a new perspective

e.g i went to a firestation put all the equipment had a crash course in the training and highlighted lots of problems just from spening a 3 days down there. - all be it i decided not to do this project my point being reading imo is a waste of time, you have to see and do to put yourself in the users position.

In-line with previous points, look at what companies that offer products in your area of interest are doing. You would probably want to work there after graduation anyway. See what your portfolio is lacking. One aspect is pushing yourself, and the other aspect is making sure that you are making yourself easily employable.

My advise would be 2 fold:

  1. pick something you are passionate about (as previously mentioned) because it will pull you through the down moments of the project, but not something you are so emotionally tied to that you can’t be objective.

  2. envision the kind of company and the kind of project you imagine yourself doing when you graduate, and do that. If you want to get a job with Samsung, don’t design a shoe (unless a cell phone pops out… or it makes you want to buy more refrigerators…)

Some really good advice here. It’s been a long time since I had this problem but I have been running a final year studio project for the last 5 years and have observed an number of students struggle with this.

The key advice I give them time and time again is to start with the problem or opportunity rather than with a thing or a product. That means you have to go back to people and their context and begin from there.

This is from the first course outline our students get at the start of the project:

_“Two 16 week papers combine to create a year long, major project in the final year. On paper they work separately, except that pds3 is a prerequisite for pds5. In reality, they form the basis for the biggest design challenge you will have faced here at OP. This is your major project, and as such should be a deep exploration of your chosen topic.
You can choose from anywhere, but the best projects in the past have addressed real, tangible and important problems. This is a chance to move beyond the shiny pretty object to something more substantial, a valid part of the system that causes real change. This is a chance to affect the world.
It will be hard work, it will at times seem to drag relentlessly, but if you choose a project you believe in, and you challenge yourself to move well beyond your current skills and comfort levels then it will not be time wasted.
Where are you going once you leave here? Chances are most of you haven’t really imagined that yet. Now is the time to start that process. Who will you be? How can the choices you make from here help you get there?”


“What are you going to do? This phase is where you decide where to start looking. Through group discussion, consultation with lecturers, your potential client (if any) and individual research you are required to identify an area of need, requirement or opportunity. You have been given some possible areas of research. Try to think beyond the category or object when you are choosing your topic; think about the scenarios, systems and future possibilities in those areas. Most importantly, however, you must consider the people involved.
Your chosen area will need be approved by Mike and Tim before you present it to your class. Any object based suggestions will probably be rejected. Example: Don’t come to us saying you want to design a bicycle - better would be an investigation into the personal commute or where the future of mountainbiking is likely to head in the next 15 years. The range of possible outcomes is so much broader and your project will be richer for it.”
Observation is good, so is opening up that conversation with everybody who will give you the time until something strikes you.

Like Yo said above, it is also really important to use this project strategically not only to help you get that first job, but to help you get the job you want.

Good luck!

PS: I keep giving this advice because I have seen it work again and again.