Nasty Curriculum Habit at Cincinnati

Hi I’m a student in ID at Univeristy of Cincinnati. There’s been a strong trend in our curriculum for corporate sponsored projects as of late, and I wanted to get some opinions on what students and professionals think the value of this is. Our school is famous for our co-op system–that means that before we graduate we will have completed six mandatory internships with 3-6 different companies. We rotate between school and co-ops every 3 months. For the particular class I am in, every single one of our school projects for the past year and from here on out is a corporate sponsored project, which means the company gives our school money, hands out a very specified project statement, and comes to critique what we come up with. I think for anyone else this sounds like a cool idea that we can all learn from-------HOWEVER—due to the fact that we already have 6 internships of “real world experience”, by the time we get back in school we are dying to just do our own thing and get a chance to be creative and come up with something unique and personal, or specialized in career field we are interested in. Currently the only thing our school has to offer for specialization is automative design, a field with very few jobs every year yet we will soon be graduating 40 students a year into it. Yet other fields, such as furniture and housewares, softgoods, entertainment and concept design, and footwear (all very large industries) are given almost no way to specialize in our curriculum. Instead, we come back from a corporate internship and are forced to do a mandatory corporate project.

What do you guys think? When are we supposed to get an opportunity to develop our own creative ideas that arent forced into a brand, or specialize in a field we are passionate about?

Well, you could look at it as preparation for the real world. Were you will work on the programs the firms or clients give you. Or if you have ideas that you feel you just have to work on…nothing is stopping you from focusing on it on your spare time. However I do see the point, and I do feel that University is the key area to explore you own ideas and to be as blue sky as you want to be. But then I look at the students who are equally and in some cases show more raw talent than your schools grads who are lacking in real world experience due to the fact they worked 2 and in one case 3 jobs during the summer and winter breaks just to put himself through a state school.

I think there needs to be a balance between sponsored projects and personally initiated projects. One thing that I had to do in school was to initiate a program for any product or industry that we felt strongly about. Write a program and design brief for the proposed product. The next step was to find a company in that industry that would sponsor (mentor) me through the project by acting the client.

The first step you need to take in working things out is to talk to one of the instructor about your concerns

I can see where you’re coming from Guest2 but on the other hand I would have killed for the internship opportunities at your school compared to where I graduated.

I graduated from Emily Carr in Vancouver and while I am now an employed and “reasonably successful” (subjective of course) industrial designer I can’t imagine how much more I could have learned if we had been given the opportunity to work on “real” projects. My experience at ECI was the exact opposite to yours in that all of our projects were pretty flakey blue-sky stuff(or personal pet ideas of the instructor) and there was zero opportunity for school sponsored internships.

I could rant more about ECI’s lack of reality but that’s not going to help you:)

I guess my advice would be to try and learn and appreciate all you can from your internships and sponsored projects -this stuff will be invaluable once you graduate and is a decided advantage in a competitive job market.

good luck.

Hey, thanks for your responses ofu and grass_is_greener. You’re both right and have valid points. I guess what I’m trying to say is that our education at Cincinnati is based on a delicate balance between real world experience and conceptual student work–you have to have both, and that is why our program is supposed to be good. And right now, in my opinion, the balance is set too far in favor of real world applications and experience. So we are given great opportunities to develop real world skills and knowledge of design as it’s actually practiced in business–but since we aren’t getting a chance to think for ourselves and develop our own problem statements, we aren’t creative and all of our projects look the same. I think many students in our program would have a very tough time thinking for themselves if they were given the chance. Is the point of design school to make us powerful cookie-cutter design machines ready to slave away, or to make us smart, fully developed and uniquely creative people?

This is a pretty interesting topic. I"m actually a First-year at UC going into transportation. I transferred from The University of Louisiana this year, mainly because of the co-op program, and the ability to work with the best and brightest to push myself to my creative limit. So far I love how everythign has been going and what I have seen form the upper-classes has been nothing but impressive. I do understand what you mean though, I felt the same kind of lacking when I first got here from my less “serious” school. My experience at another school has definitely played a part in the development of my perspective.

What you are saying about the corporate sponsership of projects is in a sense verifying your point that UC is trying to create cookie-cutter designers. It is true that coming out of design school, especially one as rigorous as UC, you will be able to design and you will have the skillsets needed to sell your ideas. what really matters in the end, is what is really important to you. If you think that you can (not saying you do!) take a problem statement, slap shiny buttons and a rubber grip on it, and call it a product, you aren’t making the most of your education. The point i’m trying to make, is you won’t get fired from school! leave the seriousness for the co-ops. experiment and push your boundaries. Take a philosophy class or two, maybe ballet. Find out how you really feel about what you are designing, and thereby imposing on the human race.

What really makes Cincinnati a great school is that its a University where you ahve these oppurtunities to get involved and understand the world that influences design. Push back a little! If you are out thre to pleaseyour corprate sponsor hoping for a job next quarter, then I can see why one would show some restraint, but i mean, they’ll probably respect the effort to think on your own. Either way, there are like a billion companies to co-op for…

Errr, so to summarize:

1)damn the man
2)you won’t get fired from school
3)take ballet

so yeah, thats my two cents.

ps. we don’t know each other by chance do we?

hey Robb–thanks for your reply. I doubt I know you–I’m a 4th year and i was on co-op in san francisco for the autumn. You’ve got some really great points, and you aren’t the first one to give me similar advice. I guess I just didn’t want to accept it, but I think I have to. basically it sounds like school is up to us, and we cant expect the curriculum to satisfy our needs, so we need to force it upon our education ourselves and push back a little. I think in transportation its a bit different because your corporate sponsored projects are going to be by car companies, and if you want to do trans, you’ll probably be okay with that minus some aesthetics issues you might have with any particular brand. But for us product folk, who are say interested in specializing in furniture or shoes, getting a Pampers sponsored project is a big downer. It helps that the only sane person in the faculty (Dale) is now the director of the program though, and is very open to student feedback.

And just to add another breif comment–not to sound pretentious at all, but it’s funny how we get to the point where we aren’t impressed by how “good looking” other students work is. By this point in our education, you immediately see through the flashy sketches and renderings and focus on the idea behind it. I remember being a freshman and sophomore and being blown away by how good looking upper-classmans’ sketches and stuff looked, but now we pretty much all have good looking work. The education works, either from co-op or in school–anyone can learn the skills. But a lot of us are not impressed with our ability to think and come up with good, original ideas. Oddly enough, there is this weird occurance that (to generalize) a lot of times, the better looking the sketches, the worse the idea behind it is. Most upperclassmen student work coming out of our school is incredibly corporate and conservative, and not very inspired. Thats where I feel if we were forced to come up with our own problem statements more often we would learn how to come up with those good ideas.

but since we aren’t getting a chance to think for ourselves and develop our own problem statements, we aren’t creative and all of our projects look the same. I think many students in our program would have a very tough time thinking for themselves if they were given the chance. Is the point of design school to make us powerful cookie-cutter design machines ready to slave away, or to make us smart, fully developed and uniquely creative people?

Hi, I’d like to weigh in here, as I totally disagree with the above comment. IMO when I look at ‘normal’ blue sky concepts by students, I have very little respect for the project, as it generally will not be grounded in reality, and therefore have very little value in the real world. It’s actually easier to come up with a ‘creative’ or unique idea when you think blue sky, or take away constraints.

You will find that with real design constraints there is still plenty of room for creativity. To say there is no room for creativity is naive. In fact because there are so many constraints, I feel that if and when you do come up with a truly innovative, creative or unique solution (that is still VERY viable) to a product that hasn’t changed in years is where design really gets interesting. If everyones designs are looking the same, it doesn’t tell me there is a problem with the program, but a problem with the creativity in the class.

My advice: This is your last semester. If they want you to work on a corporate concept, so be it. Come up with a truly breakthrough design DESPITE all the constraints, and you won’t have a problem getting a job anywhere. (assuming what you say about having the skillset to match your creativity)

Thanks not anonymous–those are great comments.

What do you guys think about the ability to specialize the student’s focus in the curriculum versus breadth of subject matter? I feel like our program is also based off of an older ideal of what “industrial product design” is, essentially preparing every student to go work for a traditional consulting firm that may do any product under the sun. But I think that most of us won’t have a job like that–and it seems like many students have a strong interest in specializing in one specific field of product design. Should we be getting the chance to do this with our student projects?

I know the ideal anwer would be “experience in many different types of products will only add to your abilities for other products,” but when we graduate won’t we find it difficult to get jobs in any given specialized field if our portfolio is much more ecclectic? Some of my peers have run into problems even getting a co-op because the employer says they dont have enough ________ (insert specialized subject matter) in their portfolio.

It seems to me that specializing in something in school closes more doors than it opens. Now if you are absolutely positive of the direction you want to go in already, then specialize. But thinking back, I really didn’t know what I wanted to get into, and am glad to have tried designing a variety of projects in school.

If you know what direction you want to go already (and don’t have any designs in this direction already), perhaps try to complete that type of design as your thesis. Judging from your initial posting, it sounds like you already have a variety of projects in your portfolio, so ‘specializing’ this late in the game may not me a bad idea.

Or, once you graduate, if you are trying to get a job with company X, and don’t have any of their type of products in your portfolio, you can always try to design one of their products as a personal project before your interview. A lot of people try this (with mixed success of course).

unfortunatly, what prompts this round of theory vs. practice debate is the massive higher education budget cuts in Ohio. to regain some of the lost revenue, UC must accept sponsors or face cutting more staff and facilities.
keep this harsh reality in mind as you begin your thesis explorations…

Not anonymous–thanks again for more great comments. I do feel that I am at the point where I am ready to specialize and have sort of a “this or nothing” attitude–that is, if there is anything on the planet I have a shot of being passionate and successful about (for example to sit and draw all day), it is what I am trying to specialize in. I’m pretty convinced.

And no spec-- you are absolutely right. That’s the undercurrent of what is prompting all this, that University of Cincinnati is beginning to accept many more students to gain more tuition yet cannot keep up with hiring faculty to meet the need. For two reasons-- because of money for one, but also becuase good design faculty is extrememly difficult to find, especially when you live in an area like cincinnati with dried up design resources. As you can imagine getting great industrial design faculty in areas such as northern california is much easier. But convincing a practicing, experienced with a higher degree to come out to Cincinnati to teach is almost impossible, and I feel the struggle of our current faculty trying to do this.

To whomever started this post:

I’m a senior at UC and have a few words of advice:

If you think that having P&G sponsor projects is “TOO MUCH CORPORATE CONTACT” for you… then dont get a CORP CO OP… GO TO A CONSULTANCY…

Secondly… wherever you end up when you leave you’ll have to work with these ppl again.

I know for a fact that P&G sponsors projects at UC not to get “new ideas”… but to keep tabs on kids they want to work with in the future… several of my classmates and myself have had freelance work from P&G since we did sponsored projects with them.

Bottom line… stop bitching… its not worth it and its a waste of time.

Even though you think you know what’s good for you… you dont… that’s why you’re in school in the first place.

Posts like this make me wish Brad Hammond was still teaching at DAAP… he’d kick your ass in to shape.

I’d also just like to aknowledge that I know my extreme desire to specialize is a rarity in the student population, and that most students actively benefit from a broad curriculum–however when the desire is there to specialize, it should be accomodate or at the very least allowed. As i said before I really think the most of us will not end up in “jack of all trade” consultancy work–we’ll be working in corporations or other established places on specialized subject matter–regardless of whether we had the passion and motivation to put ourselves in it, or we simply landed it and that is where we ended up.

DAAPgrad2BE-- I definately didn’t start this to become a flame thread.

No matter what either of us ultimately wants to get out of our education, all I can say to respond is I think it is naive to put total faith in the faculty and curriculum. It’s out education and we are the only ones who will make sure we are getting what we want out of it.

I am not naive in any sense…

all of the problem statements given from P&G and Samsung are pretty broad:

Create a developemental product for a child 0-4.

Develope a new product or system for telecommunication, music or video for 15 years out.

Those are pretty fucking broad problem statements… if you dont have a unique and “blue sky” perspective on any of those directions then its your own damn fault.

Stop blaming the school… I have worked with ppl from huge design schools and ppl from rediculously obscure ones… the common thread between US all has been our desire to be great!

the school has nothing to do with it… its all you… so if you have a problem… look at yourself first…

I have a feeling you’re going to spend all of your energy pointing your finger at other people when you should be using it to design yourself the future you want.

Just do the projects you are given and do the projects you dream of in your spare time…

you might ask… “what spare time”… i make spare time for my personal projects… I do alot of them… they make up about a third of my portfolio…

as for how “bad” you think you have it at DAAP… most design students would die for the chance to have a sponsored project… unless you like paying for you own ren… or not having any professional feedback on projects… get real…

DAAP isnt perfect… never will be… but you have it better than 90% of the kids at other schools…

I don’t understand why every time I try to use message boards people get argumentative and hostile. Although I’m pretty sure I know who you are, and you like to argue.

Not all students want to same thing out of their education.

I did the samsung project. My group was the winning American team. We did a wonderful project perfectly blending blue sky thinking with realistic applications, blah blah blah blah. I’m not interested in it, and would have rather spent the time working on a project that is directed toward the field I want to go into. Are you this hostile with car studio kids? Fashion Designers? Architects? Anyone else in Daap that picks their major based on what they want to do, not some random ideal of what the universe should be that Industrial designers seem to think empowers them to do anything?

The major thing I got from this thread----and thank you so much to those who gave me positive feedback to help me get this–is that if there is something I want to do I need to do it myself, so instead of bitching, I’m working on a proposal for an independent study.

I don’t understand why every time I try to use message boards people get argumentative and hostile. Although I’m pretty sure I know who you are, and you like to argue.

Not all students want to same thing out of their education.

I did the samsung project. My group was the winning American team. We did a wonderful project perfectly blending blue sky thinking with realistic applications, blah blah blah blah. I’m not interested in it, and would have rather spent the time working on a project that is directed toward the field I want to go into. Are you this hostile with car studio kids? Fashion Designers? Architects? Anyone else in Daap that picks their major based on what they want to do, not some random ideal of what the universe should be that Industrial designers seem to think empowers them to do anything?

The major thing I got from this thread----and thank you so much to those who gave me positive feedback to help me get this–is that if there is something I want to do I need to do it myself, so instead of bitching, I’m working on a proposal for an independent study.

I recently graduated from UC in July and I think Guest2 has valid questions.
So lets tone down the your alter ego and Net-Bravery Daapgrad2B and feel free to chime in without condesention.

Although keep the arrogance and smart-ass attitude that will probably get you really far in the design world.

There are alot of recent grads and soon to be grads that are concerned with where UC is heading. Chances are that these recent changes are the product of the center for innovation under Craig and the collaborations that Dale has down in the past couple years with Business College. What they are doing is kind of experimental but it replicates what can happen in the design world. Real-world limitations and directions but still freedom to do whatever you want within reason.

I know that when your portfolio is setting on a table with others though it goes up against designers who were let wander in whatever direction they wanted. (Your pampers diaper bin versus an Art Center Mercedes VR headset). Here where you have to get creative just come up with some cool thats shows your true skill and then if you still want to come up more conceptual work take advantages of your studio electives. I got to do some freelance and count it as an independent study. When I started UC what I liked was the freedom to cover as many areas of expertise as possible through co-op and with the varied projects we did. Specialize with your co-ops but still feel around these different projects arent about specializing just broadening your skills. Always absorb as much information as your can because all things are relative. Do what you feel like with these collaborative project you really cant fail as long as you meet the syllabus.

Shane Machir

By the way did anyone else see DaapGrad2B use “Get real!”

Thats classic! I havent heard that used since Full House went off the air.