A look at the Jacobs Spring Design Showcase

On May 3 and 4, students from 17 courses held in Jacobs Hall — along with clubs and student-taught DeCals that use the building’s resources—presented projects at the 2017 Jacobs Spring Design Showcase. The showcase capped a semester of design innovation that saw students develop sustainable products, prototype innovations in space research, apply technology to pressing challenges like violent extremism, and more. Here’s a glimpse at what students created at Jacobs Hall this semester.

In introductory courses, students explored core skills and concepts for design processes. Prototyping and Fabrication, for example, provided opportunities for students to gain hands-on experience with techniques like 3D printing, laser-cutting, and electronics, working their way from small projects to their final assignment: designing and fabricating bluetooth-controlled vehicles. At the spring showcase, the students put these vehicles to the test on an obstacle course, using cell phones to guide their creations through a series of ramps and curves.

Students — and their bluetooth-controlled vehicles—take on an obstacle course.

Other introductory courses allowed students to gain skills in a range of fundamental processes. Sketching and Visual Communication students explored elements like line, color, and story, while engineering students enrolled in Introduction to Manufacturing and Tolerancing applied course lessons to developing original 3D-printed bridge designs.

Student work from Sketching and Visual Communication, left, and Introduction to Manufacturing and Tolerancing, right.

Elsewhere in the showcase, upper-division students from a variety of disciplines shared advanced projects that linked design skills with domain expertise. Computer science students in User Interface Design built conversational interfaces for Amazon Alexa, creating apps to complete tasks as diverse as cooking, budget management, and fire safety guidance. In Industrial Design and Human Factors (an industrial engineering and operations research course), meanwhile, students applied principles of ergonomics to designing products meant to help with work in vineyards. “I enjoyed how open-ended [the assignment] was, and the ability to be creative,” noted Sergey Mann, whose team worked on a haptic navigation interface for vineyard workers.

Students demonstrate their mechatronic spotting device for weightlifting.

In Introduction to New Product Development, students worked with clients from diverse industries to prototype novel products, considering business models and sustainability along with their products’ designs. The results included prototypes for internet connectivity on the open ocean, fetal health monitoring, information security, and much more.

Reflecting Jacobs Hall’s role as a campuswide hub, many of the courses showcasing work involved collaboration across a wide range of fields. Students from diverse departments, for example, participated in Bioinspired Design, a lower-division integrative biology course in which they applied biological research to developing new product ideas. Over the course of the semester, natural adaptations, like spider silk and bird wings, became the inspiration behind ideas for products from hydration systems to drones.

A prototype from Bioinspired Design.

Another course, Collaborative Innovation, represented a uniquely cross-disciplinary approach, with faculty coming to the course from the departments of Art Practice; Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies; and the Haas School of Business. Students interwove these perspectives as they created interventions that addressed social issues, such as fostering creative spaces on campus and challenging inequity in K-12 education.

Projects in Collaborative Innovation focused on creative spaces on campus (left), normalizing shyness (right), and more.
A student presents her team’s User Experience Design project: a speculative tool for social media management.

A number of projects aimed not to provide straightforward utility, but to serve as entry points for questions or dialogue. In User Experience Design, students trained a design lens on considering our relationships with emerging technologies. Projects included a concept for a “connection cafe” that would reimagine human connection through artificial intelligence and a tool for monitoring online shopping and consumption patterns.

Critical Making students also used design and fabrication techniques to spark unexpected interactions, treating physical objects as starting points for cultural commentary. After a semester of exploring the intersection of technology and socially engaged art, students presented novel wearable designs, such as “identity armor” to protect biosignals and inflatable clothing that challenged norms around fashion and body type. Instructor Eric Paulos, speaking to his students as they looked ahead to summer and, for some, graduation, encouraged them to continue to explore unexpected paths in their design projects. “Keep taking risks,” he urged.

Projects from Critical Making reimagined topics from fast fashion (left) to casts for kids (right).

Beyond projects from courses, the showcase also featured work from clubs and student-taught DeCals, highlighting student initiatives and extracurricular learning. FEMTech members told visitors about their work creating opportunities in tech for women from all majors, for example, while CalSTAR and STAC demonstrated new ideas for space technology. Across these diverse teams, students reflected on the growing design community at Jacobs Hall, mentioning resources for prototyping and opportunities to exchange ideas with fellow students. They also emphasized that their work was far from done: many already had ideas for launching new programs, tinkering with designs, and expanding their impact. “That’s the good thing about projects like these,” observed one Pioneers in Education member as his showcase session wrapped up. “There’s always room to grow.”

Students from CalSTAR (left), the Intro to iOS Development DeCal (center), and FEMTech (right) shared recent work.

Want to learn more about design at Jacobs Hall and how you can get involved? Explore the Jacobs Institute’s design ecosystem here.

By Laura Mitchell

Photos: Roland Saekow & Nicole Kim

Nicole Kim contributed reporting for this story.