Alum Gets Students and Tekna Down to Business
Kendall class of 2011 Industrial Design graduate Bryce Porter, now employed full-time as a designer with Tekna, a full-service produce development firm, reached out to the Industrial Design program regarding a student tour. He recounts the visit here.
Kendall faculty members Tom Edwards and Jon Moroney were receptive to the idea and put me in touch with the West Michigan Student IDSA chapter officers and Kendall students, Sarah Darnell and Jake Falk. They were responsible for organizing the group and travel accommodations to Tekna’s facility.
The tour took place in March and included a brief introduction with students to give them insight into the company and culture. I and Design Director Mike Nellenbach greeted the students. Mike led the students through Tekna’s company background, capabilities and culture. The students asked questions about the design process and Tekna’s product development capabilities.
The group walked through Tekna’s newly expanded Studio, designed with an open floor plan to foster visualization, collaboration and creativity. The group was able to see firsthand the active projects currently under development and ask questions about design process, team dynamics, project flow and timing. Discussion in front of project boards filled with sticky notes, sketches, concept renderings, and prototypes was intended to make a connection with the students that the core skills they are learning at Kendall are directly related to those needed in the professional world. They were able see the design process evolve in projects ranging from a surgical personal protection gown to a trade show exhibit for a Tekna-born product for the athletic training market.
Students even had access to Tekna’s project rooms, which are dedicated collaboration rooms that feature wraparound dry erase boards and a custom rail system. The rail system enables Tekna staff to quickly and efficiently share boards of sketches and images so they can spend less time managing information and more time sharing ideas. They discussed the very early stages of product development and the process of moving ideas to quick physical mock-ups often allowing project teams to quickly work through decisions and identify key design issues.
The students then toured Tekna’s prototyping lab, designed to allow projects teams to “get physical and fail fast.” Students viewed Tekna’s “clean shop” that provides areas for building large-scale foam core mock-ups, electrical engineering systems, clean assembly area, and houses 3-D printers. The students witnessed assemblies of functioning engineering prototypes and discussed the importance of designers and engineers balancing technical issues with good design, human factors and ergonomics.
A “dirty shop” houses a full array of traditional wood and metal shop equipment. Here students were led through a discussion around iterative mock-ups of handheld power tools made from mixed materials such as modeling foam, clay and 3-D printed components. They discussed the value of rapidly working through ergonomic studies to drive design direction.
The tour then shifted towards the production side of Tekna’s business. Students were introduced to Tekna’s Engineering Manager, Dustin Worm, and Director of Product Execution, Drew Wright. The pair took students through Tekna’s production space where the students saw the production line as well as fully assembled Tekna product offerings. Here they were given insight into the transition that takes place from design to engineering as a product moves through the development process. They also discussed design as it relates to production, assembly and packaging – learning that decisions made early on in the process play an important role in the manufacture of a final product.
The group wrapped up the tour with a brief question and answer session that lead to talk of future possibilities between Tekna and Kendall College of Art and Design
The tour exposed the design students to a real-world environment and a process that allowed them to follow an idea all the way through to the finished product in a box. It was also their initial exposure to the “business of design” and how their ideas, skills and education can begin to fuel businesses and economic development.
~ Words by Bryce Porter
~ Photos by Crystle Heppler