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Design@Michigan Convening

On Friday, April 21 2017, Guna Nadarajan, Dean of the Stamps School of Art & Design, brought together over 60 faculty members, deans, and leadership from across the University of Michigan campus to discuss and enhance the University’s capacities in design in an inaugural “Design@Michigan” convening.

According to Nadarajan, the fact that design is being taught and deployed in research and creative works across multiple units on campus has powerful potential for competitive positioning, scholarly research, and social impact.

“This meeting seeks to gather leadership and faculty involved in a broad range of design-related initiatives,” Nadarajan stated. “We’re getting to know one another and asking: ‘What are the ways we can collaborate? And what can we do to sustain these interactions?’”

As home to the university’s human-centered, transdisciplinary MDes in Integrative Design graduate program, the Stamps School has a curricular methodology steeped in cross-disciplinary collaborators, stakeholders, and partners as a way to imagine and give order to objects and systems. John Marshall, PhD, directs the MDes program at Stamps. “We work in real-world collaboration, integrating multiple viewpoints,” Marshall stated. “The MDes program sees design as process oriented; design as a verb rather than a noun.”

During the round-table portion of the event, the diversity of experience and expertise between potential collaborators at Michigan was on full display. Architects, anthropologists, authors, urban planners, process designers, product designers, informatics professionals, user experience designers, materials designers, industrial designers, ergonomics investigators, law professors, computer scientists, medical professionals, and disability studies researchers were a sampling of the disciplines and approaches represented from across twelve U-M units.

In addition to information sharing and collaboration seeking, participants at the Design@Michigan convening sought to identify overlapping areas of focus between design-related initiatives with an eye for understanding the strengths, gaps, and potential for synergy. Jack Hu, Vice President for Research at the University of Michigan, assured the group that the Office of Research plays a helpful role in such efforts. In addition to funding projects through MCubed initiatives, Hu reported that the Office of Research is working on the development of a web-based “matchmaking” platform for campus collaborators/projects. Hu spoke of his desire to see Design@Michigan meetings continue. “The Office of Research is committed to making regular interactions possible,” Hu stated. “It’s part of how we can continuously support and enable faculty research.”

Report outs on small group discussions reiterated the need to increase faculty networks, along with other key ideas including the need to support the two significant models emerging on campus: “design-as-making” and “design-as-process.” Faculty discussions also included ways to incentivize the collaborative imperative for faculty; ways to support students outside of the classroom though funds, mentorship, and dedicated teaming space; and the need for a centralized repository for all design-related courses across campus.

Positioning was also addressed during the small group discussions. Diann Brei, Director of the Design Science MS + PhD program at the College of Engineering stated, “Many universities across the world are known for imparting a particular design style. But here at Michigan, we have a lot of people and multi-faceted approaches. This is a great strength.”

Before adjourning, the group asserted a desire to meet regularly and to stay connected via digital means throughout the year. Nadarajan drew the Design@Michigan meeting to a close by reiterating the main objective for the convening: “Especially in a large university like ours, with so many people doing similarly oriented things, it’s absolutely important that we gather and share.”

To learn more about Design@Michigan, please contact Pat Hodges at phodges@umich.edu.