Kendall College design students learn from the pros


Kendall student Luke Davis, left, shows his prototype to Grand Rapids Ophthalmology lab manager Tim Wasko and optical buyer Camille Tyler. Courtesy KCAD

Luke Davis, a senior design student at Kendall College of Art and Design, had the opportunity to present eyewear designs to experts from Grand Rapids Ophthalmology. 

He is one of six advanced design students who presented their prototypes as part of a collaboration between Kendall College and GRO.

During the 15-week collaboration, the students designed a “family” of three pairs of eyewear, and GRO supplied critiques, technical information and supplies, such as samples of lenses students could use in their prototypes. The students were invited to a GRO laboratory to learn about how lenses would be put into their frames.

The collaboration with GRO came about when Tom Edwards, the Kendall College professor of the class, was at an eye appointment and mentioned the future project. The doctor said GRO would like the opportunity to collaborate. Within a couple days, the company sent him a list of people who wanted to be involved.

During the first few weeks of the class, the students did research and explored ideas that would work for their projects. They developed and redeveloped designs; the final product is a prototype created by a 3-D printer at a Kendall College lab.

The students were challenged to make sure the frames were ergonomically sound, manufacturable, comfortable, fashionable and cost-effective. They also were told to define the “family” of eyewear in terms of how each of the styles would be used. 

Davis wanted to create a highly functional family of eyewear inspired by “modern adventure.” The three prototypes were based on aquatic, safari and arctic themes. 

“A lot of them had a lot of good ideas,” said Tim Wasko, GRO’s lab manager. “They were very open to feedback and suggestions.”

Wasko said he was contacted by colleagues who said he would be a good person for the collaboration because of his practical experience.

He said one of the biggest pieces of advice he had was to make sure the frames weren’t complex to the point of being nonfunctional. 

Davis said there was a lot to learn from people who are so experienced in their field.

“The biggest benefit was understanding the manufacturability and how things are assembled,” he said.

During the students’ four years in the design program, the intention is for them to work with real companies to enrich their portfolios and give them a sense of how different industries work, according to Edwards. 

The process of industrial design is universal, he said, so students can apply what they learn to their work in any company. 

Edwards has been teaching at Kendall College for 26 years and has led many collaborative classes with companies such as Bissell, Whirlpool and Tiara Yachts. This is the third time doing the eyewear project. The first two times, he worked with an eyewear businesses based in Holland. 

There’s no formal contract involved in the collaborations. Edwards said companies usually participate to “give back” and also to get a set of “young eyes” to look at problems in the industry.

“The companies are really generous in wanting to collaborate,” Edwards said.

These projects, a lot of the time, result in internship or job opportunities for the students. Edwards said there are more industrial design jobs in Michigan than in any other state. 

Edwards is retiring at the end of this semester, but he said Kendall College is doing a search for someone to take over his position.

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