On Thursday evenings during early spring, PAA artist-educator Matt Beckwith worked with adult students at the Garfield Heights Branch of Cuyahoga County Public Library through their Encore Innovators program, part of the library system’s ENCORE Entrepreneurs initiative. This program exists to create educational opportunities for retirees so they can start a second career, or an encore to their first profession. PAA’s Introduction to Design Process & Process Development course exposed a small class of e adults to Adobe Illustrator, 3-D printing, laser cutting, and the basics of industrial design. Matt prefaced the instructional phase by sharing some examples of the design process. This helped the group think about not only the end product, but about how it would be used and what already exists that could be helpful to consider.
The class was presented this design challenge: think of a solution to a problem in your life. Matt suggested the students start with a problem statement and build on that. So, students asked themselves: What is my problem? Who has this problem, and finally, what is the form for this solution? A physical consumer product would solve the problem a user has. Some students were very literal, while others explored their challenge a bit more abstractly. A student named Abraham, who calls himself an amateur inventor, thought about how he would like a way to work with furniture stripping chemicals indoors so he could do it year-round, but the ventilation system he has at home isn’t powerful enough. He pared down to working on a tool to remove the sticky buildup that is a byproduct of the chemicals.
Once the students worked through the design process enough to have created paper maquettes, Matt led a tutorial on using Adobe Illustrator to show the group how to make a template that could be used in tandem with the laser cutter. This portion posed a challenge for those less versed in computer programs, and students quickly began collaborating for peer-to-peer troubleshooting while Matt and an assistant from PAA circulated to assist students one by one.
Like plenty of products on the market, some ideas were improvements on pre-existing ideas. For example, a participant named Jay identified wanting a scraper with sharper blades for removing ice from his windshield. Quick to learn, Jay was able to navigate Illustrator and first produced a paper maquette. For the first couple of weeks, a woman named Sharon also participated in the class. A personal focus for Sharon, hair care, inspired her design, however, the introductory nature of the workshop was a barrier to realizing the full potential of designs for her. A few of the participants envisioned complex products to prototype, but they didn’t yet have the skill set to create scale drawings to then produce a 3-D prototype. Sharon was a prime example of this. She aimed to create something to assist her in relaxing her long hair, but her idea was a bit too ambitious given the time frame and the scope of the materials on-hand in the Maker Space at the Garfield Hts. Library. Matt coached her on practicality, given the library’s laser cutter and 3-D printers’ limitations, and she was tasked with rethinking her design. Jay continued with weekly sessions and successfully prototyped a 3-D model using his original rendering to inform the scale.
Initially, there were nine students in the class- five women and four men. While the Encore Innovators program is marketed at retirees, the participants came from varying backgrounds and some were still involved in the active workforce. One of the students was looking to build on current entrepreneurial goals of creating a custom gift business. Without reinventing the wheel, she wanted to produce toys, ornaments, and picture frames to commemorate milestones, such as weddings. Another participant sought to find a flexible alternative to brittle CD cases. A third participant, Norm, applied a practical need to his design for a platform to hold several model train controllers. Norm was a bit ahead of the curve in class and worked from his own laptop, outfitted with Illustrator. He’d dabbled in the program and enjoyed exploring its possibilities. Ultimately, Norm was pleased that he created a model of his design using the laser cutter. During the final class, he spoke clearly of his plan to build a larger version of the prototype to use with his model train sets.
Since the first iteration of the Intro to Design series, evening classes with PAA have been held at North Royalton Library and the Parma Snow Branch of Cuyahoga County Public Library. A new session is scheduled for to begin this month at Mayfield Library, and into fall at Fairview Park Branch. PAA will also be leading this program next winter during the afternoon at Orange Library. These classes are presented at no charge to the public. For more information, please contact the Cuyahoga County Public Library branch you’d like to visit.