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Making the pitch

Senior industrial design students pitch their products to an industry panel in a “Shark-Tank” event.

November 2, 2015

Senior industrial design students pitched their products to an industry panel on Oct. 26 and 28. Photo: Sara Hertwig
Senior industrial design students pitched their products to an industry panel on Oct. 26 and 28. Photo: Sara Hertwig

If you’ve seen the reality television show “Shark Tank,” then you know the drill. Do your research. Pitch your product. And see how the panel reacts.

That’s exactly what seniors from the Department of Industrial Design experienced last week when they pitched early-stage products to a panel of industry professionals in the Center for Advanced Visualization and Experiential Analysis.

The pitch-session – which offered “big ideas for small markets” according to an article in the Denver Post – was the culmination of a New Product Development Market Feasibility Project, one component of an upper-level studio course aimed at expanding student versatility. 

“Most designers have no problem generating ideas,” said Michael Caston, assistant professor of industrial design. “But that’s only part of our profession. This project helps students get familiar with the business side of the industry and what it takes to move a product from conception to market.”

Besides generating an idea and designing a prototype, students needed to think like entrepreneurs, conducting intensive market research to determine the feasibility of their products. This included analyzing current market trends, collecting consumer data, calculating production cost versus price point and assessing scalability.

“This project was a good mental exercise in the multidisciplinary thinking required from today's graduates and professionals,” said student Schuyler Livingston, noting that this type of multifaceted design approach was encouraged throughout the program.

Livingston designed a wearable device that translates the motion of American Sign Language into spoken English. Other notable student prototypes included a strider bike for people with limited mobility, a sleeping bag with a built-in pad and a machine that kills weeds using hot water generated by electromagnetic induction.

The panel, which featured local entrepreneurs, business professionals, engineers, marketing professors and one venture capitalist, offered feedback from a variety of angles. Each student’s project was ranked and those who placed first or second received extra credit for the class.

For Momo Hayashi, the feedback was invaluable. Hayashi designed an environmentally friendly full body air dryer with "smart" technology that could eliminate the use of towels.

“The critique was helpful because it validated my thought process of how the project was pursued, the marketability, as well as future steps that would be needed if pursuing the project further,” she said. “The experience has made me more confident as a designer."

Beyond the hands-on learning component of the project, students also got to show their skill, passion and work to people who are well connected in the field, building their professional networks as they prepare to enter the workforce. And who knows, if they happened to impress the right person, you just might see their products in your home in the not-too-distant future.

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