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IU students majoring in comprehensive design build, create in real-time



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The comprehensive design class stands on the roof of the West Baden Springs Hotel near Paoli, Indiana. Comprehensive design, a major within the School of Art, Architecture + Design, was created a little less than two years ago to fill the gap between different areas of design offered. Courtesy Photo Buy Photos

Comprehensive design, a major within the School of Art, Architecture + Design, was created a little under two years ago to fill the gap between different areas of design offered.

The interdisciplinary program allows students to explore different disciplines within design, ranging from furniture to the urban environment according to School of Art, Architecture + Design's website. 

“It is a liberal arts approach to design and is meant to be less about products and more about process,” Jon Racek, the major's area coordinator, said in an email. “The degree is a solution-based approach to solve messy real-world problems using human-centered design."

Last semester, students in School of Art, Architecture + DesignC-380 Topic Issues: Comprehensive Design went to Paoli, Indiana, where they were asked to design a playground for the town. 

“We did research and interviews in the predesign phase and we each drafted our own site maps, both through sketches and digitally through a software called Rhino,” said Emily Koetter, a sophomore comprehensive design major. “Then we presented to stakeholders a final design and a full budget of the park.” 

The students found that they had to respect the ideals of the Paoli residents. Among these was a certain love for the old days, while looking forward to the present in order to grow, junior Cole Daly said. 

Daly said he worked on some projects for the park which included designing mounds that would be accessible for multiple purposes. He said the mounds looked like sculptures in their design and could be used to sunbathe, run on and crawl through.

The students are now finished with their Paoli playground project. The town will now pick and choose from designs to build the park, Daly said. Once the town finalizes a budget and gets funding, he said the park should be developed as a real thing. 

When people ask what one does with a liberal arts degree, Daly said it’s good to have an answer ready for them.

“You don’t have to stick to it, but it’s important to have a goal in mind and understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it,” Daly said. “It is easy to do a lot of this design work, and it’s fun to sketch, but having an idea of where you want to go with it helps a lot.” 

Along with school activities this semester, Daly plans to flesh out some of his side projects outside of the classroom. These extracurricular projects include cutting out a chair design he created and finish working on a design for a lamp he started in the fall. 

This spring the comprehensive design major is offering two studio courses, one of which will involve IU’s Center for Rural Engagement. Students in the other course will be designing objects for a community in Rwanda, where Racek said he set up a 3D-printing lab last summer. 

“I like to think of comp design as the major for misfit designers,” Koetter said. “We have unique abilities and career goals that don't align with any one craft and we're proud of that. We focus on a breadth of things as opposed to depth in one area.” 

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