October 6, 2011
Designing a future: Students gain international design experience, cultural knowledge
Classroom experience and test scores may be the keys to earning a degree, but an understanding of cultural sensitivity and global practice may help land a dream job. Students in Kansas State University's interior design program are gaining both skill sets as they design a project from a continent away.
Since last year, students in Hyung-Chan Kim's senior level interior design studio have worked each fall semester with Sangmyung University students in Seoul, South Korea, to design a business kiosk in each other's home country.
Kim, an assistant professor in apparel, textiles and interior design, said the project was designed to give students an understanding of global competency.
"They learn from each other -- both the design processes and approaches that each country uses, as well as the differences and similarities in their cultures," he said.
For years, students have completed international design projects for the course, but until last year, they were simply an exercise with no actual contact made with the other country. After Kim visited South Korea in May 2010 to develop a relationship between K-State and Sangmyung University, the students' experience with cultural design has improved. Now students from both countries work together to design the kiosks, which vary in location only -- but that can be a big difference.
"They have the same assignment and each kiosk goes in an outdoor location, but each set of students must consider culture differences, noise levels at the location and accessibility," Kim said.
The kiosks are not actually built, but are designed using strict specifications. The fictitious client is LG Electronics, Kim said, chosen because it is a global company. The kiosk is meant to hold small LG products, like cellphones. This year the kiosk must incorporate 3-D cellphones.
Barbara Anderson, head of the department of apparel, textiles and design at K-State, also stays involved with the project. She said the 19 students in the K-State class and the 18 students in South Korea had to follow several parameters. The kiosk must have the capacity to be locked up at night, to be disassembled if need be and produce its own power.
"They have to make sure they're providing for human comfort and accessibility," Anderson said. "Size limitations also come into play when considering the venue."
The South Korean students are designing their kiosk to be placed in an outdoor area at Crown Center in Kansas City, Mo., while the K-State students are designing their kiosk to be placed in a similar outdoor area in COEX Mall in Seoul. Working together from a continent away has made the use of technology a necessity. Kim said the students constantly communicate through Facebook, email and Skype. The two groups also connect via videoconferences throughout the semester, courtesy of K-State's TELENET services. Because of the 14-hour time difference, the videoconferences are at 7 p.m. for the K-State students, which is 9 a.m. in South Korea.
Each group put together a video presentation about the kiosk locations, detailing specific points of interest that the designers across the world would need to know as they worked. Through images of crowded walkways, busy shops and towering advertisements, the students began to get an idea of what their kiosk would need.
Kim said the students recently got together through videoconference to present their context analysis videos to the other side. Next, their brainstormed concepts will be turned into a designed reality. On Oct. 27, the students will squeeze in front of the cameras once more to present their final concept.
Both Kim and Anderson said the process has been rewarding, but some of those rewards have come from working through problems. Although the teleconference was done in English, K-State students had to learn to speak slowly and watch their use of slang. They also had to adapt to the use of the metric system for their measurements, which Kim said would be beneficial.
"In their field, when they work on international projects, they will have to use the metric system," he said. "This kind of understanding is important to our curriculum."
K-State students say they enjoy the universal design process and like using the same communication methods and design diagramming. Ginny Robinson, a senior from Prairie Village, said they are currently learning about anthropometrics for the kiosk, which is challenging when considering differences in stature. Her classmate, Jillian Carl, a senior from Dallas, Texas, said that project helps keep their passion for the field alive.
"Being in a program for four years with the same group of students and professors, it's easy to get stuck in the same pattern of designing," Carl said. "Seeing how others approach design forces you to reevaluate your own approach and begin to try new things."
Students are learning more than simply understanding international design, but the culture as a whole. Before starting this project, Kim said he asked the students what they knew about Korea. "They only knew about North Korea and its political problems," he said. "Now, they know about the Koreans' great work ethic, their high level of technology as well as their political issues."
Anderson said for K-State's interior design program to retain its Council for Interior Design Accreditation approval, students must have a global awareness of interior design, making this project a significant experience. "This projects helps create the sensitivity and capacity to learn about global practice," Anderson said. "We're taking down borders that were created by location."