Designing minds get real-world experience

If you’ve ever reached into the bottom of a pungent-smelling hockey bag to retrieve a piece of equipment, you’ll appreciate the role industrial designers played in creating a stand-up bag complete with handy shelves and compartments, as well as air-dry vents.

The bag has been such a hit with hockey moms and players alike that its designer and manufacturer, Grit Inc., has assigned Humber College industrial design graduate Lee Renshaw the task of readying a second generation of the bag for production. It will include a garment bag available in team colours.

Also on Grit’s agenda is a soccer bag featuring a fold-out seat with wheels. It will also feature a rain cover and water bottle holder and all seats will hook together to form a bench.

The assignments are right up Renshaw’s alley. “I’ve always liked designing and thinking about the new and best thing I can come up with.” He contemplated engineering but after spending time at his engineer father’s workplace, knew it wasn’t right for him.

Humber College’s industrial design degree fit the bill. Students in the four-year Bachelor of Applied Technology program learn how to identify and fulfill needs, generate innovative ideas with preliminary sketches and designs, and bring ideas to life through the creation of 3D models and prototypes ready for mass production.

A 400-hour paid co-op placement falls between third and fourth years. Renshaw completed his with Edson, a company that designs machinery for automated packaging machines.

“My job was to make them look cool and work more functionally and more ergonomically,” he says. “I worked with engineers to design a machine with a three-axis arm that picks things up and puts them into boxes.” The product was featured in several trade magazines.

“It was challenging but a great learning experience. I had to do presentations in front of German investors. It gave me a lot of real-world experience,” Renshaw says. “I was a lot more confident after completing my co-op … You go into fourth year and can really nail down and practise the skills you’ve learned.”

A school project to create a café chair using four fasteners was also rewarding. “An industrial designer has to be very flexible and quick to learn new subject matter,” Renshaw says. “If you’re working in a firm, you could work on a lampshade one day and a car seat the next … School did a really good job of preparing us for that.”

In addition to the hands-on component, the applied degree program includes courses in marketing, economics and design management.

No shortage of co-op contacts

An industrial designer, a cross between an engineer and an artist, must think and design in 3D. A 400-hour co-op placement is key to Humber College’s industrial design degree program.

“It sets them up very well for their thesis project in the last year because it gets them used to working to industry standards and it also sets them up for the challenge of going out and finding a job,” faculty member Bruce Thomson says.

“A co-op is actually a dry run for working in the industry environment and for a job application.”

Humber has a database of potential employers. “We also maintain very close industry contacts so there are lots of sponsored projects and quite often co-ops come out of those sponsored projects,” Thomson says.