Auburn University Industrial Design

August 3, 2015
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Design Intelligence has consistently featured Auburn's industrial design program in its list of America’s Best Architecture & Design Schools. Although Auburn industrial design is a nationally distinguished program, many students confuse it with industrial engineering. Kathryn Klebenow and Joanna Waters, seniors in the program, admit that they often have to explain what industrial design means to other students. Many assume that if they are not engineers, they must be artists. (Photo courtesy of Kathryn Klebenow)

“Sometimes people think we just do arts and crafts, ” Kathryn says.

Ironically enough, what they do is find the perfect balance between engineering and art. Form follows function. This is their mantra.

Industrial designers are charged with the duty of making products better. “We improve functionality, aesthetics and marketability, ” Joanna explains.

The scope of industrial design is limitless.

“Imagine yourself walking into Wal-Mart. Take away all the clothes and all the food. We design all of those products. Plus more, ” Joanna says.

While that is a simple way to put it, Kat steers clear of explaining that way. In reality, Auburn’s industrial design students create more sophisticated products than what you would pull off a Wal-Mart shelf. Auburn design studios have been sponsored by companies like Vanity Fair Imagewear and even NASA to design products. While Kathryn and Joanna have no major clients this semester, last year they created product designs for Char-Broil and Emerson. (Photo courtesy of Joanna Waters)

Their work also transcends the boundaries of their curriculum. Last summer, they revamped a 1982 Volkswagen, creating a coffee house on wheels for Wake Up Coffee Co. At the same time, their peers were designing solar-powered cellphone charging stations for Hangout Mus... in Gulf Shores, Alabama. These “fourth years” have designed skateboards, gloves, clocks, grills, furniture and everything in between. And with style.

“For me, it’s a practical creative outlet, " says Kathryn. It’s serving others with my ability to create. I think art comes down to a technical process. You have to be able to see colors, shapes and forms. It’s the same with product design. You have to create something technical in order to get something beautiful.”

(Photo courtesy of Kathryn Klebenow)

But balancing form and function is not a simple task. Creating a functional product with visual appeal is sometimes like solving a long equation. For most designers, the first step is the same: sketching. Jo sketches a product based on how it will work.

“The first sketches are always terrible, ” she says.

The aesthetics have yet to be injected. Once Jo knows how it will function, she imagines how it can look better.

“But then that vision will change something about how it works. Sometimes you’ll want a curve there, but the internal component is square so that’s not going to work, ” Jo says.

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