Carnegie Mellon University

Integrated Innovation Institute

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Sketching collaboration

March 13, 2020

Drawn Together: Collaboration By Design

By Seth Apol

MIIPS alum Taylor Mau ('19) and MIIPS student Langley Vogt (Advanced '20) never shared a Carnegie Mellon classroom.

Taylor graduated from the MIIPS program at the Integrated Innovation Institute in the fall of 2019, just as Langley was finalizing her decision to come to Pittsburgh and join the MIIPS program.

After graduating, Taylor headed into industry with toy company Creativity Inc. as a product designer, but found that her ties to the MIIPS community remained strong.

Both Taylor and Langley came to MIIPS with educational backgrounds in engineering, but they felt handcuffed to their title of engineer and limited in their professional aspirations. They both chose MIIPS because of the integration offered by the program.

"I got into another program that was basically all engineers," Taylor recalls. "I really didn't want to do that."

Taylor wanted to learn directly from design peers in the program she chose: "I was able to grow a lot from learning from other designers."

After finishing her undergrad, Langley felt the same pluck of design intrigue that had nagged at Taylor: "I was deciding between working or graduate school, but I wasn't super wild about being a purely mechanical engineer and just doing CAAD all day."

Enter faculty member Professor Tim Cunningham, who noticed the educational and aspirational similarities between Taylor and Langley and did what any practicing designer would do: he drew a line from A to B.

Taylor, who had taken Prof. Cunningham’s Industrial Design course in the MIIPS curriculum, recalls Tim introducing her to Langley: "Tim reached out to me over email about Langley, a student who wanted to discuss the journey from engineer to designer."

Langley also recalls multiple MIIPS students in her cohort encouraging her to reach out to Taylor as a resource. It was Tim's recommendation that pushed her over the top.

"I wanted to improve upon my skills to convey my ideas, and what's in my head, on paper, quickly," remembers Langley. "That's what I wanted to improve on. I think Taylor also wanted to do that, so Tim just saw the opportunity."

After initially connecting over video chat, both students soon sought to collaborate on their design skills in a feedback-focused session under Professor Cunningham’s advisement.

Langley Vogt's Cup Design Sketches, from brainstorm to presentable product.An iterative set of Langley Vogt's sketches, from rough brainstorm to presentable product.

Each week, Taylor & Langley upload preliminary sketches to a shared platform. Prof. Cunningham then reviews their work and sets up a session on Saturday to discuss their work as a group. Neither anticipated the opportunity to work on their professional design skills in a deliberate, feedback-driven way.

Taylor recalls the challenges of improving in design without feedback: "It's really hard to judge your own sketch beyond, well I think it looks good." The Saturday sessions have helped her refine the work she's presenting to clients each week. 

The collaboration has been instrumental in Langley's MIIPS experience as well: "If I was in an industrial design course specifically, I don't know how much [it would be] customized to my engineering background. This collaboration has offered the chance to customize the sessions with Taylor and my backgrounds in mind."

Both students have added value to their MIIPS degree by leveraging the connection between alumni, students, and faculty in the iii community. 

And what does Professor Cunningham take from the collaboration? 

In his own words: "It's fun! We put afternoons in, they're so enthusiastic and they ask really good questions and they want to learn. It's just been a joy for me to be able to work with them." 

"That's my reward."

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