Product Design program trains students to develop "torrent of ideas"

It’s one thing to come up with a great idea for a groundbreaking new product. It’s quite another to turn that idea into something that looks good, works well and that people want to buy.

<--break->A growing number of University of Oregon students learning how to do just that by studying Product Design, a program now starting its fifth year in the School of Architecture and Allied Arts.

Marcus Triest and Ryan Lynch graduated last spring from the program and now they’re trying to launch a product they developed together for a class. Students were asked to design a product that addressed a global health problem, and Triest and Lynch chose water.

What they came up with is a product they call JUAbag (jua is Swahili for sun),  which is designed to address the persistent problem of contaminated water in Sub-Saharan Africa, where 1.5 million children die each year for lack of clean water.

Women in the region walk for hours to get water, filling up water cans and lugging the water back home. Then they use the power of the sun to decontaminate the water, filling up two-liter pop bottles and leaving them out in the sun for two days.

The JUAag is a pouch with clear plastic on one side and black plastic on the other, a design that allows water to be decontaminated in just six hours.  The bag can be fitted with a single shoulder strap or two backpack straps, so the sun can decontaminate the water while a woman walks back to her home. The bag could also be hung or laid on the ground while the water is decontaminated.

“This solves two problems: transport and decontamination,” Lynch said.

Lynch and Triest are still refining the design, and are talking to several companies about manufacturing the bag. Materials to make a bag are estimated to cost $3 to $5, plus labor.

Lynch and Triest hope to develop other ideas as well.

“We’re a torrent of ideas,” Triest said.

“That’s what we’re trained in,” Lynch said.

Kiersten MuenchingerAssociate Professor Kiersten Muenchinger, who founded and directs the UO’s Product Design Program, said industrial and product design programs have seen “huge growth” over the past decade in the United States and around the world.

Oregon’s program was designed to graduate about 20 students a year, but that number has more than doubled, to about 45, Muenchinger said. This year, about 200 students are enrolled in the program. Students can earn a bachelor’s of science or arts in Eugene, and a bachelor’s of fine arts at the UO’s Portland campus.

The program is “a mix of aesthetics and analytics,” Muenchinger said. Students are given a grounding in the use, invention and production of manufactured goods, and learn about the history and practice of interior architecture, design and visual arts disciplines. They study both material and theoretical aspects of product design, manufacturing and design research.

She said the JUAbag is an idea “that has legs.”

“It’s simple, it’s direct, it makes sense,” she said.

That said, she said, Lynch and Triest are “in the 99 percent perspiration part. It’s just the start.”

Tim Christie