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Through empathy and design, MIAD students change daily lives of MPS students with special needs

Mar 28, 2019

MILWAUKEE (March 28, 2019) … In an emotional moment this week, Industrial Design juniors from the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design presented assistive devices they designed to individual Manitoba Elementary & Middle School students with special needs. The MIAD students have worked with the individual Milwaukee Public School (MPS) students to learn how to help them meet daily challenges and design solutions to improve their lives and make school a little easier. Devices MIAD students designed include:

learning board

Interactive learning board designed by Industrial Design junior James Brosnan

  • a grip to isolate a student’s finger and enable the student to use an iPad
  • a device with sensory items to help calm a student with anxiety
  • a fidget game to help engage students and help them focus on classwork
  • a board mounted to a student’s desk with interactive learning games
  • grips and holders to allow students to hold markers and painting tools independently

This project is part of a 24-year collaboration with MPS. The two-month, team-based collaboration exemplifies MIAD’s commitment to the Greater Milwaukee community and applying innovative solutions and emerging technologies to address design challenges.

“The project sensitizes students to consider all members of society as future design clients – the young and the old, the able-bodied and disabled – within an intensive, iterative process of needs assessment, research, concept and model development, and evaluation,” said Pascal Malassigné, FIDSA, MIAD Professor of Industrial Design.

finger-isolator design

Finger-isolating device designed by Industrial Design junior Zoya Chicks

Applying technology and creativity in design

MIAD students used resources college-wide – including 3D printers, laser cutters, the Textiles Lab, and the 3D and Sculpture Lab – to create their devices. After creating an initial design, MIAD students shared it with the MPS students and their teachers to gain feedback and incorporated the feedback into the final designs.

“It was a good opportunity to use resources available to students and expand my abilities with craft and materials. It’s also nice to do something for someone else and know it could help them the rest of their life,” said James Brosnan ’20, who used his personal experience with dyslexia to inform decisions he made while designing an interactive learning board that mounts to the student’s desk.

Zoya Chicks ’20 worked with a 4th grader to create a product that isolates the student’s finger to enable her to use an iPad. The 4th grader had been previously using a sock with a hole in it for this purpose. “The brace isolates the finger so the student can use the iPad with educational apps. I wanted it to be comfortable for her,” Chicks said.

chair designed by MIAD student

Original chair (left) and new chair and engagement band (right) designed by Industrial Design junior Gordy Russell

The project Gordy Russell ’20 designed originally included only an engagement band that helps a student with anxiety remain calm. After he met the student and saw her current chair, he decided to design a completely new chair and engagement band. He cut the chair on the college’s CNC machine and assembled it in the 3D Lab. He approached Permobil in New Berlin, Wisc., a company that develops and manufactures wheelchairs, for help creating the cushion and ensuring the materials used were comfortable and easily washable.

The MPS/MIAD collaboration was conceived and is carried out by Sue Loesl, MPS Adaptive Art Therapist, and Malassigné. Loesl retires at the end of this school year. Malassigné is an internationally known lecturer and author, and was a  research industrial designer at the Atlanta and Milwaukee Veterans Affair Medical Center for 30 years, devoting his non-teaching activities to designing assistive and mobility products for individuals with disabilities.

Collaborations with the community, businesses and nonprofits

This collaboration is one of many MIAD has with community, business and nonprofit partners. The collaborations help students gain the professional skills they need to launch successful careers, and benefit the clients.

Other collaborations include Communication Design and Illustration projects with 88Nine and Colectivo Coffee, and an Industrial Design project with Delta Faucet, which resulted in the company patenting an unprecedented 10 student designs this year.


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