Last week, RISD was the first art and design school to compete in NASA's 17th Annual Great Moonbuggy Race in Huntsville, AL and they didn't disappoint. The team of industrial design students took home the "Rookie Award" (for fastest course completion by a new team) and third place overall out of over 70 teams from around the world.
"Sponsored by the US Space & Rocket Center, the annual competition challenges students to design, build and race lightweight, human-powered vehicles that can whiz across a simulation of the rugged lunar landscape. Teams are judged by how quickly and easily their vehicles negotiate the twisting curves, treacherous gravel pits and other obstacles of a half-mile course riddled with some of the same challenges faced by Apollo-era astronauts in their lunar rovers."
The most interesting anecdote from the event, however, was not the impressive result by the RISD team but rather the commentary and the overall attitude presented by the interviewers in Huntsville. Throughout the entire video (above) the commentators continued to express their doubts in the team and their continued surprise that the team "had no engineers!"(and was doing so well?)
SPR (Small Pressurize Rover) Storage Concept. Erik Askin, RISD '10.
This experience is a testament to the continued sentiment that design is still largely regarded as an aesthetic discipline and that true innovation is to be left to engineers. Finally, the video closes with a great line (nearly muffled out by laughter) by one of the commentators that NASA should "consider hiring some Rhode Island School of Design graduates" with his partner sarcastically adding "why not, it could work."
Ironically, RISD industrial students have been consulting for NASA for years in the annual "NASA Studio" and several students and graduated have been hired as interns and full-time employees to join the NASA design team year after year. So... maybe it does work?
Willem Van Lancker is a product designer (UX) at Google with a passion for ethnography, maps, data visualization, and producing delightful user experiences.
Willem came to Google from IDEO where he worked as a communication designer focusing on understanding business systems and organizations through visual communication. Previous to IDEO, Willem worked for Apple, where he designed user interfaces for products including iPhone and iPad, and adidas, where he created new brand identities for various major league sports teams respectively.
Willem is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) with a degree in Graphic Design. While at RISD, Willem teamed with a small group of Brown and RISD students to create A Better World by Design, a now-annual three-day conference encouraging social and environmental impact within educational policy. He also served as a researcher and core member for RISDâ€™s Strategic Plan, charting a new course for RISDâ€™s academic programs and student life initiatives focused on how students of different disciplines can innovate through collaboration.
When he is not working on new innovations for Google, Willem can be found writing, sailing, playing squash (both the sport and the gourd), following English (and American) football, and occasionally regretting the decision to eat that bacon-wrapped hotdog from a food-cart in the Mission District.