UI project flies high

UI project flies high

When their professor told them to go fly a kite, a group of University of Illinois graphic and industrial design students never suspected it would land in the Smithsonian Institution.
OK, UI industrial design Professor Mark Baskinger didn't really tell his students to go fly a kite.
The assignment was more along the lines of design and build ?a dynamic flying apparatus,? Baskinger said recently, with a national kite design contest in mind.
The students had all day to come up with something.
And that's all they had, because the huge, colorful, award-winning kite is a product of what Baskinger calls a ?Designatorium,? in essence a 10- to 12-hour design marathon with some unusual features.
For example, the subject matter is a mystery until the students arrive in the morning, Baskinger said.
They're also broken into teams of people who have never worked together and who come from across the graphic and industrial design disciplines.
Then, it's total immersion in the problem, from brainstorming through production of the prototype, without even stopping for lunch.
?It's kind of chaotic almost,? said Tamara Spenny, a junior in industrial design from Chicago.
When Baskinger first tried the event last fall, the topic was homelessness. Students came up with things ranging from temporary housing to lockers where homeless people could store belongings securely instead of carrying all their possessions with them.
For the second edition in January, the inspiration was a contest, sponsored by SMART Papers company, in connection with the Smithsonian's 37th Annual Kite Festival, to be held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., March 22.
Spenny was teamed with fellow industrial design student Rachel Buck of Champaign and graphic design students Jill Blandford, Annika Edstrom and Briana Nyman.
They doodled out all the bad designs they could think of first. With that out of their systems, they got down to serious sketching. Buck said Blandford was probably the first to sketch something like their final design.
That design looks more like a 9-foot-by-6-foot flying carpet than a run-of-the-mill kite. In actuality, it is made up of kite-shaped panels connected by filaments, kind of like a loosely joined quilt.
At the end of the day, all of the students in the Designatorium voted on the winning team.
Buck, Edstrom, Spenny and their colleagues finished second. But Baskinger encouraged all of the groups to enter the SMART Papers contest.
So they went back to the drawing board and improved the design, super-sizing it, adding a third color of panel, blue, to the red and gold already in place, and making other refinements.
In its first phase, the contest only required a photo. When they advanced and had to submit the real thing, the project went through another revision and fellow students and even some faculty members pitched in as volunteer labor, Baskinger said.
There wasn't even time for much of a test flight, although they did take it out and let it float briefly on the East Central Illinois breeze.
?It's fragile,? said Edstrom of Arlington Heights. ?It was made of paper. It captured air very well and it would have flown.?
Earlier this month, they learned that the kite was one of 32 finalists, culled from 500 entries, now hanging in the Smithsonian, the nation's museum.
?It's pretty special,? Edstrom said. ?I would never have expected this to happen.?
Edstrom said the experience was a good lesson in teamwork and working under pressure, which the five team members are getting a chance to apply already.
They're working together on a semester-long project for a design methods class looking at ways to make things better for people with failing eyesight.

You can reach Greg Kline at (217) 351-5212 or via e-mail at kline@news-gazette.com

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