UW-Stout, Russian university collaborating on design projects

A partnership between UW-Stout and a Russian university is bringing an international perspective to collaborative design.

UW-Stout Associate Professor Jennifer Astwood teaches industrial design in the university’s art and design school. She’s played a role in an ongoing partnership between UW-Stout and the National University of Science and Technology, MISiS, in Moscow.

Yaroslava Barmenkova and Azamat Tavitov, two scholars from MISiS, visited UW-Stout for a two-week period this summer in which they collaborated with Astwood on wear-able sensory devices, which make pedestrians more visible to drivers.

Astwood says this collaboration was wonderful, as it allowed for diverse perspectives to enter the mix.

“They have a different way of dealing with the problem,” she told WisBusiness.com. “Culturally, they’re pretty ingenuitive with solving the problem; they won’t beat around the bush. They have really pushed me when I’m designing some concepts — and I do the same.”

Astwood introduced a new idea to the Russians as part of their work together: producing the devices with ceramic molds, which Barmenkova called a “priceless experience.”

Astwood says the wear-ables project in particular provided her students with a relevant problem to tackle, as many of them are often walking in low-light conditions. And, she added, there are opportunities on the market for wear-able sensory aids, because most people have to deal with this safety issue at one point or another.

“I think everyone experiences that,” she said.

The collaboration this summer was focused on low-fidelity prototypes — basically sketches and early models for how the devices could look. A working prototype will come in November, Astwood says, when she travels to Russia for a two-week teaching workshop.

MISiS has a master’s program in digital fabrication which is taught in English, Astwood said, but instructors don’t necessarily emphasize design in their curriculum.

“They have outside faculty coming in from all over the world to give them a sense of design and how to incorporate that,” she said. “So when I go over to Russia, I will be teaching a two-week course in conjunction with creating the prototypes.”

Last year, Astwood worked with Barmenkova and another Russian scholar to develop prototypes for lighting small spaces. Her device worked by sensing air blowing on the device, while Barmenkova’s used a motion sensor. Astwood presented this project to the Midwest Industrial Design district conference.

Astwood said she is working toward a study abroad program for summer 2018 to further improve collaboration between UW-Stout and MISiS, and the possibilities for a study area are wide open.

“We may focus on wear-ables; we may focus on something else entirely,” she said.

–By Alex Moe

Photo from UW-Stout