Let’s Charrette, a design workshop sponsored by the Gruskin Group and the Michael Graves College at Kean University, was an all-day event full of design ideas, eager students from all design disciplines, and a group of 20 professionals who led the student design teams.
Students broke into teams while the clock ticked down to their final presentations.
For those not familiar with the term, ‘charrette,’ which means ‘cart’ in French, became a way of describing designers working up to their deadlines. In the 19th century, students at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris were transported from their studios to their design presentations in carts, where they madly rushed to finish their projects, hence the term ‘en charrette.’ Today, a charrette typically refers to an intensive workshop of a certain duration, attended by people of different disciplines or interests who collaborate on a design problem. Let’s Charrette was a four-hour mission to design and brand a mobile animal adoption space supporting animal adoption agencies’ mission of local community engagement and outreach to make pet adoption more accessible to all. The most gratifying part of this year’s Charrette was that adoption agency professionals gave students the opportunity to work on a real-world design challenge that the agencies could implement.
Jenn Lydell (far right) of Michael Graves Architecture & Design poses with her student design team.
Michael Graves Architecture & Design charrette mentors Jenn Lydell and Sal Forgione worked closely with faculty members and design students from many disciplines. Jenn and Sal left the charrette inspired to share their Top 5 Takeaways from the event.
1. Getting Uncomfortable Increases Diverse & Dynamic Solutions
The teams were made up of students in architecture, planning, interior design, product design and graphic design. Most students felt comfortable hashing through design challenges with their like-disciplined peers, but then realized they were venturing into uncharted territory when collaborating with students from other disciplines. We watched students learn to break the barriers of different design languages while working together towards a common goal. Students benefited from the cross-pollination that diverse design disciplines provide.
Detail of one of many design presentation boards.
2. The Michael Graves College Curriculum Encourages Students to Think Through Design on Paper
The design charrette was focused on conceptualization, big picture messaging, ideation and a gestural approach to creating a mobile pet adoption space. Ideation allowed students to make quick work of conveying concepts rather than focusing on the quality of renderings. Whether it was a truck out-fitted for animals, or a mobile application’s interface and social components, students drew through their ideas and presentations – ON PAPER! Students saw the power of getting ideas on paper to convey concepts to teammates quickly as they worked through their designs. Students learned that acting on an idea is just as important as the idea itself.
3. Budgeting Time & Energy is Critical to Successful Charrettes
Mentors and students worked tirelessly on concepts for the final presentation deliverables a large digital countdown clock loomed overhead on a projection display. Student designers were excited to develop logos, branding, and mobile application navigation, but very few students planned their four hours appropriately. We pushed our designers to approach this challenge and budget their time, starting the charrette with the end in mind while prioritizing the most important problems that needed to be addressed.
Sal Forgione (far left) of Michael Graves Architecture & Design works alongside student designers.
4. Roadblocks Don’t Change Deadlines
Students working together create a constant flurry of conceptualization, design options and alternatives. When the timer is ticking down, it can be frustrating to build consensus among group members. Students worked diligently, vigorously sketching and bouncing ideas off one another to avoid hitting a design roadblock. Mentors made themselves available to encourage workflow but it was up to the students to meet the deadline and clear design hurdles. Some students would get stuck on an idea but were encouraged by mentors to turn to their teammates for support.
5. When Working with Students Don’t Give Away the Answers, but Facilitate Thought & Conversation
During Let’s Charrette, the role of the mentor was not to provide answers to students, but rather enable creative problem solving. Our goal was to inspire students to think differently alongside fellow designers from different disciplines. Each mentor worked with a group of 8-10 students answering questions and weighing in on solving many different problems. We tried to encourage conversation and workflow with gentle guidance and support—UNDER THE PRESSURE OF THE DEADLINE! Mentors asked students thought provoking questions while keeping them on track to be prepared for when the buzzer rings and it’s time to present.
The event at the Michael Graves College at Kean University was extremely challenging, enlightening, and a great opportunity to work closely with the multi-faceted designers of tomorrow. We are already looking forward to next year’s charrette and the chance to work closely with Kean’s young designers and solve next year’s design challenge.