Kevin Bruggeman sits next to his virtual Zen temple. Photo Credit: Nicholas Youngblood

Inside the Urban Arts Space, there are usually paintings, sculptures, and installations made by art students at Ohio State. This week, however, there will be presentation posters, technical process books and video product displays.

Graduating students from the design program are showcasing the culmination of their studies this week at the Urban Art Space’s “Department of Design Spring Exhibition 2019.”

The 46 graduating undergraduates and 10 master’s students from the Department of Design had their thesis projects displayed at the gallery since March 27. The projects are intended to display the students’ problem solving skills, in addition to serving as the centerpiece for their portfolios, Paul Nini, an undergraduate studies coordinator for the department, said.

One of the most important elements was the “Alumni and Professionals’ Reception” last Thursday, where design firms from around Columbus gathered at the space to scout talented designers.

Despite being displayed in a gallery usually reserved for fine art pieces, design is a distinct field. Whereas art is about self-expression, Nini said design is focused on creating something useful for a consumer. Everything people use in their daily lives was designed by someone, be it a mug, a cell phone or a car. These designs are intended to take a product or service from functional to easily used.

“Most people just sort of assume [products] kind of magically appear,” Nini said. “Of course this is what a cup looks like because what else could it be? But there’s designers behind everything. Everything that exists has been designed.”

To this end, Ohio State offers three undergraduate degrees in design. They are industrial design, which focuses on the development of manufactured products; interior design, centered around the layout of commercial and interior spaces; and visual communication design, where text, image, print and digital interaction are the emphasis.

Alessia Espejo, a fourth-year in industrial design, thesis project involved creating feeding therapy tools for infants with motor, sensory, and cognitive disorders. These specially designed spoons were made in several different forms to accommodate the unique struggles of differently abled children. They were also made with their audience in mind, sporting bright colors and soft materials.

Espejo said the gallery was a perfect way to show off everything she had learned while doing a social good.

“I think it’s a nice way to wrap it all up,” Espejo said. “The fact that you’re able to stand there next to your work and talk to professionals and other people about it really helps in the networking aspect of things, I think. And it also — on the other hand — shows that design is more than making things pretty.”

Kelia Todd, a fourth-year in interior design, also wanted to use her skills to create something helpful. Todd said the interior design thesis is different from the others, in that students are tasked with designing a renovation of an existing building in nearby Franklinton to provide some kind of service.

Todd chose to turn an abandoned building into a women’s resource and rehabilitation center. She had to find ways that a building could help struggling single mothers and women leaving incarceration.

Todd said she spent the entire fall semester thinking of features to add to her building. It wasn’t until the middle of February that she realized she hadn’t considered enough of the needs of her hypothetical clients. She was given guidance by her coworkers at the architecture firm where she works.

“’What are potential issues that these women may have?’” Todd was asked. “’Just problems with women, period.’ And then once I ran out of stuff I could come up with I just started Googling, and researching and watching documentaries.”

This sort of research is common in a design project, Todd said. Designers must anticipate the needs of their potential users at every turn, meaning aesthetics are only a small part of the equation. This is why each thesis project must be accompanied by a process book that details the steps that were taken to determine what the design problem is and how it can best be solved.

Some of the research these students are conducting is already beginning to pay off. Kevin Bruggeman, a master of fine arts candidate in digital animation and interactive media, is planning on taking his thesis project beyond the classroom.

Bruggeman created a prototype of a virtual reality application that will teach users how to meditate through breath control and relaxing environments. With the help of Skylar Wurster, a doctoral student in computer science, Bruggeman has constructed a 3D virtual Zen temple where meditation exercises are guided by audio instructions provided by Dr. Ruchika Prakash from the department of psychology.

The technology is being developed into a full-fledged product for bedridden, chronic hospital patients, and Bruggeman said he is on track to have it released by this summer.

Even though his work is already opening new doors for him, Bruggeman said this exhibition is an integral part of the thesis process for grads and undergrads alike.

“It’s a celebration in one aspect, but it’s a showing of all the great things that are happening at Ohio State,” Bruggeman said. “And it’s a good way for the students to actually take their work out of this little bubble at Ohio State and put into the real world and talk to people about it.”

The “Department of Design Spring Exhibition 2019” runs through Saturday at the Urban Arts Space and is free to the public.