Kiersten Muenchinger

Director, Product Design Program & Principal, Green Product Design Network
University of Oregon

Kiersten Muenchinger is the founding director of the Product Design Program and a principal of the Green Product Design Network at the University of Oregon (UC). Muenchinger researches new materials and their processing methods to understand when and why the newest materials technologies are accepted in mass-produced consumer products. She lectures on the intersection of materials, manufacturing and design in academia and business. She is an active member in the Industrial Design Society of America (IDSA) recently holding the education representative position for the Western District. Before joining UO as an associate professor, Muenchinger has been a design engineer with IDEO, Fitch, Sottsass Associatti, Walt Disney Imagineering and the Long Now Foundation, and she founded the company Parapluie. She received her master’s and bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from Stanford University and Dartmouth College, respectively.


2011 Young Educator of Year Award Statement

When Kiersten Muenchinger interviewed for the director position of the new product design program at the University of Oregon, it had no faculty, no students and a boilerplate curriculum that had been designed jointly by interior architecture and art professors. It could have been described as a dream design assignment. Or a nightmare. Perhaps both.

Kiersten could only see the dream. When she left her position as assistant chair of the California College of Arts’ ID department to take the post at Oregon in 2007, she brought 15 years of professional practice and a resume that included the words IDEO, Ford, Disney, Stanford and Dartmouth.

At Oregon she was tasked with developing and running ID programs on two campuses: in Eugene and in Portland. She went to work immediately writing new curricula, hiring colleagues, procuring and installing cutting edge manufacturing capabilities and building relationships with industry partners to secure corporate sponsors for the school’s senior studio. Also, she found time to have a baby during her first year on the job.

In addition to providing a steady hand in solving multiple growing pains faced by the new program, Kiersten co-founded the Green Product Design Network—a group of University of Oregon leaders working to advance the development of sustainable products. The network has been highlighted as a major strategic initiative for the university.

Under Kiersten’s direction, the product design program at the University of Oregon has matured rapidly to emphasize deep instruction in materials, materials application, product development, design for use and design for lifecycle. It now has more than 100 students and four full-time faculty.

Kiersten’s pedagogical credentials are unquestioned and rarely matched. But what stands out most in the testimonies from her students and colleagues is the force of her personality. Her unwavering enthusiasm informs an educational experience that covers all the complexities of the design process without dimming her students’ passion for design.