Community Engagement

Michael Caston, David Klein
Metropolitan State University of Denver


Michael Caston, MID, IDSA | David Klein
Metropolitan State University of Denver

Collaborative design projects between industrial design programs and community organizations offer many benefits and present several challenges. Community engagement is valued in higher education, and can be achieved through industrial design projects with either commercial or nonprofit partners, each option having their own specific advantages and disadvantages. 

The benefits of these projects include enhanced learning, broadened perspectives, and a natural increase in motivation by all participants. Students gain real-world experience that might be missing from purely academic projects. They are exposed to networking opportunities leading to potential future jobs/internships as they learn project management skills, ultimately strengthening their portfolio and résumé. Programs typically gain a monetary award for their involvement and faculty can use the projects to help fulfill their service and scholarly activity requirements. Sponsoring organizations benefit by connecting to a large number of talented minds with training and access to state-of-the art technology. This level of assistance might otherwise be very costly if provided by a private consulting firm. The design community also benefits as these projects often result in products that positively impact the human condition and contribute to an increased awareness and advancement of the industrial design field.  

The selection and implementation of these projects requires careful consideration of learning objectives for the students and program, and desired outcomes for the client. By understanding the differences between commercial and nonprofit opportunities, and gaining an appreciation of the preparation required, design educators will be able to make more informed decisions about which type of project is best for their class.