Product Design
Story by Ed Dorsch, BA '94 (English, sociology), MA '99 (journalism)
Exploring the art, science, and business of things that make life better

Product design majors create things we use every day: coats, couches, and computers. Also tools, transportation, and toys (the list goes on). Ultimately, the goal is to meet people’s needs in ways that make life easier, better, and more sustainable.

Every new product starts with an idea. But that’s just the start. Here, students collaborate to create novel ideas—for useful things, favorite things, even life-saving things.

Then they roll up their sleeves and get down to business. Course work includes consumer research, materials science, manufacturing, and more. An emphasis on professional networking, industry collaboration, design competitions, and internships helps prepare students for success.

Our Program in Product Design

Kundai Kapurura
“The innovative problem-solving mindset you develop in product design has a universal application. The skills that I’ve learned from executing a chair design, for example, can be translated to fashion design.”
Kundai Kapurura, junior from Salem, Oregon, sustainable business minor
Dream Career: Fashion or set design

Kapurura cofounded Philanthropy Phabrics, an upcycled clothing business that donates 10 percent of its profits to charity. She and her business partner Sophia Cobb use paint, patches, and embroidery to revitalize—and resell—used clothing.

For Kapurura, it’s a way to combine creativity inspired during the isolation of the pandemic with a commitment to affect positive change during this time of racial and social unrest.

Inspiration, Collaboration, Iteration

Students in a Product Design class hanging design ideas on a wall during a class review

Forget the myth of the lightbulb moment. Innovation comes from hard work, teamwork, and multiple drafts.

Product design students start with ideas, then refine them (a lot). They get feedback from their peers, as well as faculty members with industry experience. Then they try new directions and work on their designs until they’re done. Pro tip: Your product design is never really done.

Here, your classroom might be a workshop or a studio. And what you do in class is close to what you’ll do as a professional. Through a challenging creation process, students build prototypes—and impressive portfolios.

Noah Conklin, sophomore from Carmel, California and Denmark
“Product design was the main reason I came to the UO.”
Noah Conklin, sophomore from Carmel, California and Denmark

Dream Career: Furniture design

For Conklin, choosing a university was challenging. “I was indecisive,” he recalls. “I was into art and the creative process—building, making, drawing. When I stumbled across product design at the UO, it looked like what I had always wanted. I didn’t even know product design existed, but I loved how it sounded. I was sold.”

The program turned out to be everything he’d hoped for, says Conklin. The product design major has helped him improve his creativity, focusing it to accomplish tangible goals.

Student creating a sewing pattern in a room with fabric swatches around them

UO undergraduates can earn a bachelor of fine arts in product design, and majors spend their final year at the UO’s Portland campus. Students learn about materials, idea generation, prototyping, and manufacturing. Rigorous academic requirements include consumer research, design history and theory, and more.

When they’re not hitting the books, product designers are making things. They fabricate steel and mold ceramics and plastics. They use old-school woodworking tools and cutting-edge 3D printing. And they collaborate with industry partners to explore real-world problems and practical solutions.

Product design majors also join a creative community, collaborating to discover solutions for global design challenges. Sustainability is a program cornerstone. Students and faculty explore greener manufacturing solutions, as well as products that promote sustainable living.

Graduates have gone on to work at Nike, Columbia Sportswear, Tesla, and Intel. Many have also launched their own businesses. Graduate students can pursue a master of science program in sports product design at the UO’s Portland campus.

Morgen Olsen, senior from Portland, Oregon
“I love the creative freedom, opportunities to explore different media, and working with my hands.”
Morgen Olsen, senior from Portland, Oregon

Strength of the Program: “Faculty with industry experience who can offer insight into what will make us successful after graduation, help with our portfolios, and connections with designers.”

For Olsen, independence is both a challenge and one of the best aspects of product design. There’s no right or wrong solution for any design problem, she says, and success requires self-motivation. Olsen is currently working with College of Design Dean Adrian Parr on display structures for an exhibition on transpecies design at the 2023 European Cultural Centre's biennial architecture exhibition in Venice, Italy.
Tamara Alarcon Basurto, junior from Lima, Peru, entrepreneurship, and art minor
“I can see things that don't exist but could. I want to create products that can enact fundamental change in people’s lives.”
Tamara Alarcon Basurto, junior from Lima, Peru, entrepreneurship, and art minor

Favorite Class: PD 240, Design Tools

Creativity often comes from observation, Alarcon Basurto says. For example, after watching preschoolers struggle with their backpacks, she’s sketched out some ideas for a better bag.

Her fingerless arm glove concept could someday help people with essential tremors or advanced Parkinson’s disease live more independently. By using elastic to add resistance to arm and hand movements, she hopes to make it possible for users to eat, hold objects, and write.

Overhead view of a student prototyping a shoe

We Mean Business

Graduates of the UO’s Product Design program have gone on to work for:

  • Adidas
  • Columbia Sportswear
  • Intel
  • Levi Strauss & Co.
  • Nike
  • Ruffwear
  • Tesla
  • West Elm Furniture

 

Trygve Faste Director, Department of Product Design
“Your first idea always seems really good, but how can you help students come up with 20 really good ideas, so they have options? My strengths lie in helping students practice and become better at conceptualizing their design ideas.”
Trygve Faste
Product Design Department Head
Tim and Mary Boyle Chair in Material Studies and Product Design

Faste has designed for Hasbro, IDEO, John Deere, FakeSpace, Tiger Electronics, and other companies. He studied mathematics, studio art, and computer science at Whitman College and earned a master of fine arts in painting at Cranbrook Academy of Art. He’s exhibited his furniture and paintings internationally and was the 2015 recipient of the Industrial Designers Society of America’s Young Educator of the Year award.

Senior Capstone Projects

Mila Penrith / Anisoptera biometrically engineered chair joint

Yaw Agyemang / Phantom Knight shin guard

Robbie King / Ansel! compact digital camera and companion app

Will Whiting / Water Bear emergency preparedness backpack

Abi Carlson / Oh Sugar eating app for ADHD

TJ Low / Cruise Control heads-up automotive display

Erasmo Delgado / Emotion Stones aid for children with autism spectrum disorder

Audrey Zerr / Elio circadian lighting

Anna Geffen / Sellie Montessori-inspired toys

Top, L-R:
Mila Penrith / Anisoptera biometrically engineered chair joint
Yaw Agyemang / Phantom Knight shin guard
Robbie King / Ansel! compact digital camera and companion app

Center, L-R:
Will Whiting / Water Bear emergency preparedness backpack
Abi Carlson / Oh Sugar eating app for ADHD
TJ Low / Cruise Control heads-up automotive display

Bottom, L-R:
Erasmo Delgado / Emotion Stones aid for children with autism spectrum disorder
Audrey Zerr / Elio circadian lighting
Anna Geffen / Sellie Montessori-inspired toys

View All Capstone Projects

Nico Floresca, senior from St. Louis, Missouri
“The UO offered a more holistic experience than an art school. That, plus the connections to the sportswear industry in Portland made my choice a no-brainer.”
Nico Floresca, senior from St. Louis, Missouri

Head Start: Floresca was obsessed with footwear innovation in grade school. When he asked his graphic designer parents how athletic footwear was created, they explained what product designers do—starting him down a path to success.

During a summer, 2021 internship at Levi Strauss & Co., Floresca worked with a research and design innovation team focusing on sustainability. It went so well, they offered him a job starting after he graduates.