Designing Across Disciplines

Design isn’t something only engineers and programmers do, or graphic artists and marketers, for that matter. At its most basic level, design is about solving problems for people by creating objects, systems and spaces.

That concept underlies Bucknell’s approach to teaching design, where it’s infused in courses throughout the University’s three colleges. It’s also the guiding principle behind a reimagined student club that was relaunched in the last academic year.

Formerly a graphic design club, the Bucknell Student Design Group aims to help student designers from across majors contextualize and improve their craft at each stage of their careers.

“What I’m interested in is designing for society — designing systems,” says Aung Pyae Phyo ’21, a markets, innovation & design major who helped restart the club and served as its president last year. “Systems design really shows how design can change thinking.”

One of the group’s first activities highlights the interdisciplinary nature of design at Bucknell. Hosted in collaboration with the Freeman College of Management and the College of Arts & Sciences, the weeklong ‘designathon’ challenged teams of students to help solve issues affecting the Lewisburg area using design.

“A designathon is basically a hackathon, but there’s no coding involved,” says Christina Yu ’22, a computer science & engineering major and physics minor who conceived the designathon and is the Student Design Group’s new president. “Our goal was to take students through the entire design-thinking process from research to ideation to prototyping and delivery.”

Students taking photo together
Photo: Emily Paine
Aung Pyae Phyo ’21 (left) and Christina Yu ’22 have helped bring together student designers from all disciplines.
It wasn’t a theoretical exercise. Each group participating connected with one of three community organizations to take on challenges these groups confront daily. During a week of “design sprints” interspersed with snap talks from faculty members such as Professor Collin Smith, markets, innovation & design, and Eddy Lopez, art & art history, students proposed novel, design-based solutions to real problems the organizations face, such as:

  • How can community pantries make food more accessible while meeting food-handling safety practices? (with the Union-Snyder Hunger Coalition)
  • How can public-health experts best communicate the dangers of COVID-19 for the TikTok generation? (with the Lewisburg Neighborhoods community group)
  • How can community and government groups reach the most isolated elders with information and support? (with senior-outreach group Union County Connect)

Yu says she was inspired to bring the designathon concept to Bucknell after taking a gap semester to teach herself UI and UX (user interface and user experience) design. She hopes to pay forward the help she received in hackathons and from others she connected with online by hosting more designathons with the group in the coming academic year.

“I want to be able to do for beginner designers what other designers have done for me,” she says. — Matt Hughes