Hi-tech product design centre for Coventry University

Coventry University is to open a Centre for Excellence in Transport and Product Design next month.


Coventry’s School of Art and Design, which encompasses transport and product design, was one of three centres at the university to be awarded more than £9.5m of funding by the Higher Education Funding Council for England as part of its Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning initiative.


The centre, rather than having a designated or specially built site, is a set of facilities, including specially designed software and technology installed in designated studios around the school.


Karen Bull, director of the centre and senior lecturer in industrial design theory, explains that the remit of the centre is broad. ‘It will play a fundamental role in teaching spatial awareness, which is at the heart of a student’s learning and is part of their becoming a fully fledged product designer,’ she says.


Among the facilities are an Alias studio and Bunkspeed – suites of two- and three-dimensional software, which enable students to create prototypes that can be critiqued and modified immediately. The motion-capture studio within the centre focuses on ergonomics relating to movement, by using a special micro suit that collects 3D data, while students interested in boat design have a designated studio with equipment for this field.


Although the centre is primarily for students in the school of art and design, Bull says that it will extend its reach by fostering relationships with international universities such as Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the Pasadena Arts Center in California.


‘By encouraging international input and collaboration on projects with network partners, using tools like video conferencing, we hope to promote a cross-cultural exchange of 3D data,’ says Bull. Staff will also be able to use the centre in a similar vein.


Bull hopes that the centre will provide an alternative to industrial placements for students by giving them the opportunity to work on client-led and research-based projects. The centre has connections with organisations including Marcos Engineering, Solutia Europe and Fiat. Students work on a mix of real and competition briefs, such as a design competition with Ferrari Spa Goodwood Festival of Speed.


The long-term aim for the centre, says Bull, is to be fully sustainable when the HEFCE funding programme runs out at the end of five years.


‘By the time the programme finishes, we aim to hold events and symposiums for both higher education and the design industry,’ says Bull.


‘It is also important to say that the centre is underpinned by pedagogic research, meaning that we are creating “threshold concepts” that are vital for mapping out the path from student to designer,’ she says.



CENTRES FOR EXCELLENCE
• There are 74 Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning in the UK
• Six of these are in art and design (including University of Brighton, University of the Arts London and Coventry University)
• Funding of CETLs will total £315m over five years from 2005-06 to 2009-2010

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