University of Michigan
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May 21, 2018

Business professor encourages collaboration in design class

June 9, 2014

Business professor encourages collaboration in design class

Faculty/Staff Spotlight

Topic: Campus News

Every summer, Bill Lovejoy dreams up a challenge for his Integrated Product Design students.

The product he’ll ask student teams to design must be a consumer project, since their creations will be judged at trade shows; it has to be doable, from idea to launch, in 12 weeks, the length of a semester; and it can’t require a lot of expenditure.

In past years, Lovejoy, professor of technology and operations in the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, has asked his students to design a deployable disaster shelter, dorm furniture for college students that could be produced locally, a kitchen that could be used by someone with only one hand, and a product to enhance a meal as a social occasion.

Teams consist of students studying business, engineering and art. Lovejoy, who also is a professor in the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design and co-director of the Master of Entrepreneurship program, says the program was inspired by Walter Gropius. He founded the Bauhaus, an art studio in Germany that brought together craftspeople, academics, and students to create art and architecture.

Bill Lovejoy shows a glass coaster design, the end result of a project involving his integrated product design students and homeless workers in Detroit. (Photo by Scott C. Soderberg, Michigan Photography)

“It’s a totally different animal when you put people from different worldviews together. No one discipline in isolation could succeed,” says Lovejoy, who runs the class with John Marshall, assistant professor in the Stamps School.

Lovejoy says that during design reviews, which happen halfway through the semester, “It’s not easy to identify who’s the business student, who’s the art student, who’s the engineering student, because they end up taking on qualities of each other through osmosis.”

The IPD course is in its 20th year, and two years ago, Lovejoy started to challenge students to use materials they could salvage from vacant lots in Detroit.

Students collaborated with the Rev. Faith Fowler, executive director of Cass Community Social Services, to get their ideas approved. The goal was to employ formerly homeless men to produce the designs in a reclaimed warehouse in Detroit as part of Cass’s Green Industries set of micro businesses.

Lovejoy asked his students to create a “turnkey operation,” or one that could be completely handed over to Cass without needing support from the students or Lovejoy.

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The winning design was an urban garden, a glass-and-wood dish for growing herbs, but mass-producing the design was an issue. The glass slumped too much and the skills to fix it were “way beyond entry-level,” Lovejoy says. “I was thinking, ‘What can we make that’s simple? That Cass could make tomorrow?’”

The students had already equipped the warehouse with glass-working equipment, and Lovejoy realized they had leftover strips of glass that could be cut into 4-by-4-inch tiles for coasters.

“I had to go on just one training trip, and the next time I went down there they told me about the improvements they’ve made. They’ve taken ownership of the creative process,” says Lovejoy.

One of Lovejoy’s favorite parts of his work is the opportunity he has to help communities, both in Detroit and here in Ann Arbor. Does he have a favorite student project? “I can’t answer that. It’s like asking me who’s the most beautiful person I know.”

Q and A

What moment in the classroom or lab stands out as the most memorable?

The annual trade show for the integrated product development class. It’s the culmination of an entire semester of really hard work.

What can’t you live without?

My wife.

What is your favorite spot on campus?

The art museum.  It stimulates me. If I just need a break, I’ll go over and spend 20 minutes in a random gallery. 

What inspires you?

At my age, giving back.  I’ve been incredibly lucky, so now is the time to give back to others who aren’t so lucky.

What are you currently reading?

“Fab,” by Neil Gershenfeld at MIT, who started the Maker Space movement.

Who had the greatest influence on your career path?

Matt Sobel at Case Western, and Roy Mendelssohn at the National Marine Fisheries Service in Hawaii.