Phi Nguyen, MArch I 2016
Summer 2015
Organization: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York, NY, USA
Sponsor: Harvard Club of New York Fellowship

“I am fortunate enough to have had the chance to research content for the Process Lab. New at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum (New York City), this educational space on the first floor of the museum engages and appeals to both designers and the general public; to adults and children alike. The Lab reflects the museum’s new philosophy that focuses on the design process, transforming visitors into active participants “using new technology for a more engaged social experience.” The first iteration emphasizes the steps of product design, and the space allows visitors to “play designer” using physical and digital tools. Entering the Lab, visitors immediately encounter a chart that invites design novices as well as experts to map their design expertise and to see themselves as designers. Through an exploration of IDEO’s Iomai Needle-Free Vaccine Delivery prototypes, the visitor sees how the design process is broken into four steps: Define Problem, Getting Ideas, Prototyping + Making, and Testing + Evaluating, They can brainstorm ideas through design challenges, create prototypes with light at a making station, and improve a product’s design at a digital table using Cooper Hewitt’s new digital pen.

The Lab is a collaboration between the museum’s education and curatorial departments. The goal of the space is to educate and engage visitors through design activities, which provide them with a foundation for better understanding design concepts presented in the museum. As the museum explores future iterations, my team has been looking at the various processes used by architects, urban planners, product designers, graphic designers, and community organizers. From our research, I discovered that some of the distinguishing features of the community design process—the likely focus of the Lab in 2016— are a deep understanding of community needs, effective use of limited resources, and strong local engagement. These aspects of the process help me to consider design more comprehensively and to acknowledge that innovation is about more than the applications of new materials or technology.”