Best in Class: Top Student Designs That Are Ready for the Real World

Graduating design students cross disciplines to produce surprisingly mature solutions.

Practical concerns being as relentless and constraining as they are, design students can be forgiven for sometimes having their heads in the clouds. However, the design profession is pragmatic by nature—while thoughtful experimentation is certainly welcome, real-world design has little room for the truly pie-in-the-sky.

With that in mind, we present our list of seven end-of-year projects from some of the best design schools around the world. From a portable system for disaster readiness to a whimsical three-dimensional wallpaper, these diverse projects have a rare quality in common: they are all ready to be realized.

Hikaru Imamura
Bachelor of Design, Man and Activity
Design Academy

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Imamura’s first idea was to design a memorial for victims of the 1995 earthquake in the Japanese community of Mano Town, Kobe City, but after March 2011’s quake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis, her thoughts turned to more practical endeavors.

Imamura’s emergency kit brings portable warmth to refugee sites. A steel drum, painted crisis-red, contains emergency provisions such as a cooking pot, freeze-dried rice, fuel for a fire, and water that can be used for both cooking and drinking. Light, compact, and easy to store and transport, the drum converts into a stove once its supplies are unpacked. In addition to heating water and food, the fire brings comfort.

Albert Pereta
MFA, Designer as Author
School of Visual Arts

“The way I see it, every project is like an iceberg,” Pereta says. “There’s the tip, the smallest part, the final result. And then there’s the part underneath, the working process itself.”

To ensure that you don’t run aground in an ocean of online information, Pereta designed, a Web application that allows a variety of digital files to be placed in cloud-based storage. What’s new is that, rather than separating, say, sketches from presentations because different software was used in their creation, allows users to organize materials by project, through an intuitive system that can help create fresh connections and insights. “It’s all about asking the right questions,” Pereta says.

Jessica Karle Heltzel and Tim Hoover
MFA, Design
Maryland Institute of Communication Arts

Heltzel and Hoover’s senior thesis project started as a blog called 100 Days of Design Entrepreneurship. The response was so positive that the titular 100 days flew by, and the project, renamed Kern and Burn, blossomed into an online magazine and cross-pollination zone for the business- and design-minded. A book that documents the stories of design entrepreneurs through interviews, articles, and essays is also under way—using Kickstarter, the duo has already raised more than double the funds it needs.

“Our primary goal has always been to inspire others to follow their passions,” Heltzel says. “We’re happy that people have turned to Kern and Burn as a resource that helps them to take ownership of their work.”

Nicholas Hunt
Yale School of Architecture

The problem of dealing with historical or landmark sites is intensified in Venice, where the universal presence of water—no friend to ancient building materials—makes things dicey. Venice is “the epitome of the boundary city,” says Hunt, who designed an inserted-armature system to stabilize the aging Arsenal structure in the city’s northeast corner. Once a military shipyard, the Arsenal now finds itself hosting public functions, including the Biennale. Hunt’s intervention, which includes a connecting bridge, galleries, and an auditorium, honors the historic and contemporary uses of the place, but is designed to be both practical and discreet.

Aarti Kathuria and Srikriti Sreedhar
MA, Interior Architecture
Rhode Island School of Design

Wallpaper isn’t usually designed to be particularly multipurpose or interactive, but Kathuria and Sreedhar’s Tactile Stars is set to change that. Their playful pattern consists of colored acrylic parts that are hinged with metal rivets; users can manipulate the individual pieces to transform the entire design according to their whims. The stars are backed with suction cups that can attach to a variety of surfaces, such as smooth walls, windows, or mirrors, but the system can also be hung as a room divider.

Yasemin Uyar
Master of Industrial Design
Pratt Institute

“Transformation,” Uyar says, when asked about the chief inspiration for her Crescendo dinnerware. “There is a dynamic relationship between the pieces of the set, and the gesture of the set completely changes according to how they are arranged. If the edges are aligned, it’s very subtle and peaceful. But if they’re spread, it transforms them into something playful.”

It’s a fitting aesthetic achievement for an artist who says she chose industrial design because it was “the most hands-on and versatile” of all the design disciplines. Uyar plans to start her own firm after graduation, with a focus on “designs that make users happy.”

Nicholas Paget, Emile de Visscher, Cristophe Machet, and Audrey Gaulard
MA, Innovation Design Engineering
Royal College of Art

Unlike wood, paper, or even glass, plastic has never been suited for handcrafting in small-scale work-shops. Plastic goods are mass-produced in factories, with manufacturing processes that are often controlled by computers.

“Sadly, there is no shortage of waste plastic. And because of a lack of handheld tools, waste plastic is difficult to transform,” says Paget. In an effort to change that, he and his collaborators invented The Polyfloss Factory, a multiuse product similar to a cotton candy machine, that spins discarded polypropylene into a usable raw material. The team envisions a number of retail and educational applications for their gadget. “We want to see a machine in every workshop,” Paget says.

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