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Design’s Woelfel Guides Students Through PAVE 3D Challenge

Published: March 1, 2013

Two CSULB Design majors, guided by Assistant Professor Wesley Woelfel, were recognized by the Planning and Visual Education Partnership (PAVE) as finalists in the 2013 PAVE the Way 3D Design Challenge sponsored by Van Stry Design. Winners will be announced in April.

One of CSULB’s Design Department strengths is the opportunity it offers to students to build what they create, said Woelfel, a member of the university since 2008 who earned both his B.S. degree in industrial design in 2002 and his M.A. degree in 2004 from CSULB. “Building a design helps students learn the craft and also builds their skills,” he explained. “Seeing a design built as realistically as possible helps students assess their designs in the real world. However, sometimes a design project gets constrained by costs and time. In the 2012-13 PAVE the Way 3D Design Challenge, the top 12 finalists get to have their designs realized and built by professional fixture design and manufacturers. This is normally a very expensive process, costing thousands in materials and production time. By running competitions such as these, our students have the opportunity to see their designs professionally produced, something that most students do not have the resources for.”

Alice Huang of Long Beach and Eric Yates of Huntington Beach were distinguished for their design of a functional headphone display as well as a 3D rendering for judges that included Scott Carter, director of visual merchandising for Brookstone; Kristine Finizio, manager, store design, Saks Fifth Avenue; and Rachel Zsembery, senior associate, Bergmeyer Associates Inc.

This competition, now in its fourth year, offers students a chance to see their designs come to life, gain exposure at the major retail industry trade show and win cash awards. Competition winners will receive a first prize of $5,000, a second prize of $2,500, a third prize of $1,500 and an honorable mention of $500.

This year’s challenge was to design and create a 3D model or rendering of a store fixture that communicates an existing brand of headphone. The design was meant to invite customers to walk up to it, try on headphones and walk away informed by the interaction. The product’s footprint was limited to a maximum of 36-by-36-inches wide and 84 inches high. Entrants could choose from any headphone manufacturer on the market, including in-ear, noise-canceling, over-ear, wireless and gaming.

Prototypes will be produced at full scale by Van Stry Design to be displayed at GlobalShop 2013 in Chicago, April 16-18. Winners will be announced at GlobalShop and the awards will be presented at the Association for Retail Enviornment (A.R.E.) Design Awards in Chicago on April 16.

Woelfel’s DESN 356 Advanced 3D Computer-Aided Design course was the campus home for the recent challenge.

“What I like about this competition is that it is modeled after real-life design constraints and challenges,” he said. “In my mind, these types of constraints help make the project fun. It is almost like a very interesting riddle but it is a design project. In the field, I have similar types of design challenges and experiences. In fact, I am currently working on two projects which have similar types of design constraints. These experiences help me guide the students in how to make design decisions while they develop their projects. Sometimes competitions can be random. It is difficult to tell what a judge is really thinking. Whenever running competitions, I ask the students to focus on creating a great portfolio piece first. Anything else that happens with the competition is just a bonus. Because our CSULB students have had great results in the past, they are confident in what is possible. This leads to dedication, perfectionism and sometimes competition honors.”

PAVE, founded in 1992, has grown into the retail design, planning and visual merchandising industry’s premier educational foundation and an advocate for design students. The top 12 projects were from institutions as far away as the International School of Design in Maharashtra, India. Other campuses included the University of Cincinnati; Virginia Tech; the University of Texas at Arlington; Serbia and Montenegro’s Oksana Pugajeva; the University of Dundee, Scotland; and ENSAN in Rouen, France. PAVE received 209 entries from 12 nations.

Woelfel feels Huang and Yates showcase what’s best about design at CSULB. “It is such a pleasure to have students such as Alice and Eric as they do represent what’s best about CSULB design majors,” he said. “Firstly, they are very dedicated to their craft and fun to work with. They are very inquisitive and also somewhat perfectionists. Great designers are lifelong learners. They become consumed in, and think about, design 24-7 and Eric and Alice have had amazing results.”

Woelfel applauded the students’ design strategy. “They incorporated many different design systems into their solution including production, aesthetics, logistics, functionality and markets,” he said. “Everything just seemed to work well together and, most importantly, expressed their brand’s uniqueness. Finally, the deliverables were well-executed into an integrated set of information.”

Wesley Woelfel

Huang was pleased to be distinguished in her first PAVE competition. “I feel very honored by something quite unexpected,” she said. “This recognition gives me a good sense of encouragement and reassurance for all the work, thought and dedication we put into this challenge.”

Huang feels one reason for their design’s success was how the team found its product’s essence.

“The challenge was to design and create a 3D model/rendering of a store fixture that communicates an existing brand of headphones,” she explained. “And that’s exactly what we did. We really tried to extract the essence and uniqueness of the headphone into our design. By understanding what image the company wanted to communicate through their product, that helped us in capturing the message and translate that into our final design. So I think it was the success of the translation.”

One of the most valuable aspects of the competition was the opportunity for real-world cooperation with contest sponsors Van Stry Designs.

“We’ve just started communicating with Van Stry and we look forward to working with them to build a fully functional model of our design,” she said. “We are very excited to be competing against design students across the globe and happy to be among one of the top 12 finalists.”

Yates was excited by his recognition as a PAVE the Way finalist. “I was surprised because the competition is quite large and there were a lot of great projects submitted,” he said. “There were quite a few great projects submitted by other students in the design department at CSULB.”

Yates explained that he and Huang focused their design strategy for their first PAVE challenge around exemplifying features of the product for which the display was built. “The product that we chose was pretty wild and had some great features those features allowed us to create a unique display that would stand out in a competition,” he explained. “We also designed our stand to be producible (meaning it could be built in the real world), and that extra attention to detail and uniqueness probably led the judges’ decisions.”

Yates recalled the most difficult part of the overall design process was the establishment of the stand’s proper proportions. “We spent a lot of time going back and forth over the design trying to figure out the best balance between functionality and aesthetics,” he said. “We wanted to incorporate the design of the head phones in to the display but we also wanted to be sure that the working height of the stand would be acceptable for an average-size person.”

Yates was especially pleased by the opportunity to gain real-world experience by working with project sponsor Van Stry. “Working with them was great,” he explained. “They gave us a lot of freedom to choose our project. They gave us some good guidelines and then left us alone.”

He expressed his thanks to the Design Department and his faculty advisor Woelfel for his use of the design brief for the PAVE project as their second class assignment.

“Wesley looked over our project several times and made suggestions, helped us sort out details and made sure that we finished the project,” he said. “He also encouraged us to submit our projects in the competition. I am really thankful for his help and I don’t think that we would have finished the project if it were not for him.”