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Student Project Wins “Olympics” of Industrial Design, and Attention from BusinessWeek

Ryan Eder’s University of Cincinnati senior project just won what is arguably the world’s most prestigious professional industrial design competition – leading to the work being featured in BusinessWeek's July 30 issue.

Date: 7/26/2007 12:00:00 AM
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Dottie Stover and submitted by Ryan Eder

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Thousands of professional and student designers from more than 30 countries entered this year’s International Design Excellence Awards (IDEA) sponsored by BusinessWeek magazine and the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA).

Ryan Eder
UC's Ryan Eder holds up coverage of his project in the July 30 issue of BusinessWeek.

And from among those 30+ countries and thousands of entries, the world’s leading designers selected 20 “gold” level design concepts and only one “Best of Show.”

That “Best of Show” is going to University of Cincinnati 2006 industrial design graduate Ryan Eder, 24, of West Chester, Ohio, who entered his senior-thesis project – a project focusing on universal fitness equipment to serve the needs of the general population as well as the needs of those in wheelchairs – into the IDEA competition.

Said Ryan, “I entered it because I was really proud of the project, and I wanted to draw some attention to the lack of wheelchair-accessible equipment available in fitness centers. It’s an issue I’m really aware of because I immersed myself in that world during my project conception and completion.”

He does admit, however, to being surprised (happily) when his project – simply titled “The Access” – received “Best of Show” honors. Not only did his work receive “Best of Show,” but Ryan made IDEA competition history because his work is the first by a student to ever receive that number-one designation. (Previously, “Best of Show” honors have always gone to professional-level work.) 

Ryan stated, “I entered the IDEA because it’s so prestigious in the design world, and I wanted to see if my work had a chance. I have to say I was really shocked when I received word that it won ‘Best of Show.’ But, in a way, I guess that makes it all even better.”

As does reading the remarks of the judges – professionals from around the world – who rated the thousands of entries.

Ryan Eder's design
Eder's design for accessible exercise equipment is universal in that it can be used by those in wheelchairs as well as by others.

One judge, Jonathan Kemnitzer, principal with KEM Studio in Missouri, remarked, “Simple design. Simple solution. Very thorough design process. This entry quickly became the standard by which all other entries were evaluated.”

Another judge, Gavin Ivester, senior vice president and general manager of international footwear for PUMA, said, “This student designer showed mastery of research, problem solving, design and presentation. The entry demonstrates original, comprehensive planning and top-quality presentation addressing a problem worthy of designers’ attention. Get in line to hire this one!”

Eder credits the design processes he learned in UC’s internationally ranked School of Design as well as his required cooperative-education quarters for providing him the tools that eventually led to the IDEA win.

He described the academic quarters within UC’s top-ranked College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning as a pressure cooker of creativity combined with a diversity of experience unmatched anywhere else thanks to the university’s Top Ten co-op program.

“I owe a lot to co-op. It made me a better designer ten-fold,” asserted Ryan who – as a UC student – was able to co-op with firms like G.E. Appliances in Louisville, Ziba Design in Portland, Ore., and Priority Designs in Columbus, Ohio (where Ryan is currently employed). “With co-op, I got to experience the professional world. I was able to sample different design environments, see how different designers work and figure out what would work best for me in terms of resolving design issues. It gave me the real-world practice I needed to break down a problem into its raw elements, restructure it and communicate it to those who’ve never even considered it before,” he added.

It was experience that obviously served Ryan well when he decided to pursue his “Access” project to design universal training equipment accommodating quadriplegics and paraplegics as his senior, capstone experience.

Tricep extension.
Tricep extension.

It was actually a project Ryan had begun to consider long before his senior year. “I like to work out,” he explained. “I’m very passionate about fitness, and one time during my sophomore year, I was in a local gym. There was a gym member who was in a wheelchair who was really struggling to use the equipment. He had a bag of accessories that he had made himself at home in order to use the equipment, but obviously, these weren’t the best solution for him. He really had to struggle to use the equipment. I was so powerfully struck by the sheer mental strength it must have taken him to come to that gym every week when he was so obviously not served and valued.”

That experience stayed with Ryan and so, come his senior year, he immersed himself as much as he could into the reality of those in wheelchairs who also have an interest in fitness. Ryan researched the fitness equipment currently on the market for those in wheelchairs. He also worked out while in a wheelchair himself and played wheelchair football with local residents in a league – along with conducting interviews with fitness enthusiasts in wheelchairs.

“Immersing myself in that world was eye opening. While there is fitness equipment for those in wheelchairs, it’s equipment for home use, not equipment for use in public gyms. Also, all ADA-compliant equipment (the Americans With  Disabilities Act) only accommodates to the physical size of the chair. They don’t take into consideration that many people in wheelchairs have some form of limited dexterity. Even if they can physically fit next to the machine, they can’t actually operate it. My goal was to finally address the real needs of the users. But, it’s quite possible to design equipment that would meet both the needs of those in wheelchairs and those not confined to wheelchairs at the same time,” Ryan explained.

In the end, he focused on seven issues vital for fitness enthusiasts in wheelchairs. These are

Ryan will display a model and panels depicting his design concepts at the IDSA international conference to be held in San Francisco in October 2007. In addition, a case study regarding his designs and design process will be published in fall issue of Innovations magazine, a publication of the IDSA. And finally, Ryan’s work is included in the July 30 issue of BusinessWeek magazine and is also expected to be covered by The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and on CNN, NBC, PBS and CNBC.

This is not the first time that UC's College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning has received special notice from BusinessWeek. In the fall of 2006, the magazine ranked UC's School of Design as among the world's best. In addition, UC's industrial design program has been ranked number two in the nation in ongoing surveys of design employers.


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