designXchange – January 16, 2015


Join us! This is a terrific opportunity. Our Featured Designer will be Jacob Stephens of Weta Digital (more info below).

The Penn State designXchange is a multi-disciplinary design/think workshop bringing together faculty and professionals. It will take place in the Hammond Building on the Penn State – University Park campus on January 16, 2015. Although the event is free, advanced registration is required.

To register, please complete the registration form here. Additional information (e.g., locations and schedule) will be emailed to registrants. You must register by January 12.

The weather in State College

The weather in State College

Outline of Activities

  • “Pecha Kucha” introductions (two slides, submitted in advance). We will have the opportunity to get to know participants whose activities are of particular interest to us later in the day.
  • “How we do design”–Short summaries of within-discipline design activities from Business, Psychology, Arts & Architecture, IST, and Engineering.
  • Our special guest, Jacob Stephens of Weta Digital is an alumnus of Penn State’s Architecture program. He has worked on such films as Avatar, Prometheus, and the Hobbit. He’ll teach us the design process he uses in creating special effects and how his training as an architect prepared him for this career. Later, he will guide us through a design charrette. Additional information on Jake below.
  • A continental breakfast and lunch will be provided. Participants are invited to stay and enjoy State College on Friday evening. You can choose to support either the Penn State Men’s Hockey or Volleyball teams with us on Friday evening (both have games).

If you have questions, contact Matt Parkinson (


Jacob Stephens joined Weta Digital in 2008 to work as a Senior Layout Technical Director on James Cameron’s Academy Award® winning Avatar. He continued work as a Lead Layout Technical Director on X-Men: First Class, Stephen Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin, Ridley Scott’s Prometheus and Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy.

Jacob has nearly twenty years experience creating award-winning environments for film and games, from Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight’s Falling Ship level to the floating mountains of Pandora to the forests and cities of Middle Earth.

Born and raised in Pennsylvania, USA, Jacob combined his mother’s love of art and his father’s knack for engineering and construction by studying architecture at Penn State University. It all came together for him when he was introduced to 3D modeling at the Stuckeman CAD lab. A lifelong interest in computers, games and film led him to apply to George Lucas’ computer games company LucasArts after graduation, where he designed and built levels for several Star Wars games.

Jacob has recently completed work as the Layout Show Lead on The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and Layout Supervisor on The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.

Jacob is also an active member of the Visual Effects Society.

Selected Credits

    (2014) Director: Peter Jackson (Warner Brothers)
    (2013) Director: Peter Jackson (Warner Brothers)
  • THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY – Lead Layout Technical Director
    (2012) Director: Peter Jackson (Warner Brothers)
  • PROMETHEUS – Lead Layout Technical Director
    (2012) Director: Ridley Scott (20th Century Fox)
  • THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN – Lead Layout Technical Director
    (2011) Director: Stephen Spielberg (Paramount)
  • XMEN: FIRST CLASS – Lead Layout Technical Director
    (2011) Director: Matthew Vaughn (20th Century Fox)
  • AVATAR – Senior Layout Technical Director
    (2009) Director: James Cameron (20th Century Fox)
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Sketch & Sweep: Data-Driven, Image-based Modeling and Manipulation

Friday, February 7
12:00 pm – 1:00 pm
307 Hammond Bldg.


Featured speaker Dr. Tao Chen will highlight two outcomes of his research efforts. The first introduces an interactive technique for manipulating simple 3D shapes based on extractions from a single photograph. This requires understanding of the components of the shape, their projections, and relations. While these are simple cognitive tasks for humans, they are difficult for automatic algorithms. Thus, the cognitive abilities of humans are combined with the computational accuracy of machines. The second outcome is the composition of realistic pictures from simple, freehand sketches annotated with text. The picture is generated by stitching together pictures (from the internet) that are in agreement with the sketch and text labels. Applications of these results will also be presented.

Dr. Tao Chen’s Biography

Dr. Chen is a post-doctoral scholar at Columbia University. He has also held appointmentsTao Chen at Tsinghua University and Tel Aviv University. He received his PhD and BS from Tsinghua University where he studied Computer Science and Physics. His research interests include: computer graphics; image/video processing, editing and composition; social network multimedia, computer vision. A YouTube video featuring his work (”3-Sweep”) has received nearly 2 million views.

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Understanding the Role of Crowdsourcing in Innovation

Friday, September 27
12:00 pm – 1:00 pm

Stuckeman Family Building
Jury Space

The featured speaker is Liz Gerber from Northwestern University Design for America. Innovation is critical to our economic and social prosperity. Yet acquiring the required resources is especially difficult for novice innovators, who lack access and skills.
Crowdsourcing has the potential to change this. She will present two projects. First, she will present her latest research on crowdfunding and tools to support the exchange of resources from a distributed network of individuals online. Second, Gerber will present efforts to engage the crowd in ideation and decision-making. She will discuss implications for the innovation process and crowdsourcing.

Liz Gerber’s Biography

As the Breed Junior Chair of Design at Northwestern University and Founder of Design for America Dr. Liz Gerber studies and designs collective intelligence systems to support innovators. Currently, Liz is examining contemporary phenomena such as
crowdfunding and crowdsourcing. She received her doctoral and master’s degrees in Management Science and Engineering and Product Design from Stanford.

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Design Matters: Perspectives from a (Former) Engineer

Tuesday, March 25
4:00 – 5:00 pm

Stuckeman Family Building
Jury Space

The featured speaker Karen Cheng in this seminar will describe her unique path
from engineering to design, and present her current research, which includes both interdisciplinary studies in design education, as well as design consultation/creative work. As a design scholar, Karen’s unusual background has positioned her to effectively collaborate with researchers in chemistry, material science, cognitive psychology, and education. She is currently working within an interdisciplinary group to analyze the factors
that influence visual communication in science and engineering. This effort, which was funded by a National Science Foundation grant, also examines how scientists and engineers can best receive visual design education.

Karen Cheng’s Biography

Professor Cheng is the author of Designing Type, which was published by Yale University Press in 2006. Appealing to both educators and practitioners, this book was immediately received as a seminal work and has been translated into French, German, Spanish, Chinese and Korean. As a practitioner within the field of design, Karen’s creative work ranges from highly functional information design artifacts (such as maps, forms, and information/data graphics) to more experimental communications and environmental installations. Her work has won numerous awards for graphic design, and is highly regarded; in 2011, Karen was nominated for National Design Award by Cooper Hewitt, the National Design Museum of the United States. Karen is an alumnus of Penn State University, where she graduated with an Honors B.S. in Chemical Engineering. She received her Master’s degree from the University of Cincinnati College of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning. Prior to joining the faculty at the University of Washington in 1997, she worked in Brand Management at the Procter and Gamble Company. From 2008-2013, Karen served as Chair of the Division of Design.

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November 2010 Workshop

Title: When Engineering Design Meets Architecture

Location: University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA

Date: November 4-5, 2010

Leveraging the success of the Penn State-organized interdisciplinary design workshop series, we brought together design researchers and practitioners from architecture, architectural engineering, and engineering design for a two-day intensive workshop in early November 2010 to catalyze collaborative research across these fields. Presenters from engineering design, architecture, and related disciplines discussed the borders and language barriers between their accepted research and practice methods. Workshop participants had the opportunity to observe both a live architectural critique or “jury,” and an engineering design project review. These two means of determining quality, each endemic to its discipline, were then discussed and contrasted through presentations and a panel discussion involving both design researchers and practitioners. In addition, successful interdisciplinary teams of researchers explained their strategies for obtaining NSF support for research in design. While NSF Program Director Christina Bloebaum was unable to attend the workshop, workshop participants familiar with NSF’s goals and procedures, including former NSF Program Director Larry Banks, offered advice on obtaining NSF funding to less experienced researchers. Finally, a select number of invited guests from the professions and industry presented recent advances that span the disciplines of architecture, engineering, and construction.

Summary of Workshop Objectives

  • Provide a forum to identify and discuss the barriers to effective collaboration between architecture and engineering design researchers,
  • Allow participants to share best practices and successful collaborative strategies,
  • Examine how the barriers and best practices identified should impact design education
  • Identify collaborative research directions for architectural and engineering design researchers to pursue at NSF


The workshop report.

The official announcement.

The program for the event.

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Artistry, Craft, and Craftsmanship

Course listing: STS 497A

Course offered: Spring 2010

A seminar on the history and theory of craftwork and other skilled, artistic pursuits since the Industrial Revolution. The seminar will meet once per week, during which time assigned readings will be discussed. Later in the semester students will present findings from their assigned research. Readings will be taken from two primary sources: The Craftsman, by Richard Sennett and Shop Class as Soul Craft, by Matthew Crawford, with supplemental readings from Hannah Arendt, Gaston Bachelard, Frederick Taylor, Ivan Illich, Octavio Paz and others.

Course website: sts497a.pdf

Instructor: Dan Willis

Designing Product Families

Course listing: ME / IE 546

Course offered: Each spring

In this class we explore the implications and difficulties of designing families of products along with state-of-the-art tools and methods to facilitate the design and development of mass customized goods. Lecture topics include: (1) the transition from craft production, to mass production, to mass customization; (2) engineering design methods for robust, modular, and scalable products and platforms; (3) design for variety and design for mass customization strategies; and (4) industry case studies from Black & Decker, Sony, Hewlett Packard, Boeing, and Lutron among others.

Course website:

Instructor: Dr. Tim Simpson

Designing for Human Variability

Course listing: EDSGN / IE / ME 547

Course offered: Every fall

Most of what we interact with every day has been designed by engineers–here’s a chance to learn how to improve that interaction. Students will learn the principles of how to incorporate an understanding of variability in human size, capability, and preference into the design of products and environments. It is a unique opportunity to explore material from engineering, statistics, biomechanics, disability and aging research, and business in the context of design problems.

Instructor: Dr. Matt Parkinson


Course listing: ARCH 497C

Course offered: Fall, Spring

Students in this class will be introduced to digital fabrication technologies and processes through a variety of design exercises that result in built constructs. The course is “hands-on”, wherein the student will gain knowledge of both hardware and software involved in digital fabrication, such as: rapid prototyping, CNC milling, laser cutting, laser scanning, and others.

Course website:

Instructor: Dr. Dave Celento

Systems Optimization using Evolutionary Algorithms

Course listing: CE 563

Course offered: Spring 2010

his course provides a comprehensive introduction to the field of genetic and evolutionary computation (GEC). The course will emphasize state-of-the-art methods for designing and implementing evolutionary algorithms for computationally intensive engineering and science problems. Course concepts are demonstrated using case studies drawn from the disciplines of the students enrolled.

Course website:

Instructor: Pat Reed

X-Disc Creativity: Smart Products for Tomorrow

Course listing: ARCH 497B / EDSGN 497A

Course offered: Spring 2010

A truly multi-disciplinary course. Taught in a studio learning environment, students from engineering, design, computation, and business backgrounds will work together to design and develop Innovative Smart Products. Teams will be cross disciplinary in nature and consider all aspects of the design, creation, fabrication, and marketing of products with embedded intelligence.

Instructor: Dr. Matt Parkinson (Engineering Design and Mechanical Engineering) and Dr. Dave Celento (Architecture)


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The Iron Lion Design Challenge

The Iron Lion Design Challenge is a multidisciplinary design competition sponsored in part by the Open Design Lab and the Center for Research in Design and Innovation at Penn State. Like the popular Food Network program Iron Chef, the Iron Lion Design Challenge requires teamwork, skill, and expeditiousness to succeed. Given only one week, teams of engineering students participating in the Challenge at Penn State’s University Park campus are required to design and build a working prototype of a device dictated by the theme of the event. Details for each annual event may be found on the Open Design Lab website:

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Design and Development Process at Herman Miller

Wednesday, November 11

12:30 pm – 1:30 pm

Lipcon Auditorium,
Palmer Art Museum

The featured speaker is Bill Dowell, the Research Director of Herman Miller. His seminar will focus on a range of topics from the design and development process at Herman Miller, research into the Arts of Daily Living, and the Office of the Future.

Bill Dowell’s Biography

Bill is the director of research at Herman Miller. He leads a multifaceted research team
that examines and evaluates Herman Miller products as they are developed, conducts
market and business analysis, and explores future trends to assimilate a contextual
understanding of key issues to impact the creation of product innovations.

Bill has participated in the research, design and development of Herman Miller products since 1984. In the mid 1980’s, while developing a computer program that simulated humans and their interaction with their environment, his professional path took a turn toward human factors and ergonomics. He led the research effort for Herman Miller’s Aeron chair where he examined the components of subjective comfort,
and methods for pressure mapping. Recent work has included studies of seating behaviors, anthropometry, trends in facility management, and the future of technology in the workplace.

He has published numerous articles on ergonomics in both peer reviewed journals and
the popular press. He is a Certified Professional Ergonomist, and a member of the Human Factors and Ergonomic Society, the CAESAR 3-D surface anthropometric survey, a member of the committees that published the BIFMA Ergonomic Guideline for VDT Furniture, and the BSR/HFES VDT Workstation Standard


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Interdisciplinary Design as an Instructional Discipline

an NSF-sponsored workshop series

Design is increasingly seen as an integrative discipline in engineering and many other fields, while designing is seen as a multi- or inter-disciplinary activity. In engineering undergraduate curricula, due in large part to ABET requirements, one or more courses with a design “experience” (e.g., a capstone design course) are required. In graduate curricula this approach is less successful since structuring design courses to be instruction in a discipline rather than a guided “experience” is a major challenge. Following the successful NSF workshop on interdisciplinary graduate design education, we initiated a Design Workshop Series with the objective to capture, codify, share, and propagate instructional experiences and philosophies across the nation. The Design Workshop Series spanned one year and focused on interdisciplinary graduate design education. Hosting responsibilities rotated between the three partner universities (Michigan, Northwestern, and Stanford). Each workshop was two days in length. On the afternoon of Day 1, the host university provided an overview of its design program and facilities. Day 2 was an open discussion on specific graduate-design instructional topics chosen to match the strengths and experience of the host program. A fourth workshop was organized by Penn State and held in conjunction with the 2009 NSF CMII Grantees Conference. All of these workshop activities were open to anyone to attend, and NSF funding was used to provide travel support for interested participants with the goal of broadening involvement in the larger design community (e.g., engineering, architecture, industrial design, psychology, business). The outcomes are a documented characterization of design as a discipline that can be taught, along with curricular templates that can be adapted for local use by institutions nationally. The long-term outcome will be the training of design instructors who approach design – research and teaching – as a discipline.

Download the final report

Download the presentation given at the 2010 Mechanical Engineering Education Conference

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June 2009 Workshop

Title: Interdisciplinary Design as an Instructional Discipline

Location: NSF CMMI Grantees Conference, Honolulu, HI

Organizers: Matt Parkinson, Tim Simpson, Dave Celento, Sam Hunter

Date: June 22, 2009

This workshop in the NSF Workshop Series, Interdisciplinary Design as an Instructional Discipline, was held in conjunction with the NSF CMMI Grantees Conference in Honolulu, Hawai’i on June 22, 2009. This workshop focused on the challenges associated with research in such an interdisciplinary area.

Workshop Summary

Creativity and innovation in our approaches to design have never been more important. Engaging non-engineering disciplines such as industrial design, architecture, business, and the information sciences leverages their perspectives and design capabilities but requires new skills of everyone involved in order to be effective. Interdisciplinary graduate design programs provide one opportunity for bringing these faculty and students together. A series of workshops, funded by the NSF, has provided an opportunity to benchmark several of these programs and discuss obstacles to their creation and success. We have also been discussing the “ideal” interdisciplinary graduate design program as well as several interdisciplinary research questions that we face as designers. This workshop, which was held at the NSF CMMI Grantees Conference on Monday, June 22, provided an industry perspective on these issues and the design challenges industry faces in today’s global – and economically turbulent – marketplace. This includes relevant research questions as well as the opportunity to discuss the many facets of these challenges in a collaborative, multi-disciplinary setting. As one outcome from the workshop, participant teams explored a research question that could then be developed into a competitive research proposal for NSF.

Acknowledgements: Funding for the workshop is supported by the National Science Foundation under grant no. CMMI-0847181. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations presented are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Download a copy of the workshop program here.

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