Department of Product Design Research

Product design by nature is a research-based discipline. Using skills of observation, user experience, analysis, and prototype development, product designers engage in contemporary design research at the UO.

Researchers are motivated to create design solutions, address complex usability problems, explore materials, and find new solutions to making the things we use better every day.

Faculty members share their work with students and partner with other colleagues, industry, and organizations with similar interests. Students have the opportunity to work with talented faculty members on projects and gain skills and insights on all aspects of product design. 

Here is a summary of research work conducted by product design faculty members.

John Arndt and Wonhee Arndt produce smart objects for warm, comfortable environments. Their products are simple, practical, and thoughtfully made and frequently inspired by Shaker design. They founded Studio Gorm in 2007 where you can find their award-winning projects. Their designs are informed by their academic research, which explores culture, history, and technology and how objects and ideas evolve to fit the needs of modern life. Their methods are deeply rooted in the act of physical making where an object’s true form evolves out of an experimental constructive approach to design. As designers of functional objects, they draw from their background in sculpture and craft to create works that balance function and aesthetics. Their research focuses on studying the past and speculating about the future in order to design useful objects for today.

Beth Esponnette is fascinated with making and materials. She is a founder of unspun, a company that is developing new ways to manufacture clothing using unconventional materials—such as moss, crystals, and glue—and, in doing so, considering new business models for the textile and apparel industry. She considers herself to be somewhere between an artist and engineer, dreaming up new ways of manufacturing and trying to make them work. Learn more about her experiments and design projects on her website.

Trygve Faste engages conceptual issues of product creation through a working method that integrates both design and art practice. He focuses on examining human consumption through a combination of two-dimensional image and three-dimensional form to explore, at the most fundamental level, how the relationship between appearance and substance can be manipulated. He also examines the connection between the production and consumption of “style” and the resulting impacts upon the natural environment. There are two websites you can visit to learn more about Faste’s professional work and his studio work with Jessica Swanson. Faste has also been exploring design for an aging population who use public transportation and developing product innovations to assist this group of transit users. Learn more at National Institute for Transportation and Communities.

Kiersten Muenchinger is the only Kansei engineering researcher in the United States with a focus on sustainability. Kansei aims to link a consumer’s emotional responses to the properties and characteristics of a product, such as tactile sensations. Muenchinger has found Kansei design, which studies how emotion drives consumer choices, to be a valuable research tool in her work. She is using sustainable plastic products, an excellent material choice for sustainable projects but lacking in emotional response from users. A Fulbright research award to China has helped her build international collaborators for assessing the life cycle of sustainable products and boost connections with other Kansei engineers in Japan and China. Read more about her Fulbright research in China.

Erdem Selek’s main research goal is to understand the cognitive and perceptual factors that shape products and discover the principles of formal-aesthetics in product design. He explores the creativity, aesthetics, and usability dimensions that form a product and uncover the universal and timeless principles that are behind good product design. Selek's study includes understanding the fundamentals of form giving and their application on products. Visit his website to see how he applies aesthetics and form.

Susan Sokolowski has more than 25 years of experience designing performance sporting goods, specializing in the design of products for female athletes and leading cross-functional footwear, apparel, and equipment product teams. She seeks innovative and creative processes for the design, manufacture, and improvement of sports performances in her work and teaching. She has earned more than 35 utility and design patents.

Seeking collaboration

Whether faculty members and students are building energy-efficient streetlights for an Oregon city in the Sustainable Cities Initiative or working on alternative energy solutions or products for people with disabilities, they establish funding partnerships and collaborators to address challenging design needs.

Product design faculty members welcome enterprising and creative students to join the conversation.