Tuesday, April 26, 2022

The loading dock next to the Performing Arts Center was converted into an interactive event space for Austin Design Week in November.

Austin Design Week kickoff event at UT showcases student talent, experiential designs to Austin design community

By Cami Yates
Photos by Brian Birzer

Sometimes the loading dock for the Performing Arts Center bustles with large semi-trucks as traveling productions load into Bass Concert Hall, but it’s usually a quiet, drab space, mostly used as a parking lot for university vehicles.

But for one night only in November, the loading dock transformed into a colorful hubbub, bustling with popular music and crowded with guests wearing neon orange and green glowsticks around their necks. Colorful images and messages projected onto the backside of the Doty Fine Arts building welcomed hundreds of attendees to the future.

The School of Design and Creative Technologies (SDCT) kicked off the sixth annual Austin Design Week with a mixer, where students and Austin design professionals could mingle and experience interactive projects created by the students for the evening.

Each year, Austin Design Week (ADW) hosts a slate of programming, including panels, workshops, studio tours and more for the Austin design community. Students from the School of Design and Creative Technologies collaborated with ADW to program the kickoff event, which gave students the opportunity to share their work with Austin design professionals.

The kickoff event at UT centered around “futuring,” or thinking about, picturing and planning for possible outcomes for the future. SDCT students came up with concepts that invited the guests to participate in future-themed experiences designed to showcase the different programs within the school.

In total, more than 100 students showcased nine projects at Austin Design Week:

  • Collaborative Collage: Set up as a quieter, more zen experience in an otherwise high energy space, guests used recycled materials and created individual tiles, then assembled them into a cohesive collage.
  • Framing the Future: Guests brainstormed ideas based on randomized prompts to define the future they want to live in. Participants responded using neon dry erase markers on clear plexiglass boards side-lit with blacklight LEDs.
  • Futuringo: A bingo-based networking experience to help guests connect to the diverse areas of expertise and characters at the mixer.
  • Fill in the Future: A Mad Libs-inspired experience where guests chose their hopes for the future on their mobile device. An animation that reflected their choices was then sent to each guest as an artifact of their dreams.
  • Passports and Wayfinding: A map and information guide helped guests navigate the event.
  • Golf Brawl: A remote-control car golf ball race run by two referees, the cars spray painted with different colors to represent the different programs in the department.
  • Future Soundscapes: Set up next to the Butler School of Music, surround-sound audio experiences created by students provided an acoustic glimpse into the future.
  • SDCT Showcase: Clips of work from the program were projected on the backside of the Doty Fine Arts Building.
  • Live Screen-Printing Demo: Experts demonstrated the craft of live screen-printing, and attendees received tote bags featuring SDCT student work.

In this Framing the Future interactive project, guests responded to prompts to sketch out ideas for their future.

Five classes collaborated over eight weeks for this event, including classes taught by Lecturer Mk Haley, Lecturer Kyle Evans, Assistant Professor of Practice Matt Smith, Lecturer William Byrne and Assistant Fabrication Manager and Lecturer Henry Smith.

Sarah Martinez, a Design graduate student, worked on three of the projects: Collaborative Collage, Future Soundscapes and Passports and Wayfinding. She said that even with the tight production schedule, she had really strong teams who were proactive and made it easier to lean into logistics and minute details.

“I’m just really glad I was able to provide solutions to perceived roadblocks,” Martinez said. “Clear communication across the board and every class’s willingness to help definitely made it possible.”

Justin Kung, a senior in Arts and Entertainment Technologies, worked with Martinez in both Collaborative Collage and Golf Brawl. He also served as the liaison for communications between the classes and teams.

“It was a ton of fun. There were a lot of problems like dealing with scheduling and a limited budget, but it felt like I was actually doing something and not memorizing lectures and putting what you know in a test,” Kung said. “I felt like I could make a living out of this, and I enjoyed talking to others and making the event come to life.”

Students worked on aspects of the program beyond designing the experiences or content.

“I don’t make stuff. I don’t program. I don’t belong here,” Dana Rocha, an Arts and Entertainment Technologies sophomore had told Haley. So, Haley tasked Rocha with managing all of the volunteers, filling a gap in the program they didn’t realize they had.

“She killed it!” Haley said. “Not only did she belong, but she was also leadership and project management material. A lot of students really blossomed in roles they had never had the chance to consider before.”

At a live screen-printing demonstration, attendees received free tote bags featuring SDCT student designs.

The opening night was generously sponsored by Nelda and Karl Buckman from nelda.com, an Austin-based media company that delivers original programming across various media channels and platforms.

“Hosting opening night on behalf of Austin Design Week was merely the tip of the iceberg for us,” said Doreen Lorenzo, assistant dean of the School of Design and Creative Technologies. “Our students and faculty are capable of creating and demonstrating incredible work whether in the classroom or as an immersive environment. It was an honor to be able to bring so many people together live and host a night to remember.”

The Austin Design Week opening event gave students the opportunity to develop content with a third party and to work with industry professionals. This connection both helped the students grow as designers and gave them an incredible platform to showcase their talent and skills.

“As a fairly new program, it was so great to be able to introduce ourselves, our programs and our students to the Austin design community,” Haley said. “For the Design community at large to get a glimpse into the types of work and quality students and programs we have is invaluable as our students grow into design professionals.”

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