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Indiana University

Design and retail students join forces on real-world projects

A new studio course offered this past semester through the Department of Apparel Merchandising and Interior Design mixed design and retail students, helping both hone practical skills and abilities by working with each other on real-world projects.

But it’s not just students who used the new model. IU professor Mary Embry, who teaches in the department’s apparel merchandising group, and senior lecturer Marleen Newman, who teaches in the department’s interior design group, sharpened their own collaborative skills by team-teaching the course.

AMID students

Design and retail students came together for the first time in a new studio course offered by the Department of Apparel Merchandising and Interior Design.

“It’s very forward-thinking and integrative,” Embry said. “We wanted our students to walk away with a confidence in themselves and their creative abilities, since their futures aren’t strictly defined. What they’ve learned are 21st-century skills, ones that help them get comfortable with a structure of learning.”

Embry and Newman said students were dedicated to the course. The group met each Friday at the IU Center for Art + Design in Columbus — at least an hour’s drive away, on a day that many university students might consider part of the weekend. The center uses the architecturally significant city as a “living laboratory” for the study of integrated, comprehensive design.

Students completed an initial project involving a word — “parallel,” for example — and worked together to exemplify their word by draping an empty space with hundreds of yards of cloth and lights. That collaborative process laid the groundwork for a second project. The students working worked with the Columbus Area Multi-Ethnic Organization, Columbus Young Professionals and Leadership Bartholomew County to create ideas for a sustainable, inclusive site for residents to gather.

“What I loved about this class is the process,” said spring 2013 graduate Kala Wahl, who studied interior design. “You’re presented with a ‘problem,’ and it’s up to you to find the solution, but you’re not handed any steps. You figure out for yourself what’s needed to solve your problem. It’s kind of like life in a nutshell.”

Fellow graduate Kaylee Backstrom, who majored in retail studies, said the class fed her creativity.

“When I heard about this class and found out it was all day Friday, I thought, ‘What am I getting myself into?’” she said. “But it’s really helped me open up my mind and changed my thinking process. Before, I never would’ve said I’m a designer. But now, I realize that design isn’t about being creative in a specific format. It’s about making things better.”

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