Design Thinking Outside the Box

By Andrew Connor

In late 2018 Institute of Design Studio Professor Martin Thaler asked his product design students to create something for a client one mile from Illinois Tech’s Mies Campus. The class devised a system of modular, box-shaped seats for Boxville—a seasonal food, retail, and community space built from shipping containers at 51st Street and the CTA Green Line—that debuted over summer 2019. 

The idea was to connect Boxville to surrounding communities through product design, but it evolved into much more. Master of Design students Matthew Impola, Justin Walker, and Yuqing Zhou, along with Chris Rudd, adjunct faculty member, and Denis Weil, dean of the Institute of Design, set up a design lab called “51 Futures” at Boxville. The group devised exercises to introduce design methods and frameworks to vendors and patrons, and helped them ideate potential improvements to Boxville and their community. Rudd says that it introduced community members to key tools in design. 

“The work I’ve traditionally done is community-empowerment design, and that’s kind of the approach we took,” says Rudd. “Design tools are helpful for understanding the world. We’ve had a lot of comments from folks saying, ‘I’ve never thought about this small thing in this big way.’ It allows us to look at things in a much broader and more holistic way.”