Students from Virginia Tech’s Industrial Design Program, in the School of Architecture + Design completed a two week workshop in South Africa, taking part in Interdesign 2005. The students were one of only three student groups selected to participate in an international program for mid-career design professionals, that this year explored the design of sustainable transportation in rural South Africa.

The students that participated, all seniors in the industrial design program who graduated in May are Junko Hosokawa of Kiyotaku, Sapporo, Japan, Nicholas Monday of Richmond, Va., and Jason Zawitkowski of River Vale, N.J. Project advisors were Ron Kemnitzer, professor of industrial design and Akshay Sharma, adjunct professor of industrial design.

Interdesign 2005, an International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID) forum in which mid-career designers from different countries and cultures work together with local experts for an intensive two week period, exploring design issues of national, regional and global importance. Interdesign workshops focus on subjects of international significance, aiming to provide innovative and appropriate solutions intended for implementation. Workshops have covered a broad range of themes including design for the environment, specific user groups, specific materials, product development strategies and legislative guidelines.

This year’s Interdesign workshop, hosted by The Design Institute, a division of the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS), was on Sustainable Rural Transport – Technology for Developing Countries. It addressed the transportation burden faced by developing rural, peri-urban and urban communities in developing and emerging economies such as South Africa. Mobility and accessibility come at a high social and economic cost and thus Interdesign 2005 focused on low-cost, nonmotorized mobility solutions. The issue of rural transport was addressed by participants from fifteen countries who considered: social aspects such as individual and community problems, need and desires, transport management aspects, sustainability and environmental aspects such as animal care, local materials, indigenous knowledge and recycling.

The Virginia Tech students’ undergraduate research project Empowering Poverty Stricken Communities Through Transparent Design, was ideal for what became a case study called Rural Transport in South Africa. They theorized that “design can and should make a positive impact… and improve the quality of life.” The students intended “to aid these communities through design to exploit the full potential of their available means while eliminating the sense of helplessness currently present. For optimum success we must be careful not to intrude on the positive customs, values, and beliefs already in existence within the culture. We as designers will attempt to become be as informed as possible in order to remain as transparent as possible, so as to facilitate feelings of pride, unity and empowerment from within the community itself.”

While in South Africa Hosokawa and Zawitkowski worked on alternative transport modes, while Monday worked on the design of a special bicycle. All students agreed that the experience was invaluable.

“Participating in Interdesign2005 gave me the opportunity to meet many people in various underserved communities to further understand their lifestyle,” Hosokawa said. “Despite all three villages were living in extremely poor conditions, the residents were extremely happy to have us as their guests. I really enjoyed being a part of Interdesign2005 and generating solutions to provide these rural areas with means of sustainable transportation.”

“Interdesign2005 proved to be a great learning experience, as we collaborated with local experts and design professionals from around the world to address transportation needs in rural South Africa,” Monday said. “I was glad to see so many promising concepts generated during these two weeks that will be further developed in an effort to provide sustainable transportation solutions for these developing areas.”

“It was inspiring to see that even in the context of the most poverty-stricken settlement we visited there was an enthusiastic open-mindedness to the intervention of design,” Zawitkowski said. “This attitude transmitted motivation to the studio where it seemed everyone believed our actions as designers could have a positive effect. I feel the result was not only a huge asset to my education, but also planted the seeds for development towards a better life for the people we met.”

Virginia Tech’s Industrial Design Program is committed to the development of ethical responsibility, innovative research and corporate partnerships. An education in Industrial Design at Virginia Tech places the humanistic delivery of services, systems, and products at the forefront of technological development. The School of Architecture + Design, part of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, offers a Bachelor of Architecture (NAAB-accredited), Bachelor of Science in Industrial Design (NASAD-accredited), and Bachelor of Science in Interior Design (FIDER-accredited), as well as Master of Architecture, Master of Science in Architecture, and Ph.D. in Environmental Design and Planning.

The College of Architecture and Urban Studies is one of the largest of its type in the nation. CAUS is composed of two schools and the departments of landscape architecture, building construction, and art and art history. The School of Architecture + Design includes programs in architecture, industrial design and interior design. The School of Public and International Affairs includes programs in urban affairs and planning, public administration and policy, and government and international affairs. The college enrolls more than 2,000 students offering 22 degrees programs taught by 160 faculty members.