Qualcomm Institute Design Studio: A 'Fail Safe' Place for Play

By Tiffany Fox, (858) 246-0353, tfox@ucsd.edu

San Diego, Calif., Feb. 6, 2014 — Tucked away in a room on the fifth floor of the University of California’s Atkinson Hall is what the university’s Scott Klemmer affectionately calls “kindergarten meets chemistry lab.”

QI Design Studio
The QI Design Studio is a fully functional laboratory space designed to encourage tinkering, workshops and prototyping. It includes workbenches and tables, electrical components, basic hand tools, arts and crafts materials and high-definition videoconferencing capability. Contact Curt Schurgers at cschurgers@ucsd.edu to reserve the space at no cost. 

The Qualcomm Institute Design Studio, as it’s more formally known, is probably the only place on campus where felt pom pom balls and stuffed children’s toys share the room with soldering irons, a rack of red plastic funnels and state-of-the-art telepresence technology. It was created by Lab Director and QI Principal Design Engineer Curt Schurgers as a free-play “clubhouse” of sorts for members of the campus community, where anyone can reserve the space, at no cost, to plug away at a project, hold a workshop or, as Klemmer puts it, “prototype a half-baked idea.” 

“One thing about design is that the first idea is never the best,” says Klemmer, who is an Associate Professor of Cognitive Science and Computer Science and Engineering at UC San Diego and one of the first faculty members to use the space. “The best way that I know to come out with great ideas is to try out a whole bunch of different stuff and learn from it quickly. For many students, this lab will be their first exposure to design studio experience. People are reluctant to put their ideas out there. The Design Studio will help teach them to be less uncomfortable with that.”

The Design Studio was created, in part, to honor former Qualcomm Institute Outreach Director Saura Naderi, who turned what was the spare, empty room into the vibrant myLab. The lab became the home of Naderi’s Girls Hat Day program as well as several other outreach activities that drew students from both K-12 schools and undergraduates from UC San Diego into the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Naderi has since left UC San Diego to work for Qualcomm, Inc. 

“Saura’s lab was really well-received by UCSD and the San Diego community at large,” says Schurgers “and we didn’t want that to disappear. it’s really hard to find an appropriate space on campus for developing and sharing ideas. Even though this lab differs in some ways from the myLab, we want to make space available for the many Sauras there may be on campus who want to create a program or run a workshop but don’t want to do so out of their dorm rooms.”

The first students to try out the QI Design Studio are those in the Human Computer Interaction Design course (CogSci 120 and CSE 170) taught by Klemmer (Klemmer collaborates with Assistant Professor of Computer Science Michael Bernstein, who teaches the same course at Stanford University). 

The class reconfigures a traditional art-school peer review approach for the interface design world. Students spend the quarter in teams of three, learning a human-centered design process. Each week they submit their work online and share it in studio — steps include needfinding, paper prototypining, implementation and evaluation. The final outcome of these projects is a mobile Web application. Final project presentations will be in the Price Center on Friday March 14 from 5 to 7 p.m.; attendance is free and open to the public. Find our more at http://d.ucsd.edu/class/intro-hci.

Gian Mario Maggio
Curt Schurgers

Beginning with the first week of the course the students are taught rapid prototyping using Sharpies™ and the other materials in the Design Studio, which also includes workbenches and tables, electrical components, basic hand tools, arts and crafts materials and high-definition videoconferencing capability. The students then submit their work electronically and share it with their classmates on the Design Studio’s digital displays. 

Says Klemmer: “We’re taking exactly what you would see in an art studio in Berlin or Paris 100 years ago and updating it with a digital display to show work interactively. The pedagogy and benefits are very similar.

“One lesson I hope students will carry with them for a long time,” he adds, “is you can prototype and try out ideas much more quickly than you think you might. Really, even for complicated stuff you can often bang out a prototype with sharpies and drawing paper in an afternoon and get feedback right away. You learn so much by not only seeing what your peers did but also through critiques of your own work.”

Schurgers says he plans to reach out to the campus community for ideas on how to enhance the lab as a place for creative prototyping and development. Schurgers will also be opening separate prototyping and robotics labs at the Qualcomm Institute later this year, and will likely link the three labs together programmatically to provide students access to other prototyping tools, such as 3D printers. 

For more information or to reserve space in the lab, contact Curt Schurgers at cschurgers@ucsd.edu.

Media Contacts

 Tiffany Fox, (858) 246-0353, tfox@ucsd.edu

Related Links

Human Computer Interaction Design course