KALAMAZOO, Mich.—A practiced product designer and industrial design educator will soon take the reins of Western Michigan University’s Richmond Institute of Product Design and Innovation, which is currently being developed.
Michael Elwell, assistant professor of industrial design at the University of Notre Dame, will join the Frostic School of Art as an associate professor of art. In addition, Elwell will serve as director of the Richmond Institute of Product Design and Innovation, an interdisciplinary entity named for James and Lois Richmond, who contributed $3 million toward the creation of the home for this new program.
Prior to joining the faculty at Notre Dame, Elwell worked as an industrial design professional for companies including Coachmen Recreational Vehicles, Radio Flyer and Process4, a design firm near Cleveland, Ohio. He has worked on products in industries ranging from automotive to housewares, and he possesses a patent for his award-winning prescription pill container opener and label magnifier, the "Maginfying Medi-Grip," which is now licensed to Jokari, Inc.
Elwell holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts and Master of Fine Arts in industrial design from the University of Notre Dame and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign respectively. With his extensive education and experience in the industrial design field, Elwell will provide insight and direction as the Richmond Institute of Product Design and Innovation takes shape.
"My goal is to create a contemporary program that is responsive to today's design landscape, one that encourages students to deeply consider the interactions between people and products," Elwell says.
Elwell describes a departure from more traditional programs. Rather than focusing solely on technical skills, WMU’s product design curriculum will be oriented toward collaboration, entrepreneurship and design thinking, thus preparing students to be successful leaders and strategists.
Integration with local industry
According to Elwell, through integration with local industry, students will also gain practical experience delivering design solutions to real-world problems, and they'll be presented with opportunities for mentorship and networking with experts in the field. Mike Rozewicz, Vice President of Tekna, Inc., is one of many local industrial design professionals looking forward to collaborating with Elwell and the product design program.
"We’re very excited about the progression of the design program at WMU and how we can participate at a high level," Rozewicz says. "We see great synergy working with the faculty as well as the student body to ensure that what the students are learning translates to the professional world."
Elwell will officially begin his product design leadership role in August, just prior to the fall semester, the arrival of the program's first cohort of students and the beginning of construction on Kohrman Hall, the Richmond Institute’s future home. He'll be bringing not only guidance and ideas for the development of this relevant, forward-looking program, but also a great deal of passion and excitement.
"With new curriculum, new students and new, world-class facilities, this is an exciting opportunity to say the least."
For more WMU news, arts and events, visit wmich.edu/news.