JWU News

Designing for the Toughest Audience of All: First Graders


3/6/17 | First graders at Providence’s Vartan Gregorian Elementary School were treated to a very special delivery recently: Students from JWU’s School of Engineering & Design brought a set of fully functional chipboard playhouses for them to assemble and play with.

The collaboration was a team effort between Assistant Professor Jonathan Harris’ freshman CAD II and Assistant Professor Karyn Jimenez-Elliot’s sophomore Print Design classes.

CAD students were tasked with the design and construction of the chipboard playhouses, while the designers were responsible for the branding, package design, instructional brochures and physical packaging to house the oversize toys. (They also completed branded magazine ads.) 

The whole process of conceptualizing, designing and fabricating took roughly a month. Given the amount of labor involved — from creating the CAD templates to creating a cohesive visual identity — teamwork was essential. 

Harris and Jimenez-Elliot kicked off the project by giving their students a background in architectural styles prevalent in greater Providence, where Vartan Gregorian Elementary is located.

Students then divided into teams split evenly between engineers and designers. The groups worked together to choose an overall style and to pin down the core components of the design.

Designing such a large, labor-intensive and functional physical prototype was not without its challenges. Designer Frieda Rapp, who worked with DJ Yuanouich, Dominique Scott, Nasser Saleh and James Bruno on the “Kidzo” playhouse, found that the sheer size caused logistical issues: “The package was too large to laser-cut,” she noted. “When the time came, I had no choice but to hand-cut everything.”

Timothy Jones, who worked with Cory Fauteux, Cassandra Alaniz, Sabrina Alpino, and Alex Machinski on the “Hatchlings” playhouse, learned a lot about collaborating with others. After working through some inevitable communication issues, he noted that he’d “grown as a designer and as a team member.”

Knowing that the playhouses were going to be road-tested by first graders put a good kind of pressure on the final product, noted CAD designer Nasser Alharshan: “The satisfaction of being able to see the final product was amazing.” 

Overall, students found the project tough but rewarding. “To me, it was more than just another portfolio piece,” noted Frieda. “The biggest [reward] … was being able to see photos of the kids playing with our house and enjoying every second of it.”

Logo and box design for the Hatchlings playhouse design.


Branding and design for the Kidzo playhouse.




Topics: Providence Engineering + Design