May 6, 2016

Design, Empathy, Collaboration: RAW EXPO at Milstein Hall

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RAW EXPO can perhaps best be described as a gathering of creators and question-askers deconstructing barriers to collaboration. In the wide concrete dome of Milstein Hall, over 50 groups of and individual artists, publishers, engineers, developers, musicians, architects and people who came simply due to curiosity conversed and tested out products and processes. Simply put, a desire to create a fully interdisciplinary environment undergirds RAW EXPO.Pg-6-RAW-1-by-Cameron-Pollack-Photo-Editor

Now in its second year, RAW EXPO was hosted by and served as a kickoff for Medium Design Collective, a group of students that champions collaboration and design-oriented creation. Many members of ASSOCIATION, the group that organized RAW EXPO’s inauguration last year, remain in Medium.

However, whereas ASSOCIATION was composed of Architecture, Art and Planning students, Medium now also includes students from across Cornell’s undergraduate colleges. Thus, the desire to collaborate beyond college and beyond major is central both to RAW EXPO and its organizers. “RAW EXPO is not just a showcase, something nice or cool to look at,” stated Tina He ’19, a member of Medium Design Review’s layout team and one of RAW EXPO’s organizers, “It is a burgeoning belief that manifests itself when an architect, an engineer and a comparative literature major finally decide to have a conversation with each other.”

While Medium promotes design through a number of different avenues (such as their publication, Medium Design Review and mentoring programs), RAW EXPO specifically focused on “destigmitazing design,” as described by Pamela Chueh, ’17 Medium’s Co-Directors of Events. Medium sought to emphasize the fact that design runs through not only architecture and engineering, but also research, as evidenced by Cornell Undergraduate Research Board’s presence, and argumentation, as shown by Cornell Speech and Debate Society’s inclusion. A number of creators present at the event also noted the interesting and unexpected interactions that grew out of the attendees’ shared focus on design. Drew Mitchner ’18, a mechanical engineer and a member of the mechanical subteam for CUAir, observed that people at EXPO considered the plane that the team displayed from many perspectives. Whereas project fair attendees typically asked about the technical details of CUAir’s plane, Mitchner found that EXPO attendees were far more interested in various design aspects, such as how the plane was created, or the interplay between the plane’s design and its functionality.

Perhaps even more so than last year, RAW EXPO also brought together not only designers who create an object or product, but also those who work with more nebulous ideas, like community, or even thought itself. Although such topics might seem less tangible or more difficult to design at first, many designers strongly argued the opposite point. For example, Big Red Design Thinking extolled and explained the benefits of three tenets of design thinking: defining the problem, brainstorming and prototyping. Big Red Design Thinking’s stations that explained these processes did so manners both whimsical — prototyping eccentric hats in 20 minutes — and thought provoking. One of the group’s brainstorming prompts still crops up in my mind when I daydream: “How might we make Mondays the most joyous day of the week?” The answers, too, ranged from hilarious (“beer”) to creative (“study @ home virtually”). Underlying Big Red Design Thinking’s stations, as well as those of many other creators, was an additional emphasis on empathy and shared resources.

“EXPO  was great because it allowed students to see how other students think and understand their creative process. I couldn’t believe the amount of creativity, focus, and hard work that people my age put into such a wide variety of projects.” stated Julia Greenberg ’18 when asked about her thoughts after attending EXPO, “I liked that so many different interests were represented, because it showed how design can be applied to so many fields.”

In the end, any relatively brief account that tries to encapsulate all that constitutes RAW EXPO will inevitably fall short. After all, RAW EXPO strives to be and is far, far more than a collection of presenters standing around, selling the same pitch to any who comes by for two hours. Rather, RAW EXPO thrives on the unexpected, the incidental, the in-the-moment collaborations. Perhaps the thing that will strike a given aPg-6-RAW-3-by-Cameron-Pollack-Photo-Editorttendee is guitarist/keyboardist Brad Nathanson ’18 and electronic musician Beau Mahadev ’18 crafting live music under Milstein’s massive concrete staircase. Perhaps for another attendee it’s a chance conversation that they had with a future collaborator while waiting in line for a slice of ham. Accordingly, RAW EXPO’s theme this year — glitch — seemed entirely appropriate. As EXPO’s organizers noted, collaboration often grows from the unexpected and from mistakes that turn out to be breakthroughs when viewed from a different perspective.