RISD Grad Thesis Exhibition 2017

Each year, RISD's graduating master's students from all disciplines convene on the Providence convention center to display their thesis work. The exhibition is always expansive in scope, true to the diversity of the 16 graduate programs at RISD.

This year, the graduating M.I.D. students displayed work encompassing commercial, responsible, experimental, and discursive design. Projects included, among others:

  • a line of discursive clothing that allows wearers to express cultural values while addressing what it means to be a person of color in America today

  • a series of personal ‘digi-chanisms’, inspired by biophilia and pocket accessories, to help young veterans transition out of military service into civilian life

  • a suite of products for young parents and toddlers to help them navigate the double transition of parents returning to work and children spending time in new environments

  • a framework to help digital (smart) objects be more mindful of the effects their presence have one us so they can interact with us more meaningfully

  • a series of interventions to ease both patients’ and their companions’ mental and physical stress while they are in emergency waiting rooms

  • a line of apocalyptic home furniture

  • a connected fitness device that untangles the social motivators from the social discouragers in a fitness experience

  • a connected service with digital devices to help us strengthen our closest relationships when living far from loved ones

  • a series of devices that recapitulate historic communication technologies, like smoke signals or the telegraph, as a way of exploring how objects mediate human interactions

  • a series of daily objects combined with realistic human features that make geometrical and indifferent things more enjoyable and intuitively functional

The Great Flood Workshop

You live in a communist society on a sunny and tropical island that floods every full moon.

You live in a democratic society on an island in a dark and stormy sea. It floods every 5 years.

You live in an authoritarian society on an arid and windless island that floods each year.


Your task: design a luxury good for the inhabitants of your island.


This was the prompt given to participants on April 29th as part of The Great Flood workshop, designed and hosted by graduate students in the industrial design program. RISD undergraduate students, graduate students, as well as professionals and community members from the Providence area convened to explore designing for extreme scenarios. In addition to developing innovative product concepts, the workshop participants wanted to explore: how can roleplaying enhance a workshop environment? How can sequencing the introduction of new design constraints affect the ultimate output? And how can designing for extreme environments help us better design for our everyday lives?

After a brief icebreaker activity, participants were randomly assigned island locations via a miniature message in a bottle. Each participant was given a role (politician, shop-keeper, humanitarian) and each island was assigned characteristics of government, environmental conditions, and flood frequency. Additionally, each island featured an additional fantastical constraint: that the inhabitants’ memories reset each year; that inhabitants lived forever; and that the island was mountainous such that only a select few could comfortably avoid the flood on high ground.

With one hour, and using only the materials supplied to them, participants designed prototypes of luxury products for their unique island contexts.  

Community members of the various islands convened to review the prototypes of each island. In a twist, the shop-keepers were then asked to swap islands in order to tweak product ideas to be marketable on both their original and new islands.


Product ideas included:


A suite of life vest products to be worn for survival and in order to indicate socioeconomic standing

A flask that would contain “immortal water” that was specific to each inhabitant’s DNA

A backpack that contained materials to help civilization rebuild itself each year


As one workshop participant reflected, “the structure of the workshop really helped me to free myself from the usual constraints — and to think outside the normal parameters of product design.”

This Is How We Do It: ID Grad Biennial

Curatorial Statement:

“So, what exactly do you…do…”

Industrial design is a blurry discipline. It kind of has to be. Our role is to move in the spaces between disciplines, building connections and bridges between experts, users, stakeholders, factory workers, engineers, policy makers, titans of industry, middle managers, lost children…you get the idea. We’re all over the place. When we talk about design, we talk about objects and artifacts; services and experiences; systems and platforms; strategies and stories.

RISD’s MID community is especially blurry. The program is founded on a studio-based dialogue exploring ID in a cohort consisting of people with backgrounds from all over the world. We are former architects, sculptors, anthropologists, filmmakers, set designers, engineers, scientists, and more. We are building our own bridges between our past practices and our future place in the broad discipline of industrial design.

To help manage all of this blurriness, we use models—sometimes conceptual, sometimes physical—to help test our ideas and organize our thinking. This exhibit is the result a process that asked us to move between concepts and objects through a series of stages. Sometimes we worked alone. Sometimes we collaborated with our peers. In the end, we made some models. And then organized them according to another model.

This is how we do it.

Squirel Tails for Rats - Dave Pittman

Squirel Tails for Rats - Dave Pittman

Backpack - Jake Moritz

Backpack - Jake Moritz