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A teenage girl uses a glue stick to attach a spying device to a book

Students in the "Spying" workshop modified everyday objects to include "spy" technology.

Creativity by design

Camp lets teenagers experience the world of design

By Dana Setterholm

July 28, 2006

A sign taped to the wall asks, "If you had five seconds to give the world a message in 10 words or less, what would it be?" Among the dozens of colorful answers taped beneath it, two stand out--one says, "Be yourself," and the other, "Find yourself." These words, written by teenagers participating in the 5th annual Design Camp July 24-28, express the sentiments of the camp, which focuses on creativity and exploration.

Design Camp, which is hosted by the U's Design Institute in Rapson Hall on the Twin Cities campus, offers teenagers a chance to explore the world of design. Every year 120 teens aged 14-17 come from around the country to participate in the weeklong camp, which is led by 12 professional instructors from around the world. The teens sign up for one of six workshops, and, over the course of the week, work toward producing an individual or group project.

The camp's director, Wendy Friedmeyer, says that the Design Camp was created to fill a void. There were very few design-oriented camps in existence in 2002, she says, and even fewer programs that catered to kids beyond elementary or middle school. The School of Design (a part of the College of Architecture and Landscaping Architecture) had been running a weekend design camp, so when the Design Institute was founded in 2001, it decided to expand the program. Friedmeyer says the camp is an opportunity for the teenagers to "experience design completely for a week," as well as learn about careers in design.

The students experience design through one of six themed workshops, in which they work toward producing and individual or group project. This year's teenagers had a choice of "Spying" (designing secretive furniture), "Dressing" (creating a personal costume), "Telling" (graphic branding of an environment), "Urbing" (redesigning a city block), "Interacting" (digital interactive storytelling), and "Wearing" (creating clothing with a natural influence). The instructors brought the ideas for the workshops, as well as the titles in verb form. Friedmeyer says titles in the form of "everyday verbs" avoid the constriction of a general subject (like "Architecture" or "Fashion") and stimulate questions. The instructors are all experienced professionals--some from as far away as Israel, Australia, and Japan--but undergraduate and graduate students of the U's College of Design lend their help as well, serving as teaching assistants.

The instructors also make use of the arts-friendly Twin Cities by taking their workshop students on field trips around the Metro area. "Spying" participants visited the Science Museum's exhibit on failed medical devices, for example, and "Wearing" participants went to the Minnesota Zoo to sketch ideas for their final project, nature-based clothing.

The final projects came together at the end of the week, and the main goal was for each camper to feel a sense of ownership and have something tangible to take home--whether that's a skirt, an infrared sensor, or a plan for a newly redesigned Block F. On July 28, the final projects were presented to an invited jury, comprised of local business and community leaders and U faculty and staff, for feedback. The camp closes each year with a public presentation of the projects to family and friends.

Friedmeyer hopes the camp expands students' creativity and helps them experience the world of design, and also gives the participants a good idea of the career opportunities available for them. "They're the future of design," she says.

To find more information about Design Camp, which is sponsored by Target, and how to register for next year's camp, visit the Web site.