A decade of playful innovation

Shark Attack (2017) is a water balloon hot-potato hat game for summer - partnering with Target

Ten years since it launched, and one name change later, Toy Product Design (now Product Innovation Lab, or iLab) remains one of the University of Minnesota’s most popular courses. The course serves as an introduction to hands-on, team-based product design, and it’s open to any student who wants a real-world product design experience.

The curriculum is meticulously designed to enhance students’ educational experience. Over the past decade, students in the course have come up with some impressive product concepts.

Even with the advent of COVID-19 and remote learning, students in the most recent course, offered last spring, were able to continue their creative learning.

One of the unique elements of the course is its community-of-practice teaching model, says TA/lab instructor Krystianna Johnson. Each team has two volunteer industry professionals that are lab instructors for their team and who work closely with the students each week.

The teaching model was developed by product design program director and associate professor Barry Kudrowitz, and that philosophy fosters a unique learning environment.

“This class is just as much about learning how to work in teams as it is about learning the product design process,” says Johnson.

There are even some benefits to the new mode of teaching, with students and instructors able to meet more often and invite reviewers from across the world to provide feedback on the students’ work.

And at the end of the semester, the students are still able to hold the annual “PLAYsentations,” a playful, theatrical design showcase of the teams’ final products.


This story was adapted from the College of Design blog.

Want more? See ten courses form the U of M that will blow your mind.