Industrial Design Students Craft Vision for Florida Marine Discovery Center

Students explore the grounds of Florida's Marine Discovery Center.

Professor Randy Bartlett’s third year Product Design class in the School of Industrial and Graphic Design (SIGD) recently worked with the non-profit Marine Discovery Center (MDC) of New Smyrna Beach, Florida. The MDC is home to exhibits, trails and a five-acre restored saltwater marsh. The center offers education and conservation science programs to the community through classes, camps, boat tours and lectures. Bartlett and his students researched the facility and its needs to help craft a vision for the future at MDC.

Bartlett, along with SIGD school head Clark Lundell, traveled to Florida late last year to tour MDC’s facilities and grounds, then returned with his students for a site visit at the start of the semester. Once back on campus, they developed recommendations for the organization’s facilities as well as its overall strategic plan. In early April, the students presented their findings to MDC staff, board members and community representatives.

Bartlett and his students looked at various parts of the MDC campus, including trails, observation platforms, signage and exhibits, to see where improvements might be made. “One of the areas we focused on was the main entrance to the property with an emphasis on the ‘sense of arrival,’” Bartlett said. In their presentation, the students offered ideas that included new signage for the main entryway, an outdoor pavilion for family picnics, a nature playscape and a mountain-top area for weddings and other events. They also proposed a treetop canopy walk with a rope bridge and zipline. Their designs included playful images like dolphins, octopuses and oysters.

This project presented slightly different challenges than industrial design students typically address. Normally, these students design consumer products, usually hand-held objects, through a process of sketching, drawing and drafting. In contrast, their work with MDC required students to work at a larger scale, building models to present their ideas to the organization’s stakeholders, volunteers and donors. “It’s all about design thinking, and I think our students love a challenge,” Bartlett said. “Sketches are wonderful and needed, but more often a model assists in proving concepts. The students really embraced this project.”

The students’ presentation was well-received by all in attendance, and the MDC staff and volunteers are excited for the future. “I have learned that the way you judge the success of an event is how long those in attendance hang around afterwards,” Bartlett explained. “Most everyone, including the mayor of New Smyrna Beach, stayed almost an hour after the event.”