Collaborative Design for the Win in Creating Inclusive Products

Collaborative Design for the Win in Creating Inclusive Products

For 5 years, Tekna has partnered with Michigan Design Council’s Design Prize in collaboration with K-12 students, tackling a design challenge that combats societal issues linked to Michigan and beyond.

This year’s challenge was to inspire healthy exercise for K-12 students.

The inspired team to tackle this challenge was made up of Branch Area Career Center 11th grade students Caleb Jones, Steven Covell and Brianna Omo with educator lead, Marvin Gage. From Tekna, Kyle Spieker and Tony De Leo provided guidance and insights from an Industrial Design perspective.

The Solution

This talented team created the Inside Recess Activity (I.R.A). The motivation of the game is to work together in creating an interactive lighting experience. The kids chose one device that best matches their capabilities and work to rotate the interactive LED lights in the middle. When the peak goal is reached, the LED spotlights on the device spin, light up and fun emoji’s appear on the screen. To ensure the design addressed many limitations, it includes multiple attachments (rotary, linear) and includes tension adjustment knobs to make for fair play.

Most people know the feeling of being left out, whether at lunch, in the classroom, during recess, etc. This design is aimed at eliminating that feeling by including all students who wish to participate, regardless of their abilities. This product brings unity and collaboration into the classroom as the kids work together. The more they contribute, the greater the lighting experience.

This collaborative team took 2nd place, bringing home a silver!

How this design enhances the quality of life and improves the human condition for MI residents

The design solution will create a level playing field for all early elementary students to join in on an inside group activity regardless of limitations. The kids that engage in this activity will find a new common ground to bond over. On a greater scale, if we create awareness early on that there are many ways to make connections with people, it’ll build healthier habits as they grow into adulthood.

How Tekna was involved

To kick the project off, the students did an excellent job of outlining their problem and solution. From there, Tekna hosted the students onsite to challenge them to think further and build upon their foundation.

“There are so many benefits of being involved in the Michigan Design Prize each year. We are always so impressed with what the students come up with themselves and very rewarding to create additional impact on the project and open student’s eyes to what the creative field of Industrial Design has to offer. The idea of inspiring future Industrial Designers and showing students that their ideas and voices matter is what keeps us engaged in this program year after year”
—Tony De Leo, Principle Industrial Designer at Tekna

More About Michigan Design Prize

The focus of the Michigan Design Prize program is to open the eyes of younger students to the creative field of design, creating a hands-on experience with design professionals and helping them understand what Michigan has to offer.

For more information, check them out at

Michigan Design Prize 2019

2019 Michigan Design Prize

Michigan Design Prize 2019

By Lauren Maksymiuk, Graphic Design Intern

For the 3rd year, we collaborated with students to create a concept at the 2019 Michigan Design Prize. Every year, K-12 and collegiate level students are tasked with designing a product based on larger societal issues and with a Michigan focus. This year, the challenge was to design a physical product solution that improves and beautifies the lives of Michigan’s citizens.

2019 Michigan Design Prize - Collaboration - Michigan Focus

A group of 12th grade students from Branch Area Career Center worked with us to create the “RetroFit” Wheelchair Conversion Kit. Their idea would allow people in wheelchairs to easily navigate and enjoy the Michigan beaches and rough terrain. The kit is quick and easy to assemble, lightweight, and would fit virtually any wheelchair. Their goal was for anyone to be able to assemble the kit on their own, and for them to see the outdoors in a way they haven’t before. The team—Bryce Pagel, Alex Aseltine, Peter Nottingham, Jonathan Annis, Noah Anzaldua, and Khaled Gabri—described the aesthetic of the design as having it “blend in with the wheelchair and be practically unnoticeable.”

Before coming to Tekna, the students had a specific concept they created in CAD and 3D prints. On the day of the workshop, they went back to the drawing board and collaborated with our designers to come up with more ideas. After sketching more, they had new additions that made their product more feasible. The idea of a wheelchair kit like this doesn’t currently exist, but the students decided to take this as a challenge and run with it.

Another student—5th grader Stone Ellis from White Pines—worked with us to bring his “Current Tracker” to life. He envisioned his product “making swimming much safer by showing the user what speed the current is, so they aren’t in danger of unknown rip currents.” He wanted it to be easy to use and understand. We used his concept to come up with a slim design with a propeller and sensor to detect the speed and location of the current. Stone wanted the tracker to be hi-tech, having the ability to show the speed of the current directly to your cell phone or watch, but also be portable to bring to the beach.

Eve, our Industrial Design intern, had the opportunity to work directly with the students and design the final visualization of their concepts. “My experience with working with the students was great. I could tell the students have never had a chance to visit a design firm like Tekna, so that alone was fun to witness. It’s always cool to see people’s reactions when you sketch out their ideas right in front of them.”

Both teams attended the award ceremony on June 12th and took home prizes! The RetroFit brought home Gold and Current Tracker received Silver. We’re so excited to see what the students come up with next year!

We Can Do It!

Society of Women Engineers

We Can Do It!

By Courtney Kohler and Kelly Oswald

Tekna participated in the 6th Annual Corporate Engineering Challenge at the Air Zoo this past weekend, and it was a huge success! The event, sponsored by the Society of Women Engineers, aimed to expose girls ages 9-12 to engineering and science-related activities. Nearly 200 girls participated in the challenge and hundreds of members of the public joined in on the fun. Many of our employees across multiple departments volunteered and showed their support for promoting design and engineering education. We had had a blast interacting with the kids and perhaps recruiting a future member of the Tekna team?!

Society of Women Engineers - Engineering and Science

Our design station at the event introduced the girls to the upfront stages of product design — ideation and sketching. We asked the little designers to develop their “ultimate snow day product.” With first-hand exposure to design terminology and the engineering design process, they made key decisions about their inventions’ features (product name, materials used, etc.). After the product brainstorm, it was time to bring their ideas to life with detailed sketches. From snowball launchers, to sled rockets, to toboggan hill builders, these kids got creative! Later in the day, our very own Krista Grotelueschen represented Tekna on the employer panel and answered many of the girls’ questions about STEM-related jobs.

We have been happy to see an increased focus on boosting the number of women in STEM fields in recent years. However, women still remain greatly underrepresented. Getting girls involved in engineering activities at a young age is critical to instilling a lifelong passion. For some, it can be an issue of confidence, where persisting stereotypes (e.g., that boys are better at math and science) cause girls to shy away from exploring these topics. So how can you help make a difference? For starters, check out this list of 10 ways to encourage your daughter to become an engineer or scientist…and be sure to get involved in next year’s Corporate Engineering Challenge — we’ll see you there!

Engineering Like a Girl at the 5th Annual CEC

Engineering at the airzoo

5th Annual Corporate Engineering Challenge - Engineering like a girl

By Sarah Mangas (Associate Project Manager) and Kelly Oswald (Design Engineer)

The Air Zoo hosted the 5th annual Corporate Engineering Challenge (CEC) put on by several local Southwest Michigan companies and organized by the South Central Michigan chapter of Society of Women Engineers. Two of our female engineers, Sarah Mangas and Kelly Oswald, volunteered to judge the corporate engineering challenge.

Corporate Engineering Challenge - Society of Women Engineers

The Corporate Engineering Challenge’s goal is to introduce young girls to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) before they hit middle school to spark creativity during this critical time and to foster a lifetime of learning. While the event is open to both girls and boys ages 9‒12, the majority of the 2018 challenge participants were female.

The teams were tasked with designing components that would help remote-controlled cars complete three unique challenges. During build time, we posed engineering-related questions to the participants to gauge their understanding of the concepts that they were applying to their designs.

For the first challenge, the car had to be driven up a series of two ramps. The girls had to modify the smooth plastic wheels to increase traction. Points were awarded for ramp distance achieved.

For the second activity, teams built a plow attachment to push beads into target areas to earn specific point values based on difficulty. This challenge proved to be the toughest for most groups.

The final task was to drive through a “victory tunnel” made from PVC pipe. The girls had to design a sign (larger than a specified minimum size) that mounted to their car but would still fit through the tunnel.

Awards were issued to teams scoring the most overall points (top four) and for those who demonstrated “best use of materials” in their signs, wheels, and plow-pushing blades (top two for each challenge).

Watching the teams literally jump for joy as their robotic cars climbed cardboard ramps, maneuvered beads into scoring positions, and traveled through the victory tunnels was so inspiring—we can’t wait to volunteer again at next year’s challenge!

Innovation Celebration 2017

a 2016 MIX event

Innovation Celebration 2017

By Courtney Scott, Business Services Coordinator

Tekna and MIX Southwest Michigan have been long time partners in promoting creativity, innovation, and design within our community. For the second year in a row, we hosted MIX’s capstone event – The Innovation Celebration. This event recognizes local student talent who submitted their concepts, prototypes, and models for new products and services.

With just three short weeks to plan, we once again transformed our open warehouse into a gathering space for creatives to come together, network, and celebrate the talent in the region. Not to brag, but we know how to throw a party! Giant colorful balloons, huge video screens, a graffiti wall, lounge furniture, and product showcases helped highlight all of the great work being done in the community. This year, we also had an illustrator drawing caricatures, a magician doing ‘slight of hand’ tricks, and a tattoo artist drawing tattoos with sharpies. They definitely added to the fun and artistic ambiance of the evening! Lastly, no MIX party is complete without plenty of craft beer, appetizers, and good music.

The Innovation Celebration was the perfect end to a spectacular year of successes for businesses and students alike. Thanks to all those who attended, contributed, and continue to champion creativity in Southwest Michigan! If you’ve never been to a MIX event, we hope to see you in 2018 and bring a friend!

Michigan Design Prize 2017 – The Fuzzy Helmet and Sled

Michigan Design Prize Students

Michigan Design Prize 2017 - The Fuzzy Helmet and Sled

By Sarah Hollingsworth, Design Research

This fall, we participated in the second annual Michigan Design Prize, a design education and awareness program sponsored by the Michigan Design Council. The annual competition focused on inspiring, developing, and celebrating design talent for K-12 and collegiate-level students. Participants are given a single design challenge linked to Michigan and larger societal issues, tasking them to think like designers and to work to solve an authentic problem. Winners are awarded a chance to collaborate with top industrial design professionals throughout the state, helping them bring their ideas to life and showcase their product concept.

Michigan Design Prize - The fuzzy helmet sled - Michigan Design Council

This year’s challenge was to design a physical product that helps people safely enjoy Michigan winters. We partnered with a group of four second graders who invented the “Fuzzy Buckle Helmet and Sled with Seatbelt.” In their words, “The helmet is designed to be comfortable and something that kids would want to wear. The sled has a seatbelt to keep kids comfortable, safe, and warm. It even comes with a helmet holder so that you never forget it. As a bonus, when you remove your helmet to wear it, you can put your favorite stuffed animal in the holder so that you always have your fuzzy friend with you.”

The students visited Tekna so that they could see what it’s like to work as an industrial designer, meeting our team and telling us about their idea. While they shared their vision, our designers were sketching in real-time, documenting the coziest, safest, and coolest-looking sled the kids could think of. We completed dozens of concept sketches that we later shared with the students. They gave us feedback until we reached the final rendering that was sent to the Design Council. On October 18th, we attended the awards ceremony in Ann Arbor, where the team won bronze in the K-2 category!

It was such a fun and enriching experience working with the kids and taking part in a program that supports creative culture, local industry growth, and design education for young talent. We can’t wait to brainstorm Design Prize 2018 concepts!

Next year’s challenge will be to design a physical product that helps people enjoy and explore Michigan’s parks. To learn more about Michigan Design Prize, including school participation opportunities, visit

Helping Houston

Houston after the hurricane

Helping Houston

By James Nowell, Product Fulfillment Manager

In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, an estimated 30,000 people were forced into temporary shelters while they waited for the waters to recede and relief agencies to begin assessing and addressing the damage. Matt Heintz and I were able to participate in those efforts first-hand.

Helping Houston - Community Service - Aftermath of Hurricane Harvey

Partnering with Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian humanitarian organization, in the outlying suburbs of Dickenson, Texas City and Santa Fe, we recently spent a week helping “mud out” houses that had been damaged. While most of the damage was due to flooding, there was also general storm damage from heavy winds and leaking roofs due to the torrential downpours which have been estimated in excess of 27 trillion gallons (yes, trillion). Of primary concern was the very-real risk of mold infestation. To address that, work crews set out to remove drywall, cabinets, tile and linoleum flooring, cabinets, and (in some cases) ceilings. Once the affected framing was exposed, those areas were treated with a non-toxic chemical that inhibits future growth and allows for reconstruction to begin. The work was exhausting, taking place in the hot, humid weather that is south Texas, but it provided a great sense of accomplishment at the end of the week.

Others from Tekna participated in the effort as well. Thanks to the generosity of fellow colleagues at all levels of the organization, a matching donation from Tekna’s owners, and a gift from WMH Fluidpower, we travelled to Houston with $9,740 in cash donations! These funds were used to purchase supplies, materials, and goods such as: beds, groceries, appliances, and even toys for a family with very young children. Other funds were used to purchase gift cards to distribute as more needs are identified.

It was encouraging to meet so many people, both local and from other areas of the country, coming together to help. One local woman was housing 10 people in her house while they waited for theirs to become livable. Countless others were involved in the tedious tasks of removing trash and trying to get back to a sense of normalcy. While there is a long road ahead, it was certainly a breath of fresh air to see so many people with varying backgrounds come together and working for the common good.

Tekna Takes Part: Open Roads' Community Service Event is a Great Way to Give Back

The gears of a bicycle

Open Roads' Community Service Event is a Great Way to Give Back

By Don Herzog, Sr. UX Designer

Thanks to the avid cyclists at Tekna, I have recently rekindled my interest in bicycling after a long hiatus. When Tekna asked for volunteers for Open Roads’ “Fixapalooza,” a free drop-in bike repair clinic for youth 18 and under, I jumped at the chance to pitch in.

Open Roads

I had never heard of the non-profit Open Roads (a Kalamazoo organization teaching local youths bike maintenance and mechanical skills, as well as social skills, to better prepare them for the future) and had no idea what to expect when I arrived at the event. But I was quickly introduced to the Open Roads staff, coached on how to work with the kids, and then paired with a teen needing assistance. Having limited experience, I joined more seasoned coworkers, Joe Regimbald, Eric Heffernan, and Lars Chrisman, along with the kids, to learn a thing or two about bike repair and maintenance.

With a focus on safety, we spent quality time chatting with the kids, replacing tubes and tires, and repairing breaks. I appreciated Open Roads’ philosophy of using bike maintenance to demonstrate how the kids can take ownership of their actions and help themselves while respecting what others teach them. These values, paired with the mechanical coaching, are lessons they could carry with them throughout their lives.

All in all, working side-by-side with my Tekna teammates to help others in the community was an extremely rewarding experience and a really fun way to spend a summer evening. Thank you, Open Roads, for organizing this unique event that reaches out into my community—I look forward to the next one!

Tekna Takes Center Stage in 269 Magazine's Design Issue

269 Magazine cover

Tekna Takes Center Stage in 269 Magazine's Design Issue

Don’t miss the recent 269 Magazine’s Design Issue interview with our very own Mike Rozewicz. You can read his perspective on the multifaceted world of product development, as he shares personal success stories and dishes out career advice. In the issue’s featured article, “Exploring the Evolution of the Creative Economy in Southwest Michigan,” both Mike and Emily Hoffmann talk about the area’s burgeoning creative community and how it’s attracting—and retaining—top-notch talent.

269 Magazine's Design Issue - Mike Rozewicz - Product Development

Reflecting on IDSA Central District Conference 2017

Reflecting on IDSA Central District Conference 2017

Reflecting on IDSA Central District Conference 2017

By Matt Czach, Senior Lead Industrial Designer

Bryce Porter and I recently attended IDSA’s Central District Design Conference, “Innovation Is a Team Sport,” hosted by University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning (UC DAAP). The Over-the-Rhine setting was an ideal location to discuss innovation, Midwestern rejuvenation, and the link between community, creativity and economic growth. Traditionally a working-class neighborhood, Over-the-Rhine is one of the most intact urban historic districts in the U.S and is currently experiencing a cultural renaissance.

IDSA Central District Conference - Cincinnati’s College of Design

The conference started at 1 p.m. on Friday and wrapped with beers at Rhinegeist Brewery on Saturday evening. Throughout the event, I noticed a common entrepreneurial thread in many of the speakers’ stories. For example, there was a memorable account of a successful start-up that went against the grain to invest in the Appalachian region of Ohio, creating valuable jobs in an area painfully devoid of employment opportunities.

The majority of conference speakers had an Ohio connection, and it was exciting to represent Tekna and our Michigan contribution to the Central District. The event provided many resources and takeaways, including coverage of M West Challenge, an organization working with west Michigan schools, businesses, and local investors to host business plan “pitch weekend” competitions.

When we headed back home on Sunday afternoon, we felt fully inspired and ready to seek out new challenges in our own Central District backyard. Thank you IDSA and UC DAAP for hosting this engaging event—we look forward to the next conference!