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 was Tekna 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

The Need for Speed

Race car driving

The Need for Speed

From a young age, engineer Mike Gruizinga has been fascinated with speed and racing. What began as a keen interest in motocross, quickly developed into a love of racing cars. Mike has sported several vehicles in the past, including a beefed up Geo Metro, to fulfill his endurance racing dreams in the 24 Hours of Lemons racing series.

racecar with a rainbow stripe

His current ride, a gray 1984 Nissan 300zx Turbo, has become his main focus for the last year. It has been a long time coming for this combo to come to fruition, as Mike has owned the Nissan in one form or another for nearly 16 years. Recently, he has been bringing his car to GingerMan, the local race track, for testing and development. Mike finds wheel to wheel racing to be an exhilarating outlet, and is currently pursuing that branch of racing.

race car on the track

If Mike isn’t racing for himself, he is sharing his love and knowledge of the sport with other enthusiasts through training opportunities brought to the track by Gridlife and AutoInterest. Several times during the year, Mike will take beginner, intermediate, and advanced drivers around the track to show them the ropes of racing. Beginners are typically paired with an instructor for their first few track events to help them gage their turns, speed, and technique. Mike thoroughly enjoys instructing others, as he finds it incredibly rewarding to introduce, mentor and coach others interested in a shared passion.

As any well-versed car lover knows, where there are cars, there are repairs, maintenance, modifications, and improvements. As an engineer, Mike feels right at home working on his cars. He enjoys working with his hands and adores having a tremendous outlet for some of his design engineer energy. To support these modifications on his passion projects, Mike has restored several vintage machines including a drill press and horizontal milling machine. In addition, he has also designed and built custom workbenches, including a fixture bench for welding.

lifting an engine

You can keep up with Mike’s racing by following him on Youtube

To learn more about local racing, visit

Global Innovation Awards

GIA Global Innovation Awards

Global Innovation Awards

We are excited to celebrate the accomplishments of our very own Eve Berndt at the Global Innovation Awards! Eve, along with two other students, designed a system of products called ReFresh for their Senior Thesis project at MIAD (Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design), aspiring to introduce a more sustainable, eco-friendly approach to grocery shopping. Working together to identify the need within the industry and create the Refresh system, they each picked a sustainable product to focus on within the Refresh project. Eve focused on a reusable and returnable grocery carrier and container system. Bern


While businesses and consumers are pushing more and more for eco-friendly alternatives to single-use plastic bags and packaging in grocery stores, ReFresh offers a shopping solution that is more durable, easier to recycle, and easier to organize.

Designed to be a “pack as you go” system with efficient modular organization, the ReFresh containers and carriers can allow shoppers to collect custom amounts of dry goods and unpackaged produce in a formulated way. ReFresh components can be easily sanitized after each use, to ensure safe and healthy shopping experiences. The lifespan of the components are long and fulfilling, however, when the products do reach the end of their lifespan, the plastic can be completely broken down and turned into usable PET plastic once more. The durability and longevity of ReFresh products is of more value than using recyclable, one-use paper bags, further enhancing a low-waste future in the grocery industry.

Eve design prize

After months of dedicated work and design, the team’s innovative solution took home third place! We applaud Eve’s ambition and drive both on her personal projects, and in the office. In the handful of months she has been a part of our team, she has shown great potential, work ethic, and talent, and we can’t wait to see all of the amazing projects she will interact with at Tekna!

If you’d like to learn more about ReFresh and Eve’s design process, visit

Responding to the Need – PPE for the COVID-19 Pandemic

Responding to the Need – PPE for the COVID-19 Pandemic

We can’t express enough gratitude to all of the healthcare professionals working so hard to care for us in a great time of need! As hospitals have struggled to get the protective equipment needed for their healthcare providers, we partnered with local companies Fabri-Kal, Schupan & Sons, and Southwest Michigan First to make face shields.

Bronson Healthcare requested support from Southwest Michigan First to acquire additional Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). With input from health care professionals, our companies were able to collaborate and adapt a concept design provided by Global Center for Medical Innovation (GCMI) consortium in less than one week.

Each organization leveraged its specialty in the project. Fabri-Kal formed and cut the plastic shields then handed them off to Schupan & Sons to prepare the shields for assembly. We funneled all of the components of the project—foam, elastic and plastic shield—in order to assemble and then deliver to area hospitals.

Our manufacturing space and operations were at full capacity working on a different COVID-19 relief project so we set up the face shield line at our Innovation facility. Without assembly crew members, our designers and engineers stepped up and stepped into the role. Hear from Cassidy Taylor, a graphic designer who worked on the assembly line:

“One of the greatest things I’ve learned is how important it is to be flexible. With everything that has been happening in our world, country, and our own towns, society has made significant changes to our daily lives. It’s a scary time and an anxious time, but I’m also finding more and more moments of hope. One of those moments of great hope is Tekna’s ambition and ability to jump forward. In a matter of two weeks, we transformed our capabilities into one that is bringing hope and resources to not only people in our immediate community, but also to people far beyond our town.

I was asked to contribute to the production of the protective face shields that the hospital workers so desperately need. I spent the week rotating between stations on the production line with several other members of the company. From adhering the foam pad to the plastic shield, to bagging the completed product for shipping, we worked together to speed the production along. My coworkers and I come from desk jobs and we aren’t used to working on an assembly line. While the work is tedious and it’s not the normal graphic design work I’m used to, I actually found it to be pretty refreshing and it was nice to use a different side of my brain. The team and I also experienced a completely new type of collaboration. It encouraged all of us to remain flexible in our skills and minds, we communicated constantly, and worked together to achieve the goal of making as many masks as we could in each day. This experience was incredibly rewarding to be a part of! I’m so proud of the company, the team, and I’m thrilled to have the experience of bringing people hope and solace!” – Cassidy Taylor

New Year, New Look, New Website

New Website - New Year New Look

New Year, New Look, New Website

It’s hard to believe it’s been four years since we launched our rebrand and new website. At the same time, it feels like it’s exactly who we’ve always been. Then, our focus was on creating our brand identity – determining what makes us who we are and starting to share that with the world. It was just the beginning.

New Website - New Year, New Look - Tekna brand and site revamp

Now, with something really refreshing about the year 2020, we’ve built on that story and designed and developed a new website centered around our collective mission to create meaningful product and brand experiences. This evolution provides more visibility into how we work, what it’s like to work with us, and showcases our breadth of experience in a way we’ve never done before. While we’ve highlighted each of our services separately, we hope what rings true is how we’re all connected. It’s our multi-disciplinary approach and our collective expertise that allows us to create experiences with greater impact.

Tekna Awarded Wonderful Workplace

Wonderful Workplace 2019

Tekna Awarded Wonderful Workplace 2019

By Sarah Hollingsworth

Tekna was selected by 269 Magazine as one of Southwest Michigan’s Wonderful Workplaces. This award celebrates the outstanding efforts made by local businesses in the region who build culture and create a great place to work.

The article, released in their 2019 Holiday issue, focused on our culture of authenticity. “The space—with ceilings high enough to allow for an airplane to be suspended above the design team—leaves plenty of room for big ideas, but Tekna’s openness is more than physical.” Being open and ‘real’ with each other and our clients allows for meaningful relationships based on trust.

An excerpt from our feature:

For creatives, it can be hard to let people get a look behind the curtain before designs are polished, but the transparency throughout the creative process is what sets Tekna’s culture apart.
“There’s something really risky about being that up-front and authentic,” says Hollingsworth. “It forces you to be vulnerable.” She believes that, by laying out what she calls the “creative messiness” throughout a project’s lifespan, the firm is able to work through problems and design a product that’s even better than expected.

It was truly an honor to be recognized in this way. What a nice way to close out 2019 with high hopes for 2020 and all that we are going to do with our clients!

Being the First Supply Chain Intern

supply chain internship

Being the First Supply Chain Intern

By Brandon Peterson, Supply Chain Intern

When it came time to look for a summer internship, I really wanted to find something that would help me explore the various aspects of supply chain management. With that in mind, I felt like interning for a larger scale company wouldn’t be ideal because I would likely be limited to a narrower role with fewer activities. Conversely, a smaller company like Tekna would enable me to view the process more comprehensively, and gain a better understanding of what I would like to do in my future endeavors.

My time at Tekna proved to be unique, because not only was this was my first supply chain internship, it was also the first time Tekna had hosted an intern in the production facility. Though I was aware throughout the entirety of tenure that I was the intern, I was never treated as such, but rather was treated as a part of the team.

On my third day of work, before I even had my feet underneath me to get comfortable, I was invited to participate in visiting a new, potential supplier. From there, I knew this was going to be an unforgettable experience that would only benefit me and my professional development. Sure, I had my share of mundane daily tasks such as receiving and payables, but this internship also allowed me to explore other critical functions. Success in supply chain management begins with effective planning, which requires an understanding of customer demand, supplier lead time, inventory management, production capacity, and logistical considerations. I got to see almost every single aspect of what Tekna’s supply chain looks like from supplier to producer to distribution. I also got to interact in some way or another with several different exercises, such as extracting data from the purchasing software and manipulating it to generate an easily-understood report categorized by product family, and linking that inventory to the value of open sales orders to the customer. An understanding of this type of information is vital to ensure the proper alignment of inventory assets with customer demand and represents a task that moves beyond tactical activity and into strategic planning.

Being able to work with one of the most closely-knit group of individuals made it so easy for me to learn so much. Working side by side with James, Deb, and Ryan every day made it extremely easy to come into work every morning eager to learn and to see what kind of tasks and challenges they had for me. I am forever grateful for all that they have taught me and I couldn’t be happier with how this internship turned out and all the experience I have gained.

When Life Gives you Lemons

medical device

When Life Gives You Lemons

By Mike Stinchcomb, Design Engineer Intern

About 2 years ago I tried to shoe ski down a huge, snowy, slick hill on my way to class (as any college kid would), which resulted in me falling pretty hard on some ice. After my fall, I experienced sharp and persistent pain in my hip. I saw a few doctors who were having trouble finding the root of the problem. I went through 6 months of tests, physical therapy, MRIs, x-rays, and ultrasounds until the doctors were finally able to diagnose me with femoroacetabular impingement. This is a fairly rare condition and the treatment varies from patient to patient. For me, surgery was the solution. When all was said and done, it had taken nearly 15 months for me to go from being injured to fully recovered. For a person who spends a good chunk of their average day either running, biking, swimming, climbing, skiing, or doing any number of physical activities, this injury was tough.

During this time of being injured, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to accomplish with the strong passion for engineering I have. Through my injury, I was both amazed by the capabilities in current healthcare and driven by a passion to help people who are experiencing the same frustration I did. I knew I wanted to use my skills in engineering to advance the medical device industry and that‘s when I came across Tekna.

From a distance, I was interested in Tekna because they do a lot of work in the medical device industry, but when I came in for an interview, my perspective of the company deepened. It became clear to me that Tekna is a needle-in-a-haystack company. From the creative, fun, and dynamic work environment, to the highly skilled, friendly, and hard-working employees, I knew it was where I wanted to intern.

Medical Device - Mike Stinchcomb - Design Engineering Intern

During my first week on the job, I sat down with my internship mentor, Kelly, and we put together a laundry list of things I wanted to learn and accomplish during my internship. To my amazement, and eternal appreciation, she made a way for me to get around to all of them. I wanted to be involved in medical device projects, and I worked on several. I wanted design experience, and I designed multiple components and systems for real projects. I wanted experience with testing, and I designed testing fixtures, wrote test protocols, and performed tests. I wanted to be more proficient in Solidworks, and they let me sit in on simulation and surfacing training sessions. I wanted to learn Arduino, and they taught me. I wanted to learn manufacturing processes, and they let me go on every supplier visit scheduled for the summer. The team at Tekna continuously went out of their way to help me develop foundational, professional skills that they knew I would need in my career.

This servant-hearted leadership is a big part of the company culture at Tekna. If you’re interested in learning something, you’re provided opportunities to pursue that interest. You’re constantly being pushed to grow in your profession. If you have questions or need help, people gladly take time out of their day to assist you. Any one employee will give advice or feedback on your project regardless of whether or not they are working on it too. Nobody shifts the blame, they own up to their mistakes. And it’s not frowned upon to make a mistake. After all, there are very few inventive designs in the world that don’t have a history of failure.

This internship has been foundational in my professional development and has provided me with skills and experience that I will carry with me throughout my career. It’s given me an opportunity to do what I love and help the people I’m passionate about helping — all in an incredible work environment with incredible people. Thank you, Tekna!

A Holistic Approach

Product Design Eve Berndt

A Holistic Approach

By Eve Berndt, Industrial Design Intern

Looking at the bigger picture has always been a tendency of mine. I’ve shaped who I am today, in part, because of my inclination to question ideals, motives, and systems around me. I think it’s a big part of what drew me to industrial design—I love the discussion around what makes a well-designed product. I love the questioning. But more so, I love following the process from idea to visualization to fruition. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to step into other areas of product development—could I be more involved in the manufacturability or branding or research behind a product?

Product Design - Eve Berndt - A Holistic Approach behind product design

What I found at Tekna was an environment where blurring the lines between designated job descriptions is actually encouraged. That was one of the first comments I heard when I started my internship: “People here wear many different hats.” I’ve noticed that this approach helps people empathize across professional fields—when a designer works closely with engineers on a given project, not only can it make them more efficient in similar future interactions, but it equips them with a skillset that might open the door to more engineering-heavy projects in the future.

My first week at Tekna, I was asked what I wanted to get out of my internship. This was the first of many conversations that helped me realize this was a reciprocating process. I was here to help them, but they were sincerely here to help me too. My internship mentor, Kyle, planned out a few exercises where I got to take products apart, document how they work, and redesign a new form around the internal components. I learned which manufacturing processes are ideal based on quantity of parts needed, how to spot imperfections from certain processes, and how the incorporation of certain features can drastically change the user’s interaction with a product.

By my second week, I was lucky enough to join a design team working on a new surgical device. Because the project had just kicked off, a lot of sketch work was needed around the ergonomics of the handpiece and how a surgeon or scrub tech would ideally use it. The journey-mapping portion of the process was especially interesting, analyzing how a product travels from a shelf, across the sterile field, and into a surgeon’s hand. I was trusted to produce concept sketches that were in most cases client-facing, meaning the sketches needed to speak for themselves, with no other visual aid or hand gestures present to explain an idea.

Several designers got together each week to critique my work, always in the spirit of making me that much better. I realized I hadn’t gone through many critiques that were of value to me prior to my time here at Tekna. It’s nice to hear that my work is “good” or “acceptable,” but that doesn’t help me move forward. Many of the comments I received were ones I’d never given thought to before, and I welcomed that feedback, internalizing their suggestions and applying them to my work.

When it came time for the intern project, a collaboration between the interns from graphic design, industrial design, and engineering, that level of feedback became especially vital to the success of our end product. We were given five weeks to invent, design, engineer, and brand a birdhouse (that was the extent of the brief). Our mentors played a huge role in guiding that process and working with the other interns ended up being one of my favorite parts of the summer. Problem-solving with people outside of our field was a challenging collaboration for all of us, but it helped me understand their perspectives, and I think it made for a more thoughtful design solution.

When you’re in school for industrial design, everything feels theoretical, idealistic, and justified primarily by your own opinion of what good design is. I found it refreshing to arrive at Tekna and have my ideas constantly challenged. The designers here stress the details—they talk about the purpose behind certain proportions of an object, the surfacing details, even the feeling a user gets from a product. Working alongside this team and producing work for real clients was a privilege that has changed my perspective on this field entirely. I have a more holistic view of my place in design, feeding into that ideal of mine that I should always be looking at the bigger picture. I’m grateful to have been a part of such a collaborative and talented group of people and can’t thank Tekna enough for this experience.

Operation Birdhouse – Summer 2019

Tekna Intern Birdhouse

Operation Birdhouse – Summer 2019

By Summer 2019 Interns: Eve Berndt, Lauren Maksymiuk, and Mike Stinchcomb

During the first few weeks of our internship, we heard talk of an intern project and a running joke about how the birdhouse is coming along. Around our last month at Tekna, we were given the project brief–operation birdhouse. The mission was to create a birdhouse for the back patio—but not just any old birdhouse. They wanted something exciting that pushed the stereotypical confines of everyday objects. We were given the choice to work individually or as a group, and we all decided we wanted to collaborate. Being the first group of interns to do this project, we wanted to set the bar high.

Birdhouse Project Engineering Concepts

There were only a few parameters for the project: the birdhouse should represent the theme of transformation and we could only use materials found around Tekna. We had about a month until the final week of our internship to design, build, and brand our birdhouse. Below is a look at our thought process on each part of the project.

Birdhouse - Summer 2019 Concept Sketches

The Design – Eve Berndt

I always start with quick thumbnail sketches of how I want a product to function and in the first week of this process, our brainstorming sessions really fueled those sketches. We were interested in several ideas incorporating renewable energy and even waterfall features, but as we narrowed our concepts, we focused on what was feasible for us to build (and for Tekna to maintain). At one point, Mike suggested incorporating a wind-powered element, which we all thought was a cool feature and a viable energy source.

Once we chose the QR6 turbine, I started a lengthy process of shaping the birdhouse to pair well with the turbine. We had a very geometric design that we were interested in, but it didn’t have a single curve in it—there was nothing about it that was tying it to the organic, helical shape of the turbine. It’s important to stress these details, because even to non-designers when there’s something “off” about the proportions or curvature of a product, you can tell right away (though you might not be able to pinpoint what it is).

I began playing with tangencies between the profile of the house and the turbine blades, eventually incorporating a curvature pattern that moves in a wave across the panels that line the birdhouse. Each piece of wood has a single curve in it that gets lower and lower as you move from one panel to the next. When we decided on this direction, the curvature still looked a bit stagnant, so there was some work put into how each curve reflected light and how I could alter the location and prominence of the highlights and shadows. Because of the precise modifications, I was making, this was all done in CAD, which also made for a more accurate build later on.

It was exciting (and a bit stressful) to get into the woodshop and figure out the build process while navigating the materials available to us. We each had ideas to bring to the table, whether it was suggesting the best order of operations or where to put contrasting color. That was my favorite part of the process—crossing over disciplines and learning from one another. I think it made for a dynamic final product, one that we’re really proud to have contributed to.

Birdhouse Project Intern Mike Working on

The Engineering – Mike Stinchcomb

Upon being assigned this project, it became apparent that I would need to get creative with the design in order to challenge myself as an engineer. A birdhouse can have a creative form, but I wanted to add a creative function—something that’s not common among many birdhouses.

One idea I had was to use a DC motor to make a moving component. My first thought was to make a water pump with the motor and have a waterfall/birdbath on the birdhouse, but I quickly abandoned the idea because it would require far too much maintenance (replacing batteries, adding water, cleaning, etc.).

Then, I looked to something that would require less (or no) maintenance but still had a moving component. We landed on two ideas. One was to use a horizontal axis wind turbine to turn a camshaft, making the roof of the birdhouse oscillate and have a cool, wavy motion. The other was to make a fully sustainable birdhouse. This would require some form of renewable energy that could power lights, attracting bugs for the birds to feed on. We decided on this direction because it felt the most creative and thematic. Without the budget for the birdhouse, the renewable energy would have to be wind as there weren’t any solar panels lying around the building.

Through some research, I discovered that you can actually convert a DC motor into a generator. By spinning the top, it reverses the flow of current so that you can wire in something, like lights, to the other end and it will power them. The turbine would need to be a vertical axis wind turbine in order to tie in well with the overall design. We chose the QR6 design, which has a cool helical shape that we could tie the form of the birdhouse to and have the best performance for our application. It’s often used in urban environments due to its aerodynamic performance and its helical blade shape, which distributes loads evenly across each blade, reducing noise and vibration.

The next challenge was how to mount the turbine on the pole of the birdhouse without holding the turbine in compression and only using components around the building. It soon became apparent we would need to buy bearings to fit around the pole so the turbine would be able to spin freely. Our project leaders strongly supported mounting the turbine on the pole, so we were granted “buying power” to purchase these bearings.

We also ran into the challenge of turning the motor fast enough to power the lights. To troubleshoot this, we gear-drove the motor. This was easier to do with the turbine mounted on the pole because its rotational speed is greatly increased when transferred to the motor.

All in all, I’d say we were successful in adding a unique and creative function to the design and I found this challenge refreshing.

Birdhouse Project Logo

The Branding – Lauren Maksymiuk

Although I’ve had some experience with branding, I’ve never had to start all the way from the beginning–naming a product I helped create. At first, I didn’t know where to start. How do you come up with a creative name that flows and represents the product well? Fortunately, Tekna’s talented graphic design team had been through this process before and gave me tips on where to start. I began by writing themes that represented our birdhouse: sustainable, shelter, wind, movement, and more. Once I had some general ideas written down, the names started flowing. Some were better than others, but a few of the better names were BlueBreez, Gust Glow, and Lumina.

After coming up with some potential product names, I moved onto the logo design. This involved finding unique typefaces, sketching out simplified icons, and customizing letterforms. After several variations of each name, I narrowed it down to the three strongest options. Ultimately, BlueBreez was the chosen one. This logo represented several aspects of the birdhouse: the first part of the name, “blue,” was because the birdhouse was created specifically for Blue Birds; “breeze” represents the wind turbine that powers the lights on the birdhouse; the simplified wind icon connects to the name and has 3 parts to it, representing the three of us that worked on this project.

The finishing touch on the brand was creating the color palette. Due to the parameters of the project, we had limited colors of spray paint to choose from. Fortunately, there were shades of blue and orange that represented the bluebird and complemented each other well. We applied these colors to a model of the birdhouse before painting and found that the colors worked well when they were used subtly.

After creating a brand for our birdhouse, the finishing touch was a presentation about our process and a final poster. Creating the poster gave me ideas about how I could push the brand further and create a style guide for advertisements and other marketing materials. Even in a short span of time, being a part of this project gave me a sense of the full branding process and how a story unfolds as you create it.

Birdhouse Project final product

Final Thoughts

As students who haven’t had exposure to working with people in multiple industries on one project, there was a lot of trial and error in the first few weeks. There were some design ideas that couldn’t be engineered, and there were some engineering functions that we had to design around. Building the birdhouse taught us how to manage our time, problem-solve, and take a project from start to finish. We’re excited to be the first of many Tekna birdhouses!