Design U Designs For You

Roohi Katarya and Maia Peterson

On Friday, December 8th, interdisciplinary student group Design U will host an end of the semester showcase of the work they’ve completed so far this year. Founded in 2015 by Ryan Hedblom, Design U works with local companies to create design solutions for everything from prototyping to the design of web or mobile applications. In this interview, Design U’s executive directors Roohi Katarya (Product Design) and Maia Peterson (Architecture) discuss the group’s work and what they’ve accomplished so far.

How did the two of you get involved with Design U?

Katarya: “I joined the second semester of the group’s existence, which was the second semester of my freshman year. Originally, I was a mechanical engineering student, and was looking for an outlet to tie my passions for both engineering and design – Design U seemed like the perfect fit. I joined the Freshman Intern Team and transitioned into outreach director my sophomore year.”

Peterson: “My freshman year I was a student-athlete so I wasn’t able to really explore design until I was a sophomore. Design U was the first thing I joined that fall. Originally I was on one of the research and strategy teams and from there I worked my way up.”

What are your current roles in the group?

Katarya: “Maia has oversight over the three project divisions: Prototyping, Digital, and Research and Strategy. I work more on the operational side and oversee our marketing, business development, finance, HR, and event programming teams.”

Why was Design U created?

Katarya: “Three years ago Ryan Hedblom, who was a mechanical engineering student, noticed a lack of real-world application in his classes. He started brainstorming and researching ways to create a student experience that was less theoretical and more hands-on. He wanted to give students an experience where they could go out and do something impactful with the skills they were learning.”

Peterson: “Over the last three years it’s been a ton of trial and error but the group gets better and better every day.”

How do you find your clients?

Peterson: “In the past, our client acquisition process featured a lot of cold calling and going to local start-up events to network. This is primarily what our business development team does. But now we are at a point where we are having clients come back to us, which is really exciting.”

Who is in Design U?

Katarya: “There are 60 students total with 45 team project members and 15 executive members. Although Design U started in the College of Science and Engineering (CSE), it encompasses students from CSE, the College of Design, and Carlson School of Management because we want the group to be as interdisciplinary as possible. We have students of all ages and experience levels.”

How can students get involved in the group?

Katarya: “We take applications every fall and spring and openings are posted on our website.”

Peterson: “For people who are trying to join, it’s generally easier to apply in the fall. Spring openings are on a rolling basis and depend on how many open spots we have that semester. Normally, we don’t have a lot of openings in the spring.”

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