Design Team Meetings: A Year in Review

Design a mug team meeting

Design Team Meetings: A Year in Review

By Abby Dean, Sr. Graphic Designer

In a busy design studio with deadlines always looming, it can be challenging to find time to keep learning new skills and sharing ideas that are not project-related. At Tekna, we recognize how important it is to stay connected and inspired outside of our daily workflow, so we’ve built in an hour of design team meetings every week that celebrates creativity and exploring together as a team.

The weekly platform is hosted by different designers on a topic of their choosing. The informal sessions range from drawing games to building competitions, to group discussions about ground-breaking technologies and cultural phenomena, to presentations on personal hobby projects.

While we look forward to and enjoy all our weekly get-togethers, here are a few standouts from the past year…

Charley Harper Blind Drawing Design Team Meeting

Charley Harper (1922-2007) was a Midwestern visual artist and naturalist whose prints and illustrations depict wild animals in their native habitats with boldly colored shapes and patterns.

Exercise: breaking the larger group into pairs of “describers” and “drawers,” the two participants sit back to back where one describes a Harper print and the other (without looking at the print) draws what is being described. The “drawer” can also ask the “describer” questions. We were super excited by how close our blind drawings came to the real thing in just 10 minutes!

Design Team Meetings - koala illustrations

Sidenote: if you’re wondering about the material scraps around our necks, we kicked off the meeting with a teambuilding “icebreaker.” Standing together in a group, we formed a circle with a single rope that we each held. Once situated, we were asked to transform our large rope circle into a perfect square—while blindfolded!

Blind Team Portraits

Not all of our Design Team Meetings (DTMs) focus on drawing skills, but as industrial, UI, and graphic designers, it’s one of our go-to themes. Piggybacking off the Charley Harper blind drawing exercise, we sat across from a team member and drew their portrait—while not looking at the paper.

Design Team Meetings - drawing without looking

Later, we translated the portraits into matching collages using official team headshots.

Collaborative/Unconventional Drawing Games

At another DTM, we put our drawing chops to the test in four different exercises:

Exercise 1:  while using a camera phone as a mirror, a team member draws their own head and hair on a blank piece of paper. Passing the paper to the left, the person next to the original artist draws their own eyes on the original head-and-hair drawing.  The person to their left will draw their own nose.  The final person will draw their mouth. The result will be a self-portrait compilation of four different people.

Design Team Meetings - mixed people

Exercise 2:  draw an animal on a paper plate while holding the plate above your head.

Design Team Meetings - plate sketches

Exercise 3:  draw a product without using your hands. You can use your elbows, mouth, etc.

Exercise 4: scribble on a piece of paper, pass the paper to your left.  The person on your left creates an object from that scribble.

Design Team Meetings - design sketches

Nanobot Challenge

Background: nanobots are theoretical microscopic robots that can execute tasks at the atomic, molecular, and cellular level. Assuming an ability to self-replicate into millions of tiny helpers, they have the potential to revolutionize nearly any industry.

Exercise: the full team brainstormed on fun things nanobots might do, eventually landing on the theme “nanobot rose-colored glasses” to explore further. Splitting into smaller teams, each group proposed a unique solution around how to implement or use rose-colored glasses. In the end, we voted on the best concept and awarded a handmade DTM plaque for nanobot “contact lenses” that improved the appeal of a user’s surroundings by enhancing what is already good (e.g., lighting or lushness of a landscape) and concealing what is bad (e.g., garbage or decay). Our runner-up concept, nanobots for children’s hospitals, would help diminish fear and promote comfort by transforming stark patient rooms into kid-friendly spaces with custom scenery (underwater seascape, castle, outer space, etc.).

The Power of Touch

In September, the annual MIX Design Day event held at the Kalamazoo Institute of the Arts focused on using the senses to create. Our Industrial Design Manager Ben Purrenhage presented to attendees about how texture can be used to impact behavior and evoke a desired response. Later in the week, he shared deeper insights and research on his presentation with our team, opening the table to a group discussion on the many ways we can incorporate touch into our designs beyond screen technology alone.

Design Team Meetings - Senses

These are just a few examples that showcase the breadth and spirit of our DTMs. We would love to hear how you and your team stay inspired at the workplace. Engage with us in the comments section of this post and be sure to follow us on Instagram to see what we’ve been up to!

What I Learned From My Tekna Internship and More(No Coffee Runs Required!)

Engineering Internship

Engineering Internship - What I Learned From Tekna and More!

By Gabe Arthur, Engineering Intern

As a first-year aerospace engineering student, the expectations I set for my first summer engineering internship were not high. I had heard horror stories about entry-level interns spending 12 weeks running countless errands and fine-tuning their boss’s coffee order―only to head back to school before learning anything about their aspired field of work. I had already spent one summer as a barista and wasn’t looking forward to working a coffee machine in that capacity ever again. Fortunately for me, employees at Tekna make their own coffee!

Engineering Internship - Gabe Arthur - University of Michigan Student

I am extremely grateful that Tekna took a chance by hiring such a young student. Surprisingly, no one seemed to care much about my age when tasking me with projects. I was treated as teammate from day one. People valued my insight and, most importantly, answered each of my million-or-so questions with meaningful responses and useful nuggets of advice. I also learned how to ask the rightquestions―how to take a step back and determine the true problem at hand. Experiences like this are hard to come by in a classroom. Instead of being one of many students lectured by a single professor, at Tekna, I was a single student surrounded by a team of mentors.

The engineering problems they brought me were fun to solve because I was encouraged to approach them from my own perspective. One of my favorite challenges was integrating an Arduino and an LCD display with mechanical inputs and a touch screen to control a graphical user interface. The interface was then tested in a usability study that I helped conduct. After the usability study, I shared my technical findings with the engineering team and the qualitative results with the industrial design team. Seeing users interact with a product I programmed and fabricated was both valuable and rewarding―an opportunity that I wish all my classmates could experience.

After a couple months, I was given my own projects and was trusted to work directly with customers, tailoring my work to their individual requirements. The variation in projects was refreshing and something I’m sure few engineers have the chance to explore. From military products to medical devices to kitchen tools, my engineering exposure has grown beyond the realm of aerospace. This technical diversity may one day allow me to approach a difficult problem in a new way.

Tekna also allowed me to spend time learning about my own field. Every once in a while, I would dive deeply into a topic that interested me even if it provided limited direct benefit to the company. For example, I spent a few days learning how to use CFD (computational fluid dynamics) software. CFD is critical in aerospace, and learning how to use it is a very important step in my development as an engineer. Even though the project I was working on at the time had little to do with aerospace, I used CFD to create an interactive trade diagram for selecting a linear actuator for a specific application. I’m so thankful that Tekna recognized the value of allowing me to explore my passion through the lens of a project at hand. This theme of empowerment was repeated time and time again. Project leaders would present me with a problem that I didn’t know the answer to, then they would give me the time and resources I needed to find a solution on my own.

I worked on a lot of interesting products this summer, but the most intriguing thing about this company is by far the people―not only its workers but the network surrounding Tekna. I found myself in offices, large factories, and small shops meeting so many people with unique perspectives and technical backgrounds. Their stories and experiences have shown me that engineering is so much more than crunching numbers and coming up with a good solution. It’s about improving the lives of others. In one way or another, the product or component being designed is intended to make an aspect of someone’s life better. That’s something I didn’t learn from a textbook but attribute to the people at Tekna for teaching me.

Thank you.

Ellipses and I Have Come a Long Way

Industrial Design Internship - Aisha Thaj - WMU Student

Industrial Design Internship - Ellipses and I Have Come a Long Way

By Aisha Thaj, Industrial Design Intern

How do you start a blog post? On the same day you’re saying goodbye. Like a journey map, I’ll start with my desire for an industrial design internship.

As a first year Product Design student at WMU looking for an industrial design internship, I was apprehensive about all that I didn’t know and eager to learn everything I possibly could. After switching my major from Chemical Engineering to Product Design, I knew I wanted to gain as much real-world experience as I could. I wanted an idea of what being an Industrial Design intern really entails, more than what a classroom can provide. I found this, and so much more, at Tekna.

Industrial Design Internship - Aisha Thaj - WMU Student

First Impressions

My first week here was a whirlwind of people and projects. Hearing each designer describe their project and work process opened my eyes to the nuances of the field. I sat in on some conference calls (ooh, so official!) and picked up some ID terms and concepts right away: the subtle consistency of pattern and shape in a product line, what constitutes visual tension and flow, and the balance of a client/design firm relationship.

With very little (really, no) product design sketching under my belt, Simon’s “Crash Course in Drawing” (enrollment and registration pending for the next batch of students) is where my internship at Tekna really started. With many designers offering feedback and constructive criticism all summer, I don’t know how I’m supposed to go back to just one product design professor in a classroom full of design students.

The Project

The overarching focus of my internship was a tangent of an internal design project that Tekna is working on. I had grand aspirations for a crazy, sculptural piece that would blow everyone’s socks off. But it only took a few hours of market research and googling to adjust my expectations to a much more realistic end. It also helped that I was taking a “Materials and Processes in Manufacturing” class at the time.

After an initial image collection, we went through a few rounds of inspiration boarding, narrowing in on top priorities for form and function. Each discussion led to more questions about customer use and cultivating delightful moments vs. pain points…. which led to a brainstorming session…which meant figuring out how to run a brainstorming session. I learned about the balance of asking questions that are specific enough to move the project forward but vague enough to generate an unbiased discussion. Through this process, I discovered new ideas, new questions, and new problems.

Thank you, I have learned so much during my industrial design internship! I now understand that good design is a mix of plenty of research, scrapped ideas and countless sketches, along with engineering/functionality considerations. From a skills standpoint, my sketching has improved, and I was able to dip my toes into the world of modeling software. But even more importantly, I have a better idea of my career goals with something tangible I can work towards―and that makes my experience at Tekna invaluable. Thank you, Tekna!

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!

Engineering Lunch & Learn: Exploring the Fluidized Bed Phenomenon

Fluid Bed Phenomenon

Engineering Lunch & Learn: Exploring the Fluidized Bed Phenomenon

By Kelly Oswald

The engineering team at Tekna conducts monthly Lunch & Learns where one of us presents on a technical topic to educate the rest of the team over lunch. At a recent Lunch & Learn session, we wanted to try something a little bit different: a proof-of-theory building exercise. (A fluidized bed occurs in conditions where a solid—in this case sand—behaves like a fluid). This concept is most often seen in material handling (e.g., to efficiently move grain in a silo) and was used recently in a hospital bed by Hill-Rom designed to help prevent pressure sores.

Fluidized Bed Phenomenon - Engineering Lunch & Learn

Once we were prepped with the what and the why, we were given the necessary materials to create a small-scale bed. It was a fantastic team-building challenge with real-world experience in theoretical behavior. Check out our work in action here:

To learn more about the fluidized bed phenomenon, take a look at this video by Mark Rober, the American engineer/inventor and YouTube personality who inspired  our Lunch & Learn session.

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!

A Common Thread: We Love Learning New Skills Together

Industrial Sewing

A Common Thread: We Love Learning New Skills Together

By Kyle Spieker, Senior Industrial Designer

Over the years, our shared interest in sports, travel, fashion, and exploring national parks has left us curious about the development of the soft-goods products we were using. But as much as we searched, industrial sewing classes seemed to be non-existent amidst a sea of quilting workshops. While we all appreciate a cozy quilt in the thick of a Michigan winter, we were looking to gain insights around the soft-goods products we’ve grown to love and trust—like our go-to day packs or our broken-in motorcycle gloves.

Industrial Sewing - A Common Thread - Love Learning New Skills

We finally struck gold with an article about a new GRCC industrial sewing course and decided to reach out to Blue Marble Threads founder, Camille Metzger (the mastermind behind GRCC’s curriculum), to customize a two-day class for Tekna’s Innovation team. It wouldn’t be long before we set out for Grand Rapids to collectively broaden our understanding of soft-goods development and production.

We spent the first day following Camille’s signature “Crash Course with a Sewing Machine,” which covered the basics of working with a walking foot machine. On day two, we learned about seams/assembly methods, pattern development, and tech packs. We also gained experience with the production/prototyping process. The classes were both enlightening and a lot of fun. We left feeling comfortable working on industrial sewing machines, confident of our new skills, and excited to learn more. Thank you, Camille, for sharing your expertise with our team!

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.

Engineering Work that Inspires

Engineering Internship

Engineering Internship that Inspires

By Emily Gruss, Engineering Intern

As I’ve approached my senior year, I’ve frequently thought about what life will be like once I enter the professional world after graduation. I chose to study engineering because it seemed to be an interesting career path that could also offer job stability. Yet the two internships that I held in my first few years of college resulted in a disheartening lesson: what I want to do as an engineer wasn’t something that the typical engineer gets to do on a daily basis. Growing up, I had cultivated a passion for art and innovation, things that I hoped to incorporate into a reliable vocation. But I was beginning to think that the concept I had in my head of what engineers do was completely fictitious and that perhaps I had picked the wrong profession to pursue.

Engineering Internship - Emily Gruss - WMU Student

Towards the end of my junior year, I had an interview for an engineering internship with Tekna. Going into my interview, my expectations were admittedly low. I knew nothing about Tekna and assumed that it wouldn’t be much different from my other internship experiences—I couldn’t have been more wrong! After talking with the team, seeing the facilities, and catching a glimpse of the atmosphere at Tekna, I knew it was where I wanted to work. I excitedly accepted the engineering internship offer and anxiously awaited my first day.

As soon as I started, I was assigned to a variety of projects that involved testing, prototyping, sketching, and much more. I was asked to solve unfamiliar problems and given the time to learn and develop unique perspectives based on my own observations and experiences. The project managers encouraged me to tackle challenges without constraints, which led to inspiring collaborative discussions and original ideas. For the first time, I felt excited to come to work instead of counting down the hours until the end of the day.

Now, as I enter my last year of school, I begin the semester with a renewed interest in engineering. Although I still have some uncertainties about my future after graduation, I no longer doubt my career path. Moving forward, I will continue to nurture my curiosity and push the limits of my imagination, just as my time at Tekna taught me.