Honors Advanced Design: TAS' new Silicon Valley

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Modular glasses. A pedal-driven rotating vertical shelf. A two-in-one drawstring bag. No, this is not a list of flagship products rolled out by new Bay Area startups. Rather, these ultra-modern inventions are the brainchildren of innovative students in TAS’s new Honors Advanced Design class. Under the guidance of Upper School art teacher Mr. Andre Huang, students in the class are given the entire school year to carry out their self-chosen projects, from the brainstorming stage to all the way to final products and marketing.
Honors Advanced Design students Sean Chen (‘18) and Thomas Chen (‘18) went through what they described as a “crazy” brainstorming process, rejecting ideas like an exploding seed bomb and a Velcro T-shirt. Finally, they decided to produce a line of glasses with interchangeable parts as their project for the year. “Some people like to wear different pairs of glasses, so that [the glasses] can match their [outfit],” Sean points out. “So instead of buying different pairs of glasses every time, why don’t we make parts of glasses?”
The two partners are currently working on a prototype of their product, printing model frames and legs using a 3D printer that Mr. Huang purchased specifically for the class. For their final product, they plan to employ magnets to attach the glasses’ parts, which ensures that any set of legs and frames can be conveniently switched out for another. Sean points out that although students enjoy considerable freedom and access to the resources of the art department, they are still constrained by the limits of what is realistic. He says, “One of the reasons we chose to make glasses is because it’s a feasible approach, with the resources we have here, to having an actual product done by the end of the year.”
Andrew Chen (‘18), another aspiring designer, has been striving to find a way around these very resource limitations as he pursues his plan of building a vertical rotating shelf. “The design is based on a bicycle,” he says, “so when you crank the pedal, it would rotate the chains, and that would rotate the shelf. He explains the unexpected source of inspiration behind this ambitious invention: “One day, I was watching Disney’s WALL-E, and [WALL-E] had a rotating shelf in his house. Then, it just hit me–that would be a great way to save space, and it would be really fun to make it in class too.” Like Thomas and Sean, Andrew is also in the midst of the prototyping stage, but the complexity of his design has made it impossible to 3D print a model. After struggling to build a useful, cheap model, he ultimately decided to pay $2,000 NT out of his own pocket to purchase two bikes online, and is now working on a prototype using the parts of those bikes.
Over the next eight months, Honors Advanced Design students like Andrew, Thomas, and Sean will find many more frustrations in their way, as they slowly inch towards completing their final product. Nevertheless, students and teacher alike agree that these obstacles give the class its uniquely creative, entrepreneurial character. “Being creative really allows you to take control of what you want to do. If you can solve other people’s problems in their daily lives, you can really make an impact directly and straight away,” says Mr. Huang. “I think this type of class is the future.”