3M Canada recently sponsored a class at Ontario College of Art & Design to revamp its office products, and the company now plans to produce the two best designs. One is a tape dispenser by Matthew Pacione; another is a Post-It dispenser by Scott Currie. Both were the end-result of an exacting semester-long curriculum that mirrored the real world: 3M Canada provided a brief up-front that included cost requirements, target markets and environmental standards. The company's development staff would check in with the students every two weeks, just as a real client would. A total of 15 concepts moved to a finalist round, and the two winning designers were given $3,000. But the bigger perk is seeing the designs made real: The two products are expected to launch next year.
These kinds of competitions are quite common, for industrial design students—they've become so common that young designers often grumble that companies often sponsor competitions just to get design concepts on the cheap. But 3M's added step of producing the designs is rare. Given the results, it seems like a canny move. 3M pumps freshness into a brand while keeping the company's staff engaged with new ideas—many companies spend millions on consultants who offer to do the same. OCAD, for its part, is providing its students with an education and a rare level engagement with the real-world working environment. That's quite a symbiosis, and one that's commonplace at the better design schools in Europe. Perhaps corporate think-tanks, stateside could learn a thing or two.