In this brand-sponsored, study-away intensive, students travel to Portland, Oregon to work on-site at top athletic brands, including Nike, Adidas and Under Armour. Under the mentorship of ArtCenter alumni and other industry-leading professionals, students design projects to address the diverse needs of these companies, resulting in final presentations to staff at each brand. Additionally, students take two business courses at Portland State University Business School, introducing them to footwear business practices and professionals outside of design.
ArtCenter: How would you describe this class to a prospective student?
Kevin A. Beard: The PDX Study Away program is a deep dive into the athletic industry. Students use the skills they've acquired to rapidly iterate on projects with ArtCenter alumni for three athletic brands: Nike, Adidas and Under Armour. Students learn quick decision-making, interdisciplinary skills, teamwork, communication and how to deal with unexpected disruption, while building relationships and making connections within the industry.
AC: What inspired the direction you took with the curriculum for this class?
KB: The curriculum was based on disruption, inspired by how the athletic industry has naturally operated throughout its history. Whether it's new brands, new athletes and sports, or new technologies, production locations and techniques—the industry constantly reinvents itself. ArtCenter’s alumni presence throughout the industry combined with our growing Wearables & Soft Goods track in Product Design lead us to create a pilot program of advanced learning at the center of the industry in Portland, where ArtCenter has built deep connections and relationships.
I think we would all agree that the PDX Study Away changed us. The relationships we've made with industry professionals and with each other have proved to be more important than we might have previously thought.Zoe XiongProduct Design/Soft Goods
AC: In what ways does the course combine both design and business sides of the footwear industry?
KB: The two sides are inseparable. Designers who understand the business side of product design, production, marketing and distribution become leaders. This is our goal with the PDX program.
AC: What are some of the most important concepts and ideas you hope students take away from the experience/classwork?
KB: We wanted the students to push their skills and knowledge beyond what they can in the classroom by working with each other and mentors at the brands. Students’ views of design, their place in it and what the future of the industry could be, radically grew into a much bigger picture. Portland is also a very creative environment; its natural beauty, food and people make for a rich cultural experience.
AC: What are some of the projects students have developed during the program?
KB: The objectives were created in collaboration with the brands and alumni. At Under Armour students focused on products including footwear apparel. Nike was more systems-based, including exploring ways the brand could create sustainable farms with patentable materials and processes to supply sustainable materials for the entire industry. At Adidas, students worked with staff from different disciplines across the company with the goal of using materials in new ways and cutting waste.
AC: Why was it important to partner with the Portland State University Business School for this course?
KB: PSU offers an Athletic and Outdoor certificate program, which prepares students to work in logistics, marketing and finance in the industry. It has relevant history, too: Phil Knight, Nike founder, taught there while starting Blue Ribbon Sports, which became Nike.
AC: Why is having alumni feedback from brands so valuable?
KB: We wanted to establish a path for alumni senior executives to teach and for their junior staff to get management experience with our students. We also wanted to emphasize alumni connections and to establish mentor relationships in participating companies and the industry as a whole.
AC: What were some of the most interesting/surprising final presentations from students?
KB: The eight PDX students' final presentation to ArtCenter’s Provost, assorted Chairs, faculty and students was a riveting two-hours and comprised 276 slides of 32 projects. Everyone was amazed to see how much our students could accomplish when placed in a focused, study-away environment where they can directly interact with brands and alumni.