Thinking Outside the Box (2007-8)

The Global Studio 2008 – an international collaborative project with Auburn University and the Greater Southern Wood

Northumbria University – 3rd year BA Design for Industry (Honours) in DE0839 Industrial Design Work Placement 2 module

Auburn University – senior industrial design students 4th year design studio class

Auburn students were tasked to work on an industry collaboration with a large lumber company which aimed to develop transit packaging crates for a haulage and forwarding company, with the highly specific challenge to develop this product for domestic (USA) users and people moving house. The brief was to design a portable on demand storage unit that was more efficient both in storage and transportation when the unit is empty.

Collaborating teams of student groups from Auburn and Northumbria scheduled video conference every week to share information in order to progress the project. These collaborative distributed design teams presented their concept designs to Great Southern Wood via vide/teleconference sessions.

Videoconference between Auburn and Nortumbria Universities

Videoconferencing between Auburn University (Lu, Laura and Pater) and Northumbria University group

Laura and Rachel videoconference with Auburn University

Laura and Rachel in videoconference session with group from Auburn University

Laura's & Rachel's research video

Laura and Rachel, who studied at Northumbria University, were the members of the Design for Industry team. They both had a background in design research and Service Design. This worked well as their interests were similar enough for them to believe in the unusual direction they had chosen to take, but their skills varied enough to make the tasks manageable and enjoyable. They described the project in the following way:

The 'Thinking Outside the Box' project was about helping a timber company based in North America to expand their product range, and the company already had some quite specific requests. The company wanted to develop range of packing boxes which would be used by a moving companies or individuals to move or store their house content. However, we found that as they understood more about their client and their needs, the project evolved to become more about how to encourage people to consider to buy these new products, rather than what the products actually were and how they worked. This was important because our initial research made it clear that most people (accepting our limited research participants) could not conceive a use for the client's intended product, so they wouldn't buy it! We hoped to add value to the client in the way we thought they most needed it, rather than the way they expected it. This also resulted in a product much more suited to both our skills and interests.

The video was crucial for us to be able to show our clients the discovery we had made – that people did not see an immediate use for their new product and they might need to be shown/encouraged. It was important the client was persuaded by this first hand research as the consumer opinion was much more powerful than just being told the opinions of designers.

(c) 2008 Rachel and Laura, the direct link to this video is

Making the video was an enjoyable task that helped us to focus on the aims of the project – persuading the client that they needed to invest in their marketing and branding in order to be successful with their new product line.

The importance of following your gut instinct and being unafraid to question the intent of a brief, but always backing up that instinct with research and persuasive evidence.

The video was very worthwhile, but did take a long time to edit and compile, we have both used this technique again, but only when it was the most appropriate method in order to justify the time involved. The benefit of using video is that it can be used to tell a story, as well as persuade the audience, and so is definitely a media that will be used by both of us in the future.

Jerry Wright from Great Southern Wood Preserving, Inc., Abbeville, AL provided the following feedback to Laura and Rachel:

The video was great fun. Strengthening our brand with this new product certainly presents a challenge. Most of our products do not require such a strong narrative to accompany them. 

[You] dialed in on the four principal components of the box: Price, Stackable, Assemble/Collapse, and Weather proof.

Yellafella Presentation: the 2008 Global Studio: Thinking Outside the Box project

Jerry Wright from Great Southern Wood Preserving, Inc., after the presentation said: did a good bit of market research and clearly understand the position that we initially indicated for the box. You made a very good effort at linking our core values with a product concept.


In this presentation Rachel Deller and Hanna Toes who worked in two different teams in collaboration with students from Auburn University reflect on their involvement in the Thinking Outside the Box project.

Laura Warwick can be contacted via e-mail: Twitter!/lauraewarwick

Rachel's e-mail:

Hanna's e-mail: Twitter!/HannahToes