Design students help reinvent Congress 2009

In May, Carleton hosts the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences – Canada’s largest inter-disciplinary gathering – bringing more than 8,000 academics from here and abroad to campus for wide-ranging presentations and workshops.

It has taken more than a year to plan but organizers say that it’s an opportunity for Carleton to showcase its programs, talent and the creativity of its students, including those in fourth-year industrial design who have been challenged to create objects to enhance delegates’ experiences at the university.

“It’s a great idea to have students design everyday objects that will benefit delegates,” explains Prof. Tom Garvey, who spearheaded the design challenge. “This project allows designers to contribute our skills to help support and improve everyday life on campus.”

Over the course of six weeks, students designed signs, information booths and sculptures for the Congress, under guidance of Prof. Michael McGuire.

Student Caitie Tzekakis wants to make it an interactive experience for delegates. She designed a wearable pin embedded with GPS and RFID (radio frequency identification) technology that would track a delegate’s movements.

The information collected from the device would create the memento: an art piece formed by presenting the delegates a customized map replicating their movements. Delegates would also be able to log on to the Congress website to customize the style and look of the pin.

“This is about providing an experience and extending it beyond the Congress itself. The Congress doesn’t end when the attendants go home, it’s carried with them,” Tzekakis says.

Student Michael Tomlin tackled the issue of space and community when he realized that, in the past, many delegates have got lost on Carleton’s campus. So he created “tulip lights” – large steel sculptures covered with stretch canvas which light up at night. The lights would be colour-coded so delegates can use them as landmarks and find their way around campus.

“I wanted the sculpture to be iconic and representative of the Tulip Festival, which Ottawa is known for,” he explains.

“I made my design more sculptural to appeal to the creativity community that is coming to the Congress.”

They say the highlight of the project was having their designs reviewed by the Congress organizing team, which included Faculty Recruitment and Support manager, MaryAnne Pomainville and Assistant Vice President (University Services) Ed Kane.

“I was very impressed with the calibre of their work,” says Kane. “It was extremely refreshing to see so many great, innovative ideas generated in such a short time.”

The Congress team has selected some students’ designs to be developed into prototypes during this semester.

For more information on the Congress, visit

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