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Spanning the globe and multiple disciplines, NIO sponsored design projects at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California. Over a semester, sixteen students from different departments worked on four projects. The departments included Transportation, Environmental, Interactive and Media Design.

The interaction between the students, NIO and faculty created a real-life work experience for students to implement the designs for the NIO lifestyle brand.

Mentoring the students and leading the project from NIO were Alister Whelan, Studio Director, NIO (Munich), Colin Phipps, Senior Director of NIO Design Shanghai, China and Kris Tomasson, Senior Vice President of Design, an ArtCenter graduate.

“It’s so exciting when we have an alum and a great project comes back, particularly one that touches multiple disciplines here at ArtCenter. This project is made to order for that. Our whole ArtCenter community has been really excited about this. It’s reflective of what the team at NIO is doing – touching a lifestyle brand and thinking about a broader experience of transportation electrification and all that. We appreciate NIO so much,” says Stewart Reed, chair of the Transportation Design Department.

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“We told the students to think as far into the future and don’t hold back.”

Due to the pandemic, ArtCenter students participated in a hybrid learning environment where students from all over the globe worked in teams. During the semester, four student groups worked with faculty in classrooms and virtually. They worked virtually with NIO designers to develop the core features of their projects.

Students presented their projects either in person at the Hyundai Kia Innovation Studio on campus or virtually via Zoom. The studio has a wall of large-screen monitors, microphones and cameras that allow interaction that appears as seamless as working in person.

NIO designers and department heads gave the students feedback on their concepts. Student concepts expanded upon the NIO lifestyle brand, community experience and culture. Projects showed how NIO vehicles might connect to the environment, homes and travel destinations. One project explored how new technology could connect to NIO’s companion Nomi.

“We told the students to think as far into the future and don’t hold back,” says Kimberly Marte, Associate Professor Transportation and Product Design, CMF Principal at Design Spectrum, “Multi-disciplinary experiences of the studio life experience are valuable to the students.”

Whelan was pleased to see how the new rendering tools brought the projects to life. He called projects well done with professional animation. One project he said was not gimmicky – everything had a genuine purpose and user benefits.

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Student designers look into the future with inspiration

“There is future optimism there. A sense of optimism is important to the NIO Brand,” says Phipps about one of the student projects. He says the working with students solved real-world problems holistically – getting the most out of the cross disciplines.

Phipps notes: “It was a pleasure to have cerebral discussions with the students about dreaming and problem solving on paper. I think from the research phase to the ideation phase-there were a lot of great ideas.”

Whelan told the students, “It’s exciting to see a new generation of designers learn more about NIO and what makes us different. Hopefully, you like NIO. If we ever come to your side of the globe, you will become part of our community. I think as a brand, we offer something so different than any other brand.”

Tomasson summed up the experience, saying to participants, “I want to thank the students and faculty for a great job. It was a tough challenge. The challenge and the scope of the challenge were quite broad. In the end, it was really nice to see how you attacked the projects and brought different aspects of our brand to life with different touchpoints. Thank you. There were really nice presentations overall. We’re looking forward to doing more with you in the future. It would be awesome.”

Marte responds: “More than anything, I am very grateful that we had a sponsor that allowed many majors on a project like this.”

Student Mauro Diaz from the Transportation Department comments: “It taught us to work together and to focus not on ourselves but on the client. It taught me the importance of finding a compromise but not in a bad way. In a way of putting your own personal desires aside and working together with the team.”

To look into the future with optimism was a wonderful place to play in, adds Todd Masilko, Associate Professor of Interaction Design.

Chris Hacker, chair of Product Design, told NIO designers and students, “We love these kinds of projects, where students rub elbows with other students from other parts of the college. Students get to work on such a big picture and big idea. The kind of project where they get to express something that in a day-to-day kind of output class doesn’t happen. It is refreshing to see the work across the board of all four of these projects be so broad and thoughtful. The truth is nobody gets to be a solitary designer in one place, anymore. You work with a team and we all learn from that. It’s a good way to learn what it is like to work in a real place.”

Cory Grosser, instructor in Environmental Design talked about how the future landscape of mobility is changing, “I think it is important for students to know what is happening in the automobile industry and mobility. The car itself is changing. It’s becoming a piece of technology. It’s becoming an environment. Probably this is the way forward by the nature of the shift of what mobility will become.”

“We appreciate a sponsor who brings to us a project that is vast to allow everybody to drop the nameplate of what department they come from and talk about being a young creative looking at the future. We appreciate involvement with companies to be able to do that in a classroom. Rather than them trying to learn in their first job, that becomes a seriously bumpy road,” says David Mocarski, Department Chair, Graduate and Undergraduate Environmental Design.

Niohouse Nanjing

Discovering new talent is a top priority for NIO

Working on sponsored projects often leads to ArtCenter students finding jobs when they graduate. It gives them vital experience working directly with studio executives who get to see the students’ level of talent. It is no coincidence that ArtCenter has done several sponsored projects with companies like Ford, General Motors, Genesis, Honda, Hyundai and Stellantis and ArtCenter graduates continue to get regularly hired into those studios, says Jay Sanders, Executive Director, Undergraduate Transportation Design.

Sanders reports: “Kris Tomasson was very encouraging to the students about how he wanted to connect with them all and stay in touch, to network for future opportunities, both employment and internships. Discovering new talent was a top priority for NIO with this ArtCenter engagement. We welcome mobility sponsors to ArtCenter who want to explore creative intersections of transportation, product, graphic and environmental design in the future.”

Reed would like the college to continue a working with NIO, in the future. He suggests to NIO designers, “I think when NIO decides to build a NIO House in California, they should engage ArtCenter again.”

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