Research + Design

Research + Design

In retrospect, Associate Professor Claudia B. Rebola realizes that years before she had a name for it, she was conducting ethnographic research. The new faculty member in Industrial Design remembers an assignment she completed almost 20 years ago, as an undergraduate at the Universidad Nacional de Cordoba in her home country of Argentina. The goal was to design a storage system to be used at farmers’ markets, but before she put pencil to paper she visited a nearby market half a dozen times – at 5 am, when the farmers were setting up their stands. “I took my camera and observed how the farmers display their produce, note the prices, etc.,” she recalls. “As it turns out, that was my first encounter with research and design.”

Rebola’s hands-on approach and traditional Bauhaus training make her an excellent addition to the ID department, where she has already been blown away by the passion of her students. “They are so motivated to improve their work!” she exclaims. “It is an honor to work with such talented students.”

Rebola also appreciates the diversity at RISD – not just the fact that her students and colleagues come from all over the world, but that their backgrounds and interests are so widespread. “We all have something different to bring to the table,” she explains. “What we have in common is that we’re working toward the same goal: making things better by design. I tell students not to forget where they came from. If a student studied nursing as an undergraduate, for example, they should bring that to the front but use design as the filter to make nursing better.”

Rebola came to RISD from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, where she served as director of graduate programs in the School of Industrial Design. She says it’s difficult to compare the two institutions since Georgia Tech is so much larger than RISD (with a student body that tops 25,000, it’s more than 10 times as big), but what they have in common is a multidisciplinary focus. “The courses I designed and taught were based on multidisciplinary experiences,” she says. “Designing the Retirement Communities of Tomorrow, for example, brought together experts in computer science, architecture, robotics, nursing, and psychology, to name a few.”

In her own practice, Rebola also focuses on technology, health and aging. “I’m currently involved in a $4.6 million grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research in the Department of Education to support an interdisciplinary Center on Technologies to Support Successful Aging with Disability (RERC TechSAge),” says Rebola. “And I’m just finishing my first book, Design Technologies for Healthy Aging. It’s about how digital technology enhances the lives of older adults – everything from making social connections to creating healthier homes to staying physically active.”

As the country makes the shift away from Daylight Savings Time, Rebola is gearing up for her first New England winter. She has already purchased a down coat, she says, laughing, so that she can continue to explore the historic walking neighborhood around RISD even as fall fades. “I love how RISD is inserted right in the city instead of separated on an enclosed campus,” she says. “You walk from one point to another and have different physical experiences along the way.”

Simone Solondz

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