W. Mich. design team visits Central America for cross-cultural creations

Manufacturing a product in the U.S. today can be as easy as going to a website, finding the materials you need and having them shipped to your door the next day. But as Grand Haven Township resident Jon Moroney discovered, finding basic materials in other places of the world is like a scavenger hunt.
Kyle Moroney
Aug 12, 2011

Moroney, a product designer at Tiger Studio in Zeeland, was part of a group who traveled to Estelí, Nicaragua, in late July to help Nicaraguan students and faculty build prototypes of products that could be manufactured and sold in their country. The trip concluded with the groups presenting the three products to the community, which was covered by the media in Nicaragua.

The Estelí Innovation group, consisting of five Tiger Studio employees and two professors from Grand Valley State University, spent five days working with students and faculty from the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua — the country’s leading university — in shaping their ideas into 3-D products: a low-cost ergonomic chair, a low-flush toilet device that uses less water when flushing and a solar power light to use after the sun sets.

“We had several discussions about how to determine which aspects of the product would be most important to the consumer, how to prioritize features and reduce the manufacturing cost,” said Moroney, also an assistant professor of industrial design at Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids. “They only needed a little motivation before they picked up the ball and ran with it. ... It really was not that different than teaching my students at Kendall.”

The Estelí Innovation program is the brainchild of GVSU professors Dr. Paul Lane and Dr. John Farris. The pair started the program in 2004, taking a small group of GVSU students to Nicaragua and helping UNAN students and faculty develop basic products, such as soaps and juices.

Since then, the group has grown to about 100 people in the program, Lane said.

“The thought behind this was what products could be developed for Nicaragua, by Nicaraguans, from Nicaraguan resources,” he said. “We are helping them with the continuation of a dream — of learning how to help develop an idea and turn it into a business.”

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