September 22, 2020

Product Design Major Launches

KCAI’s newest major Product Design welcomed the first class of nine students this fall to experience an innovative program that teaches the most current design principles and focuses on creating products that make the world a better place. According to the architect of the program, Professor and Chair of Product Design Chris Chapin, “Product Design is primarily about serving others through the products we create.”

In sophomore year every project starts with an important ethical question, “Why?” Before students begin designing, they explore why we would put a new product into the world and then dig deeply into how a product might address an important need. “We are not interested in adding to the world’s collection of ‘stuff’ but rather we strive to use design to create tangible solutions that can improve people’s lives,” said Chapin.

Students move on to the principles and practices of human-centered design in junior year. They enter international design competitions and use them to identify current problems to be solved that can inform their studio work. This also empowers students to begin participating in the international design community. Senior year is a deep dive into self-directed design work and entrepreneurship with the help of mentors from some of Kansas City’s rich design community
and iconic companies like Garmin and Cerner.

The entrepreneurial focus is one of the strengths that sets KCAI’s major apart from other product design programs around the country. Through KCAI’s partnership with the Regnier Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Missouri Kansas City, students learn to think and operate as entrepreneurs so they can start their own ventures or take a leadership role in the companies they join. By the time they graduate, they are skilled designers and creative problem solvers, not just ready to start their careers, but ready to make an important mark in the design world.

Another differentiator of the program is the type of students it attracts. “We traditionally find KCAI students in high school art classes, but Product Design majors are just as likely to come from the science lab, engineering classroom, or a robotics workshop. Students attracted to the program are inventors as much as they are artists, they like to work with their hands and build new things,” said Chapin

Product Design major Michael Engel attended high school at Arkansas School for Math, Science, and the Arts where he studied computer science and biology. During his senior year, he discovered art and became determined to study both. “The Product Design program allows me to pursue my artistic talents and my passions for STEM. It’s the perfect intersection between art and science,” he said.

Product Design classes are held in newly renovated studios in the Irving building and are taught by Chapin and Sculpture alum and industrial designer Alison Trent. The entrepreneurship classes will be led by Andy Heise, Assistant Director of the Regnier Institute of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Department of Global Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Henry W. Bloch School of Management.

“As a designer and educator, it’s exciting to build a program that empowers students to make positive change happen in the world through the things they create. This generation is incredibly self-aware, and this remarkable group of Product Design majors is particularly sharp. They want to make a difference and this program will help them do that,” said Chapin. To learn more about Product Design, contact Chris Chapin at

October 26, 2020

New Social Practice Minor Immerses Students in Socially Engaged Art

A new minor is helping KCAI students engage in the world as artists. Through studio and liberal arts courses, the multidisciplinary Social Practice minor arms them with the knowledge and skills needed to address their role in society and consider the cultural, economic, environmental, and political conundrums of today. Grounded in providing a strong historical, conceptual, and material foundation, it prepares students for a socially engaged practice beyond graduation into their professional careers. The minor, formally a certificate program, it’s one of only ten Social Practice minors at AICAD schools. According to Program Head Sean Nash, it is one hundred percent relevant for the current social/political climate. “The discipline of social practice emerged out of activism and it will never be separated from that history. Students are acutely aware that social practice can help them address public-facing social problems like racial injustice and climate change,” Nash said. Students in any major are eligible for the minor. They take 16 credit hours including three core classes Intro to Social Practice, Collaborative Art Classes, and Capstone Seminar and nine hours of electives from a wide range of course offerings across disciplines. The interdisciplinary nature of the program — the focus on collaboration instead of individual making — has changed the way Senior Elinor Noyes read more…

October 26, 2020

KCAI Voices Fly High in Community Flag Installation

With less than a week to go until the election, the KCAI community is putting their beliefs, hopes, and concerns on display in A Flag that Flies High Enough, an installation of over 260 mixed-media flags on the Jannes Library lawn. Sponsored by the Center of Contemporary Practice, the project celebrates the fundamental right to vote, and the flag is a fitting symbol to share collective, yet individual voices. According to Contemporary Practice Co-Chairs Jordan Stemplemen, Assistant Professor of Creative Writing and Marie McInerney, Assistant Professor and Interim Chair of Fiber, “To ‘flag something’ is to draw attention to information that you think is important, crucial. Flags are visual communication tools that speak in symbols, emblems, and beliefs. They are tools of rebellion, oppression, and independence. Flags signal. Flags obscure. Flags demand. Flags inspire. Flags educate.” For students, the installation gives them an opportunity to share their voice about topics that are important to them. Hung Le (Junior, Fiber) is currently doing an independent study on the Vietnam War. His flag is a contrast between the national and international Vietnam flags and a symbolic representation of the different historical versions of the war — the one he learned in school and the real, devastating experiences of the Vietnamese people. He hopes that his work will read more…