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Alumni Spotlight: Integrating Creativity in Engineering

By: Ben White, DI Alum

If your team is solving the Show & Tech Challenge this year, you’re getting a taste of the kinds of challenges I get to solve every day at work.

My favorite part of most shows is to watch the set move. Shows today can have moving video walls, turntables, trap doors and runways that can lift and spin like propellers. Through my job at TAIT Towers, I get to design machines that make these effects possible using the skills I learned through Destination Imagination (DI).

These are the types of projects I work on every day:

 

Making something new wasn’t a skill that was taught in most of my classes in school. DI was one of my biggest creative outlets, allowing me and my team to decide what we wanted to create. In addition to being enjoyable, it gave us the opportunity to figure out just how to go about making what we were envisioning. This is the kind of experience that a mechanical designer needs.

In college, I majored in Mechanical Engineering and I also created my own interdisciplinary major called Entertainment Design and Technology. I learned a lot in my engineering classes, but there were only a few open-ended design projects, none of which involved designing an actual mechanical device. In my theater classes, however, I spent a lot of time figuring out how to use motors to make rolling set pieces move on and offstage. This is the kind of challenge DI taught me how to solve.

In my work, the skills I learned through my engineering classes are extremely useful, but the majority of what I do involves more creative thought. There are an infinite number of machines that could get a certain piece of scenery to move the way it needs to in a show. Calculations are important when finalizing specific features of a design such as the size of a gear or the dimensions of a structural frame. But before we even decide to use a gear, we might consider machine designs with completely different types of parts. It takes creativity to generate ideas for different possible design paths. And if we generate more ideas in advance, we have the chance to use some of the features of the best options in the final design. Believe it or not, in my job I have used generating tools such as SCAMPER and force fitting.

The problem solving skills I learned from my six years on a DI team are applicable in the real world. Because we design completely new things every day, there is no one to tell our design team how something is “supposed” to be designed. Similarly, DI Team Managers don’t interfere with the team’s creativity. It’s completely up to a DI team to prototype, experiment and research to decide how to create its Challenge solution. DI is a great opportunity for students to experience the uncertainty that comes with designing innovative products.

Even the lessons I learned from Instant Challenge apply to my job. Rock concert tours are designed quickly. In other industries, a machine might be designed over the course of several months or years. For a rock concert, we often design completely new machines in four to six weeks. It’s like a large-scale Instant Challenge.

As in Instant Challenge, practice can help prepare us to design more quickly. I often study how other machines work to be able to apply those designs to future projects. A roller coaster train or a backhoe might become inspiration for a new type of prop lift. Similarly, teams can learn a lot by watching other teams practice Instant Challenges.

It’s also beneficial to know the materials you have to work with. In Instant Challenge, for example, a team might know 50 different ways to use a piece of paper before they even enter the Instant Challenge room. At TAIT, we have a huge library of standard parts. Knowing which types of parts are available can help us make quicker design choices. Since there is already a list of options for different types of connectors, we don’t have to design everything from scratch each time.

My job at TAIT is exciting and challenging. We solve challenges every day and get to work on some of the most exciting projects I could imagine. Nothing could have prepared me for being a mechanical designer in this industry any better than Destination Imagination.

About the Author: Ben White is a Destination Imagination alumnus and has volunteered as an Appraiser, Challenge Master and Affiliate board member. He is a mechanical engineer at TAIT Towers, a world market leader in designing, constructing and delivering the finest live event equipment in the world. Among its claims to fame, TAIT supplies staging for the highest grossing concert world tours including The Rolling Stones, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Madonna and more.