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Western Washington University Industrial Design Project

June 25, 2015
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With the graduation season in the rear view, we wanted to share our truly awesome experience with Western Washington University’s Industrial Design (WWUID) Class of ’15. These talented designers (and now graduates!) tackled a serious design challenge that we posed to them this past spring: “Design a method of conducting marine research with versatility and human factors in mind that accommodates up to 30 people.”

Only mildly daunted by the breadth of the prompt, the WWUID students produced spectacular results:


We’ll go more in depth on these stunning designs, but first, a bit about the process…


Guided by Glosten designers Sarah Blott and Justin Lund (both WWUID alumni) and WWUID professor Dell King, the students began by identifying what they saw as key factors influencing marine research:

  • Growing international sea trade is increasing reliance on marine research efforts
  • Changing climates are creating unprecedented access to unexplored parts of our oceans
  • Technological advances are transforming research methods

With an eye to all of these factors, the students brainstormed 12 initial concepts in small teams. After exploring and developing the initial concepts, twelve ideas were downselected to two in what the students described as a “relentlessly iterative” process. Teams split and merged, and egos were left behind with the concepts that didn’t make the cut. According to Professor King, this lesson of “Team Play” was most important for the students.

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I felt they came away with a better understanding of the values associated with engineering, manufacturing, and marketing… they definitely learned a valuable lesson of supporting each other to achieve solutions of greater depth of information and possibility than could have been gained individually.”

– Dell King, Professor

After narrowing their focus, the two teams had only four weeks to develop their final designs. Sarah O’Sell led the Modular Lab design team, while Colton Sanford led the Offshore Outpost team. Both designs focused heavily on the following human factors:

  • Ergonomics
  • Physical Health
  • Mental Health
  • Aspirations and Motivations

The students drew inspiration from their initial research phase that included interviewing experts with extensive experience living and working on traditional research vessels. Their focus on human factors impacted both designs significantly, but in entirely unique ways. Both teams identified the importance of separating work and leisure space, using transitional social spaces such as a garden, library, or galley to separate the lab spaces from private quarters. Though they employ similar concepts, the details couldn’t be more unique.


Throughout the process, Glostenites Sarah Blott and Justin Lund, who are extremely passionate about the WWUID program, frequently checked in with the students to offer critiques and guidance. Every other week they made the trip to Bellingham for in-person visits, and, between trips, fielded emails and held conference calls from our office here in Seattle. Both know how useful these collaborations are for the students: For his senior project in the WWUID program, Justin worked with Fluke Networks to explore new ideas for one of their cable analyzer tools; Sarah worked with industrial and user-interaction designers from Microsoft to conceptualize non-gaming applications for the Kinect. According to Sarah, the most rewarding part of the process was helping them through several design iterations and ultimately seeing the students “come up with a result entirely unique and interesting…something we never could have imagined.” Justin added, “The students did a great job of listening to the needs of their client and the end users of their product…the final presentation was beautiful and I am very proud of the WWUID program as a whole.”



The Modular Lab puts flexibility at the forefront of the design. The lab is a conglomerate of interchangeable, rearrangeable units forming an attractive honeycomb structure. Units can be added, moved, or removed to satisfy the needs of a particular mission. And, with the advent of new technology, individual units may be transported and upgraded accordingly while the lab continues operations. To promote wellness among residents, hydroponic gardens (see example below) supply fresh produce and a natural environment while working overtime as a passive filter for grey water.

Utility Angle

Design highlight: Smart, way-finding walls. Voice commands prompt micro-LEDs in the floor to light way to the user’s destination. This is particularly useful for a structure with rearranging units (where did the bathroom go?).

Wayfinding In Context


first frame

The Offshore Outpost aims to dot the world’s oceans with high-tech research hubs. In contrast to the floating Modular Lab, the Offshore Outpost is anchored to the ocean floor by dynamically tensioned lines (wink wink). The Outpost supports long-term research activities by providing extensive on-board comforts and both a dock and helipad for resupply from vessels and helicopters.

This design takes an interesting approach to separating work and personal space. Roughly half of the anchored platform sits below the waterline, and this division governs how space is allocated in the design. The work spaces sit at the very bottom of the structure, where port holes show off the underwater world on which researchers focus their thoughts during the workday. Functionally, this enables easy access to the launch bay for remotely operated vehicles such as undersea gliders. Social spaces are concentrated near the waterline, and the majority of living spaces boast stellar views from the top of the platform.

collab floor overhead
library 2

Design highlight: “Analogue refuge.” While high-tech (or “digital”) spaces populate the majority of the platform, special attention is given to the two-floor library, which includes private reading nooks and stellar underwater views. Jules Verne would approve.


When the students presented their two final concepts to a packed Glosten conference room last March, we were inspired by their unbounded creativity and impressed with the professional presentation of their work. Modular Lab group leader Sarah O’Sell told us that the class had a steep learning curve since most of them started with very little knowledge of the marine industry. It was clear to us Glostenites, though, that they had done their research. The students carefully considered issues unique to the marine community and used those issues to inform their designs. Professor King credited Justin and Sarah for helping to keep the students aware of the realities in marine research. “As a result,” King noted, “the final concept proposals, although unconventional to the extreme, were grounded in enough reality as to possibly inspire their listeners.” They certainly did! Their presentation perfectly encapsulated why the future of marine research is so exciting, and demonstrated how the next generation of designers might enable researchers to work more effectively—and live happily—while at sea.


There are so many cool technologies that are shaping the future of marine research. Most of our oceans remain unexplored. Throughout this project, I kept thinking about the excitement surrounding space exploration. It would be cool to see excitement like that for exploring our oceans.”

– Sarah O’Sell, Modular Lab Team Leader