Alumni Scholarship Award Winner Smruti Adya​​​ Designs For Social Impact
April 30, 2018
A woman in a white top with two people standing besides her gazing at something
multiple different type of thinks

Over the next few weeks, SVA will be highlighting some of the many outstanding projects by its 2018 Alumni Scholarship Award winners. Today's featured works are by MFA Products of Design student Smruti Adya, a multi-disciplinary industrial designer working towards designing for social impact.

Tell us about your project. What inspired the idea?
As part of a year-long thesis titled Upgrade: Designing for Access and Acceptability, I have been working on several projects around the needs and experiences of people with limb loss and limb difference. For the 3D product design project, I chose to look beyond the everyday necessities of people with upper limb amputations, as a way to move forward the cultural perception of how we design products, aiming for inclusion and universal design in leisure and professional activities.

Through my research, I came to the understanding that upper limb prosthetics have a high chance of being abandoned either due to their limited capability or higher weights (than biological arms). Most upper limb amputees manage to find workarounds for accomplishing everyday tasks without the use of their prosthesis. In certain leisure activities, though, they need specialized equipment, and the market is very small. When speaking to one of my users, who was born missing his right hand, he mentioned not being able to play video games since game controllers are designed to require the use of both hands. This lead me to envision a new type of game controller, Forge, that can be used by a person with one arm, to play most types of popular games.

A joystick.
Forge by Smruti Adya. Courtesy of the artist.

What most surprised you once you started working on the project?
Being mostly unfamiliar with the world of video games, I was surprised by how vast and deep this industry and community is. I read many online forums and sub-Reddits, specifically talking about gaming with one-hand, and how several games have special characters that are easier to play one-handed.

What was a highlight of living and studying in New York City?
One of the highlights, for me has definitely been living close to school and being able to walk or bike everywhere I go. This city has so much to offer and there are so many new things to discover just around every corner that I am glad I didn’t spend much time stuck in a subway car underground. I was able to take different paths every day and explore the city on my feet.

What is something you learned at SVA that you’ll always take with you?
Design is a very collaborative discipline and the importance of collaboration has been ingrained in me now through working with my peers in the program. I will also always take with me the value of finding and working with the right team for each project, and how critical it is to the success of any project.

Girl looks in smiling face
Smruti Adya. Photo by Nir Arieli.

Was there a teacher or class that was essential for you?
For me, any class that expanded my world view and helped develop my critical thinking skills was most essential. In particular, Rob Walker’s Point of View class and the Design for Social Value class taught by Jennifer Rittner, with a brief stint from Rachel Abrams, have been instrumental to my growth and learning as a designer.

What was your favorite piece of advice a teacher or student shared with you?
My department chair, Allan Chochinov, has taught us so many things throughout these two years, but my two favorite ones are, “No Prototype, No Meeting” and “Always send a thank you note.” I am sure I will remember and use these tiny but profound pieces of advice for years to come.

What advice do you have for next year’s students going through your program?
I hope you don’t like sleep, 'cause you aren’t going to get any.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

For this year's SVA Alumni Scholarship Awards, a record 66 students were chosen from a pool of over 250 applicants and granted scholarships worth more than $64,000 for projects as varied as design products, animation, painting and photography. For more information about the Alumni Scholarship Awards and to see a complete list of this year's recipients, click here.

For more information about SVA's MFA Products Of Design program, click here.