10 Years Helping Future Generations of Designers

Vicky Winkler
Jun 22, 2022

Let’s Charrette at Kean University is a free, multidisciplinary design competition, and it’s Gruskin Group’s 10th year curating the event!

Every year for the past 10 years we’ve setup teams of students from different design disciplines to work together in this all-day charrette to solve challenges through design. The competition provides over 100 students of architecture, graphic, interior and industrial design, from any school, with a unique experience--collaborating on a multidisciplinary team guided by a professional design mentor to create a unified solution.

Kean University – STEM building - venue of the 10th Anniversary "Let's Charrette" design competition event.
Past Let’s Charrette challenges include:
  • Designing every part of the brand experience for a mobile pet adoption agency—from the logo to the vehicle, a pop-up event, advertising and a mobile app.
  • Envisioning, planning, and designing a branded community for people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Design needed to play an integral role in making life for individuals and their families safer, happier and healthier.
  • Developing a new mobile noodle shop. This would be a retail experience that needed everything from the logo and menu to a restaurant space created from a shipping container.
This year…

The challenge was to re-envision the United States Postal Service® as a 21st century retail experience to better compete in this world of texting, email, FedEx® and UPS®. The teams needed to brainstorm ways to re-establish the local USPS® as a central community fixture, especially for younger adults who are less likely to visit. The students and mentors were asked to incorporate technologies such as drones and robots, and to concept an app to manage deliveries and services.

All that, plus they were required to offer new service offerings such as home-to-home deliveries (the “Uber” of mail?). The end-goal was to provide USPS services in a more expedient, cost-efficient, timely, and engaging manner – something that millennials and gen Zers could be into.

The 52nd Annual NJ Ad Club Award Winner - 1st Place (Non-Broadcast) - Nov. 11, 2020.

Here’s how it works.

At the event, each team is assigned a design mentor and is given 4 hours to solve a fictitious challenge. In the end, each team is given 3 minutes to present their concept to a panel of judges – their pitch can make all the difference, just as agency professionals can attest to.

The students’ presentation board and pitch conveys the brand story as a complete design solution across every touch point. Elements often include brand identity, packaging, digital design, retail environment design, fixture displays and interior graphics.

Erica Demme and Liz Requena of Gruskin Group.
Why do we love doing this every year?

We believe in the value of a strong education that accounts for the real challenges that face students after they have crossed into the professional world. We have found that students are, on the whole, not ready for the multidisciplinary teams they find themselves working in after graduation. How are people of different disciplines expected to effectively communicate in the workplace when they’ve never even tried before?

Rose Gonnella - Kean University – Associate Dean (Michael Graves College, Architecture and Design). Jeff Barcan (Director of Creative Services) and Bob Lyons (Director of Marketing Services) of Gruskin Group.

Most colleges do not communicate the importance of design and how various disciplines need to work together on immersive and experiential projects. In general, students are usually taught in disciplinary silos. An event like Let’s Charrette gives students the opportunity to work on teams with other students and experts in a variety of design fields. By immersing students in this sort of collaborative environment, they are exposed to the rigors of an actual design studio early in their professional development – something former participants have attested to finding very valuable.