How SCAD Goes Pro

About 20 years ago, a design student at SCAD, the bustling arts university in the sleepy Southern town, had an idea. According to Victor Ermoli, dean of the SCAD School of Design, the student wanted to build a car.

“We teach automotive design, marine design, and industrial design,” Ermoli said. The students had often created CAD renderings and sketches of cars and automotive interiors for their courses. “But we had never had a student ask to build an entire concept car.” Ermoli took the big idea to SCAD President Paula Wallace, one of the university’s founders and its primary “big idea” visionary.

“I was all about it,” Wallace said. “SCAD loves ideas that move our students into the very heart of the professions and commercially viable products.”

The student was Edward Bigda, and the result was a concept car called the EXO Spyder, the creation of which required collaboration between several SCAD departments and faculty and students from across the creative disciplines. Less than a year later, with Wallace’s and SCAD’s full support, Ermoli and Bigda took the EXO Spyder to several national car shows.

“SCAD was hooked,” Wallace said. “We wanted more collaboration, more real-world results and prototypes.”

In the decade that followed, the SCAD industrial design department began to take on more concept challenges, inviting collaboration from faculty and students in architecture, interior design, graphic design, and fashion programs. Companies got wind of this work. SCAD began reaching out to brands.

“We used all our industry contacts,” Wallace said. “We asked the companies: ‘What challenges do you need help solving?’ ‘What markets do you need help understanding?’ ‘Where is your company going next?'”

Pretty soon, SCAD students had worked with companies like VTech, Barnes & Noble, Benetton, presenting inspired, creative solutions to their business challenges. For example, SCAD students helped construction equipment manufacturer JCB design and create a new cab interior for a large-scale backhoe, inspired by classic toy designs and sportscar interiors.

“Everything got bigger and better,” Wallace said. “Companies wanted to work with SCAD, and SCAD students wanted to work at these companies. We knew we needed to formalize this unique offering.”

In 2011, SCADpro was born. Today, more than 10 years after its official debut and two decades since the EXO Spyder, we sat down with Paula Wallace the SCAD President about what SCADpro is today.

Q: In a word, how do you explain SCADpro to new clients and students?

PAULA WALLACE: SCADpro is the world’s leading university design and research consultancy and serves clients such as BMW, Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, Disney, Google, The Home Depot, Lenovo, L’Oréal, Mercedes-Benz, Microsoft, NASA, Procter & Gamble, Reebok, Samsung, Uber, and Volvo. SCADpro is unique to SCAD!

Q: Do you make prototypes? Are you creating proposals and concepts? What does SCADpro actually make?

A: SCADpro takes on assignments from industry partners in four primary areas. First, there’s branded content or media. We make campaigns! We’ve created campaigns for Lexus, even NASA. Second, we invent branded environments: interiors, events, and activations. Remember a few years back, when Delta launched completely new uniforms for flight attendants and other “above wing” staff? SCAD created the employee rollout for all 50,000 employees. Delta hired two of our students to execute the campaign. Third, SCADpro creates next-generation products and services. One of our recent assignments in this category was to help Google make Google Maps more engaging for younger users. Fourth and finally, SCADpro creates future-focused business models. We recently partnered with one of the world’s biggest automotive brands to help them anticipate how to better serve aging customers.

Q: SCADpro functions so much like a design consultancy. Why would a Fortune 500 company seek out SCAD students, rather than a full-fledged design studio of working pros?

WALLACE: Well, every SCADpro assignment is led by a SCADpro faculty member. These are design pros! The real answer to your question is multifarious. SCADpro offers clients experience, speed, access, youth, scale, and a talent pipeline. And we help get real products to market!

Q: How many prototypes have you taken to market?

WALLACE: More than 60. With a vast, on-site array of advanced rendering and fabrication technology and a global sourcing network, SCADpro offers prototyping solutions for branding assets, print and digital media, VR/AR immersive experiences, apparel, accessories, electronics, furniture, consumer packaged goods, toys, and interiors.

Q: You mentioned speed. How fast does SCADpro work?

WALLACE: SCADpro is the only higher education partner or design agency that promises to deliver multiple comprehensive finished concepts in 10 weeks that are ready for immediate implementation. A SCAD academic term (a quarter) lasts 10 weeks. Most assignments have to be complete in that time frame. Some assignments last two quarters. Other design firms can really drag it out. We don’t.

Q: You said SCADpro offers “access.” What do you mean by that?

WALLACE: Unlike other agencies and university programs, SCADpro invites clients to engage in every step of the ideation and creative process and to work directly with student designers, professors, and alumni focused on clients’ desired outcomes. A subscription option allows clients to customize their engagements with design talent and resources through a custom combination of courses and immersives.

Q: Do clients express concern about working with a team of design consultants who are also college students?

WALLACE: Brands come to SCADpro expressly to work with students! Think of it like this: SCAD offers clients a pool of nearly 15,000 talented Gen Z students. It’s like one enormous test market. SCAD students are mostly between 18 and 28 years old and come from more than 100 nations. And since the “future is female,” brands like knowing that SCAD is currently about 66 percent female.

Q: Every design firm has a few specialties. What are SCADpro’s?

WALLACE: The scale of the knowledge and research we offer clients is remarkable. As part of a university long known as a pioneer in digital technology degree programs, SCADpro provides clients access to students across 44 specialized disciplines from immersive reality to user experience design — offering more brainpower in the most comprehensive array of creative disciplines at any university or agency on the planet. And the best part is, we want our clients to hire away our talent!

Q: So many design firms have non-compete clauses in their contracts. Do most of your clients want to hire SCAD students?

WALLACE: Yes and yes! SCADpro encourages clients to recruit and hire brilliant SCADpro design talent to work in their companies. Since founding SCADpro, companies have extended individual offers to more than 200 student participants upon completion of their SCADpro assignments—companies like Delta, Uber, Google, Hasbro, Samsung, L’Oréal, Steelcase, General Motors, NASA, and Adobe, among many others.

Q: Do students earn course credit for each assignment?

WALLACE: Absolutely. Students who participate in SCADpro collaborations earn credit hours toward their degrees and learn to work with creatives across multiple disciplines. Plus, SCADpro participants are allowed to keep and share each assignments creative assets to use in their portfolios.

Q: SCAD isn’t the first university to partner students with companies. How does SCADpro stack up against places like Stanford and MIT?

WALLACE: There is no other SCADpro. We invented it. We own it. No other university attracts so many talented students in so many creative disciplines who want to change the world. The concept of a boutique design consultancy, where students engage in future think and address current issues through meaningful work with actual results, has proven to be a key element in SCAD’s identity because it serves to fulfill our mission of preparing talented students for rewarding careers. Ninety-nine percent of SCAD graduates are employed within ten months or are engaged in further education, so I think it’s working!

Learn more about Paula Wallace SCAD here: https://thriveglobal.com/authors/paula-wallace/