Doctoral graduate develops toolkit for culturally sustainable design

May 7, 2013

Tejas Dhadphale is discovering how to merge disciplines and ideas to help businesses compete in an increasingly complex global marketplace.

One innovative trend in a world of emerging markets, shorter product lifecycles and increasing worldwide competition is “sustainable product development.” Download Full Image

Yet even sustainable products can lack a key element that will ensure the success of a new product, says Dhadphale, who is receiving his doctoral degree in Design, Environment and the Arts from Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

“Sustainable product development focuses mainly on environmental issues, and to a certain extent on social and economic aspects,” he says. “Unfortunately, companies often fail to deal with the cultural dimension.”

The goal of culturally sustainable design is to develop products that embody and enrich a particular way of life or culture, says Dhadphale.

While doing his dissertation research in India, Dhadphale was surprised to see limited penetration for modern and multinational retailers in India.

“Modern retailers fail to resonate with the cultural practices of daily shopping, specifically among Indian women. India consumers equally value personal relationships, trust, and informal communication with retailers.”

Since many cultures resist homogenization or the one-size-fits-all sameness of mass-produced products, Dhadphale’s goal is to create a toolkit for designers to develop culturally appropriate products and services. In his studies, he drew from multiple disciplines, including design, anthropology and sustainability.

“Apart from design, I have taken classes in socio-cultural anthropology, material culture, justice studies, visual ethnography and education,” he says. “I have also shared my work with faculty from diverse disciplines, including communications, social justice and education, and received constructive feedback.”

“I feel that the interdisciplinary nature of my program has helped me to develop an empathetic relationship with other disciplines. Over the years, I have made some wonderful friends across different disciplines."

After growing up in Pune, India, Dhadphale received a bachelor degree from B.K.P.S. College of Architecture in India. When he decided to acquire a graduate degree, he applied to and was accepted at two design schools in India and three U.S. universities, including ASU.

When it came to a decision, Dhadphale chose ASU because of its highly ranked programs in the Design School, as well as the quality of faculty research.

“I was looking for a research-intense degree rather than a drawing skill,” he says.

Dhadphale credits Prasad Boradkar, an associate professor in The Design School and director of Innovation Space, as a mentor who gave him exceptional support and guidance. His other committee members reflect the variety of input he solicited for his project, including Jacques Giard, a professor in industrial Design, and Benjamin Broome, a professor in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication.

“The entire faculty at The Design School has been extremely supportive of my work,” says Dhadphale. I am also extremely grateful for the support I received from the Graduate College, which awarded me a Completion Fellowship for my final semester, and the Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA) for their continuing support. Finally, I would like to thank my family for their unwavering and unconditional support.”

As he graduates with his doctorate, he plans to pursue a career in academia that will allow him to express his passion for design, research and teaching.

“I want to open the world of design to a multitude of perspectives and disciplines.”

Editor Associate, University Provost

Desire to succeed helps graduate overcome personal obstacles

May 7, 2013

Looking at Ryan Stewart it appears that he is just like your average college student in many ways – focused, intelligent and kind. However, when speaking with him it becomes clear that this Sun Devil has more courage and determination than many combined. In fact, it is only with these qualities that Stewart has managed to overcome many obstacles that life has placed before him to earn a college degree.  

Stewart – a Phoenix native – grew up enjoying the perks of adolescence. After high school he decided to enroll at Arizona State University, where his passion for knowledge was furthered. However, things took a turn for the worse during his senior year of college. Download Full Image

Stewart says that he was having trouble at home and developed a sense of fear about his wellbeing. He was having difficulties sleeping and eating. He says he started to lose sight of reality altogether.

Around 8:15 p.m. on Sept. 18, Stewart started driving home from ASU after working late. He could feel his mind wandering and fear taking over. Moments later his car swerved off the road and hit a lamp pole, causing his vehicle to tip on its side. Luckily, Stewart didn’t sustain any major injuries but was transported to the hospital for safety. He says that looking at his totaled car, he can only credit a higher power for stepping in to protect him that night.

After being released from the hospital, Stewart spent time in a psychiatric care facility to regain balance and control of his wellbeing, all the while anxious to get back to his studies and complete his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. It was during this time that he was officially diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, a condition his mother also shares.

“The first thing I wanted to do was catch up on school. I would study all day and was in constant communication with my professors and teaching assistants,” he said.

Unfortunately, his four-course workload was unmanageable with the struggles that he was having at home. Stewart made the difficult decision to drop two classes and postpone his graduation for a semester.

“I almost wish that I had stayed in those courses and graduated, but I know it was the right decision and only delayed me a couple of months,” he said.

To fund his tuition, Stewart put off purchasing a new car and even sold his baby grand piano. He became fiercely determined to meet the academic goals he set for himself. This included putting a social life on hold to dedicate all of his time to studying.

The hard work will pay off on May 9 when he has his degree conferred at the undergraduate commencement ceremony.

“I’m thrilled to see him end this chapter in his life. I’m grateful that we found people who were willing to help us through this process,” said his mother Amanda Stewart. “I just want him to live a normal, happy life.”

Aside from his studies, Stewart has regained the ability to drive and is working on rebuilding trust and communication with his family regarding his mental health.

“I’m learning to better communicate how I’m feeling day to day. My medicine makes me a little groggy so I have to reevaluate if it’s safe to drive or if I need to be picked up,” he said.

While the journey to this point had many discouraging moments, Stewart always persevered with the help of his family. Amanda says that she hopes Stewart’s story will show people that mental health issues can be managed and cause them to reevaluate preconceived notions.

“There is help and treatment available. Having mental challenges does not make you crazy. Hopefully, people will see that the stereotype needs some tweaking,” she said.

The soon-to-be graduate is looking forward to entering the workforce, where he dreams to one-day work on the design and creation of cars from a manufacturing standpoint. He would also like to work for Boeing.

Thinking over the last two years, Stewart says, “It’s not a pretty story.”

Maybe not, but it has a wonderful ending.