Industrial Design Student Wins 2022 Outstanding Thesis Award

Project highlights how industrial design during the Cold War influenced politics

by Symone Daniels • July 27, 2022

The University of Houston Honor College recently honored Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design 2022 industrial design graduate Karina Bhattacharya as part of their annual Outstanding Senior Thesis Awards. This recognition marks the first time any Hines College student has received this honor in four years.

The Senior Honors Thesis program is a research experience completed during a student’s senior year. Qualifying students must have a 3.5 GPA in their major and work under the guidance of a senior thesis advisor leading them throughout the process. Students completing this program are awarded honors designation at graduation. This distinction is also displayed on their transcript.

Bhattacharya's thesis project, “Design Practice in Support of Capitalism: Industrial Design and Cold War Consumer Politics,” sought to prove how industrial design can demonstrate political ideals and values. To explore this theory, Bhattacharya studied three industrial design exhibitions taking place during the Cold War and how they influenced politics.

"Most were industrial designs, but all are examples of American industrial designers who influenced European places, including the Marshall Plan exhibit and the Brussels World's Fair," she said.

Bhattacharya  believes industrial design studies should not only focus on designing objects themselves, but also include physical artifacts in social, economic, and political systems in order to learn more about industrial design from an expanded worldview.

United States Pavillion, 1958 Brussels World’s Fair (Expo 58). Photo by Steve McCluskey, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Bhattacharya began her collegiate career majoring in civil engineering while simultaneously enrolled in the Honors College. Although she was not interested in liberal arts, she took a mandatory human situation sequence course encompassing reading material from all subjects under the liberal arts umbrella. Additionally, Bhattacharya’s professor encouraged her to try a phronēsis course. At the time, she did not want to commit to a minor, however, after taking a specialty class focusing on executive office with upper-level political science majors, Bhattacharya determined the knowledge she gained was a great segue into phronēsis. As a result, she attended an information session as a joke, ended up enjoying it, and enrolling in the course.

Smile, Hand, Sleeve, Finger, Gesture, Tree

It was important to Bhattacharya that she have friends outside of her central studies and surround herself with others who think differently because, ultimately, it can expose you to alternative perspectives. Understanding other subjects helped lead her to becoming a great designer. Her thesis project helped her merge all of her interests.  

"Designers were politically influenced by the environment of the Cold War and the Soviet Union,” explained Bhattacharya. “They believed capitalism versus communism was a part of their everyday life and design played a role in this."

The Outstanding Senior Thesis Award left Bhattacharya with a sense of pride and validation, knowing she "completed something" taking nearly a year and a half of hard work and dedication.

Bhattacharya’s thesis committee included: Michael Kubo, Ph.D., second reader Luisa Orto, Ph.D., and honors reader Dustin Gish, Ph.D.

To learn more about Bhattacharya’s thesis click here.

Two other Hines College students were awarded Outstanding Senior Thesis Awards — Fuko Nara's project Rethinking Health Awareness and David Rincon's project Transition: Boundaries and Edges of Third Ward. Both students declined to be interviewed for this story.


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