AMES — A group of Iowa State University students spent two weeks off the grid — without cell phones or any other modern conveniences — as part of a class designed to spark new product ideas.

Mark Kargol, a lecturer with I-S-U’s industrial design department, led the 13 students on a camping adventure to rural areas of Utah and Arizona in late May and early June. “I was trying to figure out a place that would be enjoyable with a lot of scenery, but also a place where we could go that we would have the opportunity to be without reception, to be without power, to be without water, and let the students really experience that and get a little uncomfortable, which really helps to promote good designs.”

The I-S-U students happened across a group of retirees who were doing a 15-mile hike through the Grand Canyon, a trek that involved some strenuous climbing. Kargol says, “These retirees were talking about their backpacks and how some of them didn’t fit and how they wanted some different things incorporated that really specifically speaks to that population.”

That chance encounter prompted the students to begin working on new backpack designs that target the older demographic. Another student was inspired by his own inconvenience. “He had a water bladder, like a ‘Camelbak’ product in his backpack, that kept leaking on him the whole trip,” Kargol says. “So, he’s working on redesigning that to prevent leakage in your backpack and getting you soaked.”

Other projects the I-S-U students are undertaking involve coolers that keep food and drinks cold longer and better-outfitted camp kitchens. Kargol hopes to see some of the products picked up by companies to be marketed in the future. He says past projects by industrial design students involved disaster relief and refugee aid, similar in some ways to the off-grid course, in that all the projects deal with situations of civil services that either don’t work or are or unavailable.