Biodesign Class Boosts Student Collaboration and Experimentation

beverage carton made from natural, compostable material
Beverage carton made of bacterial cellulose.

Symbiotic colonies of yeast and bacteria, cellulose, soy protein, nanobodies. These aren’t the kinds of materials one expects to find in a design class, but the UC Davis Department of Design isn’t like most others.

The course, BioDesign Theory and Practice, teams design students with those in the sciences to develop products that avoid using non-renewable and greenhouse gas producing materials. Students conceive of and create products that seem useful and needed and might be commercially viable.

“The class teaches students about a wide range of design materials and new ways to think about materials,” said Christina Cogdell, professor and design department chair, who teaches the class with Marc Facciotti, a biomedical engineering professor. “The approach we take is ‘What problem would you like to solve?’”

Bandages made of kombucha culture
Bandages made of kombucha culture

Among the projects the students are working on:

  • A vibrating device that would alert sight-impaired people of toxins in water.
  • Biodegradable hospital gowns.
  • Compostable beverage boxes.
  • Bandages made of kombucha culture.
  • Lightweight airplane seats from recycled materials.



One team from this year’s class will take part in the BioDesign Challenge at the Museum of Modern Art and Parsons School of Design in New York in June. Last year a UC Davis team, competing for the first time, was first runner up and science award winner.