At the Y

Project Pong


Design a new Ping-Pong paddle. It’s a challenge industrial-design professor David C. Morgan (BFA ’93) has served to his sophomore studio class now for eight years. The catch: the paddle has to meet a specific need.

Photo of a paddle with big, circular, door-knob-like handles.
1 of 19: The “Feldt” paddle is made for players with a missing digit. Photo courtesy David Morgan.
Photo of a ping pong paddle made oversized and perfectly round for broader surface area and harder impact.
2 of 19: “The Spanker” paddle is made for “sting pong,” where the loss of a point comes with a welt. Photo courtesy David Morgan.
Ping Pong paddle with a wide handle where fingers are intertwined with laces to hold.
3 of 19: This paddle is made for someone with a missing thumb. Photo courtesy Alison Brand.
Photo of a rectangle-shaped paddle with an attachment that collects the ball from the ground.
4 of 19: The “Reach” paddle has an attachment that retrieves the ball from the ground without a full waist bend. Photo courtesy Henry Lee.
Photo of a paddle with a transparent center.
5 of 19: Made for a novice player, Haley Zimmerman’s paddle has a transparent center for increased visibility. Photo courtesy David Morgan.
A paddle shaped like a painter's palete
6 of 19: Photo courtesy David Morgan
Paddle with a handle on each side.
7 of 19: An “Around the World” paddle, with two handles for fast pickup. Photo courtesy David Morgan.
Photo of a two-handle ping pong paddle.
8 of 19: This “Around the World” paddle also has two handles for faster pickup. Photo courtesy David Morgan.
A paddle with an L-hook-shaped handle
9 of 19: Photo courtesy David Morgan
This paddle is meant to be held with the paddle surface down and the handle pointing up, like a paintbrush.
10 of 19: Iterated with a specific profession in mind, this paddle was made for painters. It's called the "Penhold.” Photo courtesy David Morgan.
A closeup of foam-board paddle iterations with writing scrawled on the paddles.
11 of 19: Photo courtesy David Morgan
A closeup of plywood paddle iterations with writing scrawled on the paddles.
12 of 19: Photo courtesy David Morgan
A closeup of plywood paddle iterations with writing scrawled on the paddles.
13 of 19: Photo courtesy David Morgan
A paddle with a gap inside the paddle
14 of 19: Photo courtesy David Morgan
15 of 19: A photo of all of a student’s paddle iterations. Photo courtesy David Morgan.
A photo of paddle iterations
16 of 19: A “taxonomy” of a student’s paddle iterations. Photo courtesy David Morgan.
A photo of paddle iterations
17 of 19: A “taxonomy” of a student’s paddle iterations. Photo courtesy David Morgan.
18 of 19: All of student Henry Lee's iterations. Photo courtesy David Morgan.
A photo of paddle iterations
19 of 19: A “taxonomy” of a student’s paddle iterations. Photo courtesy David Morgan.

His students have returned niche paddles of all kinds: the ultimate Around-the-World paddle—with multiple handles for fast pickup. An oversized paddle for kids, made out of swim-kickboard foam to deaden those wild hits when they finally connect. There are paddles for the deaf, the blind, individuals missing digits, and people with arthritic hands. Students test each other’s paddles, scribbling feedback right onto a dozen or so plywood iterations. And they test with their target markets.

“You get some real unvarnished feedback in nursing homes,” says Henry P. Lee (’19), who made his paddle for elderly players. The need he spotted: getting the ball off the floor. “They’d give this blank stare, like, ‘Well, I’m not going to go get it.’” His extended paddle, with a nifty 3-D-printed attachment, recoups the ball without requiring a full waist bend.

The Ping-Pong paddle, of all things, is Morgan’s way of helping students develop empathy, “of getting them thinking about someone other than themselves.”

“Because, really,” says Morgan, “design isn’t about things; it’s about people.”

Check out the paddles we featured in the spring 2018 print issue:

A photograph of six unique ping pong paddles lying on a ping pong table.
Photo by Bradley Slade

KEY

1. Challenge: Missing digit Solution: Michael R. Hayes (’18) developed a round handle that the player can grasp between fingers.

2. Challenge: No thumb Solution: Using Alison Brand’s (BFA ’17) paddle, the player can intertwine fingers in the strings.

3. Challenge: Panic disorder Solution: The player can create a soothing sound and motion by rotating the ball around the detachable rim on Elliott M. Bliss’s (’20) paddle.

4. Challenge: Arthritic hands Solution: Danielle M. Bullock’s (’20) wide, padded handle takes the strain off thumb grip.

5. Challenge: Elderly Solution: Henry P. Lee (’19) added a paddle clip for collecting the ball from the ground.

6. Challenge: Parkinson’s disease Solution: Tyler D. Anderson (’20) created a fatter handle that attaches magnetically around a standard paddle handle.

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