Design Week 2024 was a chance to play around — with a purpose

female students cutting electrical wire with tools

“Neuroscientists, educators and psychologists  ... know that play is an essential ingredient in the lives of adults as well as children,” a recent Newsweek article proclaimed. “A weighty and growing body of evidence — spanning evolutionary biology, neuroscience and developmental psychology — has in recent years confirmed the centrality of play to human life.” So vital is the topic that there is even a nonprofit National Institute for Play, and we now know that not engaging in play — which has been defined as that “state of mind that one has when absorbed in an activity that provides enjoyment and a suspension of sense of time” — can pose actual health risks. Far from being the frivolous pursuit many assume, play promotes executive function and communications skills and enhances overall well-being.

This year, Design Week, an annual series of events held under the auspices of NYU Tandon’s MakerSpace, had the “Power of Play” as its theme. 

“While there’s no denying games have entertainment value, and we all love them for that, they’re being increasingly leveraged by educators, scientists, and those working in other vital sectors,” Molly Ritmiller, the manager of the MakerSpace’s Design Lab, explains. “At Tandon, we’ve long recognized that games can play a key role in community building, and that they have a great impact in society, and this year, our weeklong programming was aimed at exploring the ways in which game designers can make a positive impact.”

Design Week was held in February, as it has been each year since it launched in 2019, because everyone appreciates a fresh dose of motivation and inspiration during that often-dreary month, and the 2024 program included:  

  • A workshop on adaptive gaming and its importance for users with disabilities
  • A panel discussion exploring the intersection of gaming, education, and social impact, as well as industry diversity and responsible gaming practices
  • An interactive installation that let participants build their own virtual island and personal avatar
  • An in-depth tutorial on using the popular 3D creation tool Unreal Engine that also included an overview of current industry virtual production standards and the chance to create a mini-film 


    It was difficult for users to pinpoint any single highlight in the packed roster of activities, but Lily Crandell, a student in NYU Tisch’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, found the adaptive gaming workshop to be an eye-opening introduction to creating an environment in which everyone can participate in the gaming world. “It was fun, engaging and informative,” she said, “and I loved getting to create my own button and test out some options for adaptive gaming setups!”  

    Others mentioned the panel, which featured:

    • McKenzie Elliott, Product Manager at Rockstar Games
    • CUNY Professor Mandë Holford, a Co-founder of Killer Snails
    • Bradley Plaxen, Narrative Designer at Respawn Entertainment
    • Game designer and educator Alexander King 

    Panelists touched upon a wide range of topics that resulted in several key takeaways. They stressed, for example, that accessibility will remain an issue until more people in the industry make it a priority and that when you design for disabilities, you often solve problems for a variety of other users (much like curb cuts mandated for wheelchair users have benefitted pedestrians pushing strollers). Other threads of the wide-roving discussion involved:

    • Curbing the fears of traditional educators: games can augment existing educational techniques, not replace them, the panelists asserted
    • Encouraging cross-play among a variety of devices, a move that will be important in making games more inclusive and allowing more people to be a part of the larger multiplayer community
    • Recruiting more women and other underrepresented groups into the field

    Mahe Dewan

    During a week featuring so many accomplished industry insiders, it may have taken an actual Emmy Award to stand out. 

    Mahe Dewan, who earned a B.S. in Integrated Design and Media (IDM) from Tandon in 2017,  taught the Design Week class on Unreal Engine and gave students tips on joining the virtual production industry. 

    Familiarize yourself with various systems, workflows, and tools, and network as much as possible, he advised. Seek apprenticeships or assistant-level roles in film, television, or live events in order to gain practical experience.

    Dewan, who was helped in running the class by fellow IDM grad Melissa Canavan, is supremely qualified to give that advice. Now the Lead Unreal Technical Artist at Disguise, a New York City-based creative-technology company, he has followed a winding — but rewarding — career path that began with a love of video games (the ones with a narrative arc rather than a simple focus on action), an idea of attending art school (an absolute non-starter as far as his parents were concerned), and his ultimate discovery of the IDM program (a perfect blend of his interests and the path to a largely-parent-approved design career.)

    Dewan found a strong mentor in Adjunct Professor Todd Bryant, IDM’s Director of Production, and he ultimately became a true jack-of-all-trades, thanks to classes in design, audio mixing, film production, and other disciplines. 

    Mahe Dewan at podium
    Mahe Dewan

    Upon graduating, however, he admits that he became somewhat disillusioned. “U.S. game companies and publishers appeared less interested in design and creativity and more focused on hiring people to just churn out code,” Dewan recalls. “It seemed as though the video games I had always loved had been built on a foundation of questionable business practices and exploitation.” 

    As a student, Dewan had already contributed to a variety of worthwhile projects, helming classes in user experience and virtual reality design at a Brooklyn summer camp, for example, and he had launched a thriving freelance career, designing and curating 3D/VR experiences; consulting; and art directing for various clients. Now, as a newly minted graduate exploring where best to apply his skills, he decided a detour was in order.

    Many friends and colleagues were surprised by his next move: In 2018 Dewan joined Schüco USA — the American arm of an international manufacturer of highly engineered window, door, and facade systems. Given how complex their products are, the company was interested in leveraging VR simulations in their internal training programs, and they also envisioned launching a VR showroom meant to dazzle potential customers. For the next year, Dewan worked on those projects, manipulating complex geometry in real-time and creating the navigational systems that would help users move through the space as the products were demonstrated virtually.

    It was interesting work, but when the chance to use his deep knowledge of motion capture presented itself, he made the move to Silver Spoon Performance Capture to serve as a technical director. “It was a real turning point,” Dewan recalls. “I found that I had a marked talent for working hand-in-hand with the overall director of a shoot, making sure they got what they needed from a technical perspective, and it was exciting to work on projects for organizations like Lucasfilm, Netflix, HBO, the NFL, and ESPN. I felt that I had discovered my niche.”

    Since mid-2022, Dewan has been at Disguise, and if you were watching NBC’s coverage of the midterm elections that year, you saw some of his Unreal Engine work: an uncannily realistic depiction of Washington, D.C., against which the network displayed eye-catching data visualizations.

    Thanks to those efforts, Dewan became one of the few figures in Tandon history ever to garner an Emmy Award. (Media executive Stephanie Mitchko, who graduated in 1987 with a degree in electrical engineering took home an Emmy for Best Interactive Television Platform during her tenure with Cablevision, and Professor Claudio Silva was honored for his development of a visual analytics tool used in the broadcast of Major League Baseball games.)

    “If you had told me 10 years ago that I'd be winning an Emmy for an election project in a gaming engine, I'd have been flabbergasted and wondering what happened to making video games,” he posted on social media. “If you told me now, I'd just be flabbergasted.”

    Other outlets in which you may have seen Dewan’s work include the television series The Mandalorian (for which he helped eliminate a great deal of post-production work by deploying LED walls instead of traditional green screens), music videos, and Super Bowls.

    “My career is proof that there’s no one set path to success,” he says. “I was always focused on carving out a niche and excelling at it, so determination — plus putting in the time — was key to my success. The one other thing you must have is a supportive professional network, and I began developing that at Tandon. I joke that I’ve met so many creative technologists who, like me, are proteges of Todd Bryant that we should have our own club.” 

    Molly Ritmiller had a tight-knit team helping to keep Design Week running smoothly:
    • Tina Chen (IDM’24)
    • Bhavitha Mandava (IDM’25)
    • Thao Vu Chi (IDM’25)