GE-student collaboration reveals future OLED products

July 13, 2009
Cleveland Institute of Art students envisioned OLED products such as illuminated stairs, light-up wallpaper and illuminated safety outerwear for emergency services personnel.
OLEDs can illuminate stairs GE's ongoing development of organic LEDs (OLEDs) with Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA) industrial design students has resulted in real-word applications of this energy-efficient, flexible and paper-thin light source of the future.

GE challenged the students to conceptualize designs that would take advantage of two key attributes of GE OLEDs: flexibility and thinness.

Some of the real-word applications for OLEDs that students envisioned were:

  • concealed, under-shelf lighting for retailers
  • flexible signage for advertisers
  • illuminated stairs for architects
  • light-up wallpaper for decorators
  • illuminated safety outerwear for emergency services personnel
OLEDs on clothing "OLEDs hold great promise as the next big lighting technology for both commercial and residential use," says John Strainic, global product general manager of lighting at GE Consumer & Industrial. "Many of these potential applications conceived by the CIA students align nicely with what lighting designers, architects and other thought leaders have told us they want to accomplish with OLEDs."

The CIA students delivered hundreds of concepts that are now under review with product management and researchers at the company's Nela Park facility in Cleveland and at its Global Research Center in Niskayuna, N.Y. GE projects its first commercialized OLED products will be introduced in late 2010 or 2011.

The students' imaginative perspectives take center stage in a video that GE debuted at LightFair International 2009 in May. It is viewable at or directly at

The process of idea generation
Working with Douglas Paige, associate professor of industrial design at CIA, and students in a "Future Design Center" class, GE conducted a series of "design ideation" or idea generation sessions. The students were asked to develop feasible application concepts using OLED technology.

Illuminated sign The first semester of the class focused on research, ideas and concepts. Students in the second semester picked up where students from the first semester left off. The second semester involved refinement, modeling and prototyping phases, as well as final product recommendations.

Matthew Beckwith, designer in residence at CIA, says part of the process of understanding the client's challenge is to go out in the world and find out what has already been done and what has been successful. "It's really important to get the students hands-on to make their ideas relevant," he notes.

Beckwith says the GE team, led by Jason Raak, GE's OLED program marketing manager, pushed the students to think freely and conceptualize without limits or concern about viability. Beckwith notes, "Our approach allows crazy, big ideas to surface before the class shifts gears and begins to craft all that creativity into something that's relevant for a client, and ultimately, consumers."

"Year after year, a primary objective of the class is to put our industrial design students in a consultative role with area companies," says Paige. "Our work with GE was a perfect marriage."