How to Protect Yourself as a Small Company: Lessons learned from a designer/entrepreneur

Guest blog by Matthew McCormick, Principal & Owner, Matthew McCormick Studio

As a young designer starting out and building my company, I’d say that I ventured into manufacturing without a great deal of knowledge. In hindsight, it was perhaps with a very naive approach that has since turned into one of the most valuable learning experiences in my career to date.

From knockoffs to patents, from manufacturing to marketing, there is a lot that young designers have to learn. So how to successfully navigate these industry challenges? Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.

Continue reading “How to Protect Yourself as a Small Company: Lessons learned from a designer/entrepreneur” »

Q+A with Judy Smilow of Smilow Design

Smilow Design was founded by Judy Smilow to reintroduce the designs of Mel Smilow (1922-2002), a champion of affordable, well crafted, modern design and her father.

The company is a proud member of Be Original Americas and we invited Judy’s daughter, Maia Schoenfelder, to interview her about the challenges of reintroducing the original Smilow designs, what is was like to grow up in Frank Lloyd Wright’s cooperative community Usonia, and what she thinks of knockoffs.

Maia Schoenfelder: Did growing up in Usonia affect your family’s interest in design and your own interest in your dad’s business?
Judy Smilow: Living in Usonia was inspiring for my father and the culmination of a dream come true for a depression era kid from Brooklyn. We moved to Usonia in 1962, which coincided with a burst of creative energy and Mel’s most prolific period. He designed furniture, ran a business, painted, sculpted, was politically active all while finding time to be an involved father and community member—in a community that he considered to be heaven. I naturally absorbed my surroundings and his voice. It’s what made it so easy for me to understand, interpret, and reintroduce the brand.

Maia: What were some challenges you encountered while re-introducing the collection?
Judy: Smilow-Thielle filled a void that existed in quality-made modern furniture. It was available direct-to-consumers at a moderate price point at a time when modern furniture was mostly available “to the trade” only. Today, making furniture of this quality in America has proved to be a much more costly proposition. Repositioning the brand as a luxury line has been a challenge, and sadly has made the furniture out of reach for some. Most importantly for us though, we’ve been able to maintain the high standards, integrity and quality of these authentic designs.

Maia: Was it difficult to stick to the brand values and continue the legacy of Smilow Furniture in 2013 when you decided to reintroduce the collection?
Judy: The Smilow brand was founded on values concerned with integrity both in terms of design/quality as well as social integrity. Today we try to both continue and expand on those same values. Our integrity as a company is based on excellent personal customer service and standing behind our furniture 100%. We proudly make our furniture in family run factories that are as sustainable as possible. We are a member of the Sustainable Furnishings Council and also proudly support this terrific and vital organization, Be Original Americas.

Maia: What liberties have you needed to take (if any) in reissuing, expanding and growing the brand while still honoring the original designs?
Judy: My father was brilliant with his sense of proportion and design, so I have stayed very close to his drawings and original intent. Occasionally I have expanded or filled out a collection with pieces the market demands or offered a new finish or rush color. Our finishes have changed for the better, due to newer and environmentally friendlier offerings. All the choices I have made are in keeping with the original intent of the design.


Maia: How has the vintage marketplace impacted the re-introduction of the line?
Judy: Because my father rarely signed or branded any of his furniture, he was a well-kept secret, not widely known outside of this circle. It was only after I started reintroducing the collection that I was called upon to authenticate what were and were not Smilow-Thielle pieces in the marketplace. The vintage market has been a boon to the reintroduction in that it has helped propel the name and the enduring quality of his designs.

Maia: What were the challenges you faced in reintroducing the brand in terms of originality.
Judy: Inexpensive mid-century modern knockoffs (of our designs or others) contribute to a throw-away culture that we don’t endorse and that hurts our ethos that enduring and modern furniture lasts a lifetime—not a few years. Communicating the value of authentic design and quality construction of our furniture is an important part of our job. We belong to Be Original Americas because we share that mission and set of values. Investing in original design pays off. It keeps its value, is more durable and ages with beauty.

Check out more guest blogs from Be Original Americas members here.

Week 3: Behind the Scenes Manufacturing

Welcome to Week 3 of the second annual Be Original Americas Student Design Fellowship!

Each week, Tom and Irene will be answering a few questions to recap their experience and provide an insider’s look at what they’re learning. (Catch up with Week 1 and Week 2)

The Fellows are about halfway through the 7-week program, and this week Tom and Irene went the behind the scenes for factory experiences with Emeco and FLOS/Lukas Lighting.

At Emeco’s factory in Hanover, PA, Tom and Irene tried their hand at the 77 steps it takes to manufacture the classic Emeco Navy Chair.

Back in New York City at FLOS/Lukas Lighting, the Fellows met with Craig Corona, founder of Lukas Lighting, to get a look at what it takes to create custom lighting projects – from conception to production.

You got to witness and participate at Emeco’s factory firsthand. What was your favorite part about the trip to Hanover, PA?

Tom: This was my first real experience in a factory, so to see the transformation from raw material into components and then products, and the wide range of processes and tools which Emeco uses as well as the skilled hand-labor which it takes to produce their chairs was great. The openness of Emeco’s factory made it really easy to see how the raw materials come in, are shaped and transformed individually, and then treated and combined to create a product. I was very glad to be able to learn about the rationalization of the production procedures within the factory which help to improve efficiency and the quality. I think it was important to see the process the factory goes through when producing a new piece with designers, using spec sheets and their experience and skills to realize a vision. This helped me to consider my future designs in terms of feasibility and manufacturing capabilities.

Irene: My favorite part of my visit to Emeco was seeing aluminum transform throughout the 77 step process. Each step was mastered by a craftsman and the material was brought to life, either pressed under 220 tons by one of the original machines or bent with new technologies such as the CNC bender. Trying a hand at grinding down welds and upholstering a seat also made me realize the amount of time and effort it takes to polish your craft. Now, when I look at any piece of original design, I know I will appreciate its carefully engineered and crafted form and recognize not only the final product but also the thoughtful manufacturing behind the piece.

What was something you learned about the design process at FLOS/Lukas Lighting?

Tom: My experience talking Craig Corona of Lukas Lighting showed me that partnering with people with specific expertise in certain fields allows you to create better, more thought out designs. FLOS’s partnership with Lukas Lighting has given them access to a huge wealth of experience in the North American market beyond just certifications, but through to the culture of work and industry within the interiors market. That’s a huge advantage which allows them to understand their potential customers, but also the people who will be fitting and wiring their products; and the more you understand, the more intuitively you can design.

Irene: Walking through the shop facilities and offices and seeing stacks of specs and renderings partnered with prototypes made me realize how much Lukas Lighting pushes the limits to discover new capabilities with its lighting solutions. I learned that in order for a design process to even begin, you need to understand the properties of materials and the extent of technologies that may be used to create a tangible product from the design vision. You can open up another book of possibilities by trying out a new sequence of LEDs with different color temperatures or testing out different felts for sound absorbance. That’s what excites me about the design process, because it’s a never-ending learning experience.

Stay tuned for more from Tom and Irene, the 2017 Be Original Americas Student Design Fellows, as they recap their experiences each week here on the blog and on our social channels: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Week 2: The Fellows Visit Carnegie, Flavor Paper and More

Welcome to Week 2 of the second annual Be Original Americas Student Design Fellowship! Each week, Tom and Irene will be answering a few questions to recap their experience and provide an insider’s look at what they’re learning. Catch up with Week 1 here and see below for a look at Week 2.

Week 2
In their second week, Tom and Irene first visited Be Original Americas member Carnegie. The Fellows spent Monday and Tuesday with Carnegie, learning all about the textile brand’s process with visits to a textile mill, the creative studio, maker Erik Bruce’s studio and more.

On Wednesday, Tom and Irene zigzagged across New York to visit showrooms and designers: Lissoni US, nanimarquina, FontanaArte and Chilewich.

At Flavor Paper on Thursday, the Fellows got a hands-on experience screening wallpaper and learning about their process start to finish.

Friday, Tom and Irene met with WantedDesign co-founders Odile Hainaut and Claire Pijoulat for a Q&A about finding your own path and building a network. Then, they met Spencer Bailey, Editor-in-Chief, Surface Magazine for lunch and swung by Tom Dixon’s showroom in the afternoon.

You saw the creative studio and maker Erik Bruce’s studio at Carnegie this week. What did you learn about the creative process behind original design?

Tom: One of the most impactful things Erik said was as simple as, “If you can’t hide it, feature it.” It’s a really simple concept, but sometimes one gets wrapped up in perfection or the idealized concept of it, and doesn’t celebrate honesty. Every material has its own properties and exploring those in a way which allows them to be expressed, creates the potential for a much more cohesive and complete aesthetic. Original design isn’t just about the form or function of a design, but the expression and understanding of materiality.

Irene: Not all windows are created equal, as each has its own unique beauties and imperfections. Erik’s favorite phrase, “Don’t hide it, feature it,” definitely embraces this idea, where each treatment and covering is customized to the window to enhance the qualities of the environment. The creative process behind original design is so complex, and for Erik, involves several site visits to get dimensions, capture window characteristics, and inspire his use of materials. Visiting the studio, I learned that the creative process is far from linear, but remaining involved and dedicated leads to original design.

After getting hands-on production experience at Flavor Paper, are there any strategies or ideas that will influence your own work?

Tom: After hearing Jon’s story and being lucky enough to spend some time with him and the rest of the team, there were a few really important things that I took away. Catastrophes happen—but if you really have a passion to do something, you have to bounce back and keep on going. Find a way to surround yourself with people who have as much passion for the work and the company (and its goals) as you do. Lastly and most important of all: experiment, test, play, talk, and never discount an idea.

Irene: Our tour through Flavor Paper’s silk screening facility took us to a table full of wallpaper samples with varying color combinations, too many to count. In the showroom, we not only saw traditional toile wallpapers with a modern twist, but we also scratched and sniffed wallpapers. Flavor Paper is forward thinking and playful in its wallpaper designs. Often times, students like myself, especially in an academic setting, forget to incorporate fun into our designs. Of course, it is not appropriate in every setting and project, but my experience at Flavor Paper will definitely remind me to enjoy every step of the design process, even when that deadline is fast approaching.

Stay tuned for more from Tom and Irene, the 2017 Be Original Americas Student Design Fellows, as they recap their experiences each week here on the blog and on our social channels: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Week 1: Be Original Americas Fellows Land in NYC

The second annual Be Original Americas Student Design Fellowship has kicked off! This year’s Fellows, Tom Groom and Irene Lee, touched down in New York City last Monday to begin their 7-week immersive journey.

So, what did the Fellows get up to in their first week? Check it out:

Week 1
First, Tom and Irene toured the Midtown Manhattan showrooms of Be Original Americas members Carl Hansen & Son, Chilewich, Herman Miller and Moooi.

The next day, the Fellows visited the Soho showrooms of Be Original Americas members Alessi, Artemide, FLOS, Gandia Blasco and Kartell.

On Friday, the Fellows traveled to Design Within Reach’s offices in Stamford, CT to meet with the marketing and creative departments.

Each week, Tom and Irene will be answering a few questions to recap their experience and provide an insider’s look at what they’re learning.

After visiting showrooms across New York City, what was one thing you learned about showing original design

Tom: It’s really difficult. Demonstrating the originality of design isn’t as easy as having beautiful objects displayed in a concept-led living situation like Herman Miller, or creating a specifically designed environment where the emphasis is placed on the individuality of the objects like Kartell. What was really important about having the time to speak to people representing these huge brands in the industry, was finding out what makes them and their products original. Hearing from them what their companies focus on and then being able to place that in the context of the showroom really helped me understand the companies from a totally different perspective. Everything is about narrative, education and engagement.

Irene: I learned that all original design has a story to tell. The storytelling aspect of the products really came to life for me when I was able to touch and feel the furniture and lighting, embrace the details, and learn about the intention of the designers. The depth and breadth of manufacturing processes and craftsmanship utilized for creating an Alessi fruit bowl or a Wishbone Chair also emphasized companies’ dedication towards providing the highest quality for its users. The story was further communicated in the showroom, where the products were put it context or environments that made them feel personal. Showroom hopping across New York City was a fun and extremely valuable experience for me where I was able to get out of the classroom and ask industry professionals questions and try out the products!

Share something you were surprised to learn or see during the first week.

Tom: Obviously the nature of work and its relationship with workers through technology is really changing our world. To have the opportunity to speak with certain companies like Herman Miller and Artemide, who are responding to this really important and current issue in how they message their products was fantastic. Herman Miller presents itself as a serviceable to help produce the “Living Office,” a space somewhere between home and work, where the comfort of people and their happiness inevitably leads to a more productive and efficient workforce. Artemide spoke similarly about lighting conditions, ensuring that “Human Light” was present, which enabled people to live healthy lives. I think in school we tend to narrow the scope of our perspective on the world, and so this insight into framing the problems that people face around a larger societal shift was a huge eye-opener.

Irene: I never realized how much human touch is dedicated to developing and refining a product. During our visit to the Design Within Reach headquarters, I saw a board filled with all the pages of the upcoming catalog to be refined through several rounds of edits by the members. At Chilewich, we learned that Sandy Chilewich personally approves every design after iterations and meeting with designers and the manufacturer. The list goes on with every company that we visited and I learned that the collaboration of people in interdisciplinary fields makes the production of beautiful furniture, lighting, and tableware possible.

Stay tuned for more from Tom and Irene, the 2017 Be Original Americas Student Design Fellows, as they recap their experiences each week here on the blog and on our social channels: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Career Day: Be Original Americas at WantedDesign Industry City

From Industry City to the Javits Center and everywhere in between, Be Original Americas made its mark on NYCxDESIGN 2017. As part of the festivities surrounding New York’s design celebration, Be Original Americas sponsored a panel during Wanted Design Career Day called “How I Made It…My Way” which brought together leading individuals in the industry to share their paths to success to a full house of students and professionals at the Industry City site. The talk showed how being authentic – as a person, and not just as a product – created success for each panelist.

Panelists included Michael Hermann, Director of Licensing, Warhol Foundation, Monica Molenaar, Co-Founder, Seed & Mill Artisanal Halva & Tahini, Marco Pasanella, Owner, Pasanella & Son, Patrick Askew, Executive Vice President, Capital Division, NYCEDC, and Jon Sherman, Founder, Owner & Creative Director, Flavor Paper. The panel was moderated by Felix Burrichter, founder and creative director, PIN–UP magazine.

Read on for some highlights from the event, and view the full talk below.

From a member of the audience: A common theme has been this sense of having your own intuitive voice and knowing what you like/didn’t like. In the trajectory that developed, how have you learned to manage your different feelings of fear/hesitation/doubt at the various crosswords of your journey? How did you deal with outside influence (or not), or not knowing how to get to the next step?

Michael: I take really long baths. I don’t do it that often, but it really allows me to clear my head. Especially in this day and age when you’re constantly distracted by things and have all this information coming at you from different ways… There are different opinions, some you care deeply about and some just passing in… The more experience I have the more I’ve come to trust my instincts.

Monica: I wish that I would have trusted myself earlier and given myself the ability to enjoy the moment and see that every step along the way actually informs the next step… The benefit of age and time and having kids… has been realizing what’s important to help me grow myself. But, sometimes the voices from the outside are extremely important – if not for my partner I wouldn’t be where I am.

Patrick: Embrace failure. It took me awhile to embrace it, but it allowed me to take on big projects and no longer fear failure.

Jon: Facing your fears is what really helps you grow and understand what makes you happy and what you want to do. The more you experience putting yourself out there… the failures will make you learn a lot more than the wins. When you fall flat on your face and have to pick yourself up again: that’s when you learn something.

Marco: When you chart your own course you’re very connected to your voice inside. But, when you get older, you’re less threatened by the other voices and you’re more open to listening to other people. Listening to other people gives you the ability to say “what is it about what you’re doing that they’re talking about” rather than just ignoring them and barreling ahead.



Stay tuned to our blog for more coverage on NYCxDESIGN 2017.

All images by Federica Carlet.

Be Original Americas at ICFF

In addition to sponsoring the panel at Wanted Design Industry City’s Career Day, Be Original Americas had a booth at ICFF. At the booth, attendees were able to donate on the spot to our Kickstarter supporting the 2nd Annual Design Fellowship, brand the knockoffs of iconic chairs with graffiti of their thoughts on copycat design, and learn about featured original designs by Vitra, Herman Miller, Kartell, Fritz Hansen and Emeco. Over 280 people asked for information or joined as a member at ICFF alone!

Couldn’t visit our booth? Here’s what went on at the show:

Iconic designs (top) against visitor-branded copies (bottom).

Attendees had the opportunity to brand the copies with their thoughts on knockoffs. Emotions ran high as writing across the knockoffs displayed powerful thoughts and emotions.

Be Original Americas staff wearing shirts designed by iconic industry members, available with a donation to the Kickstarter campaign. More than $3000 was donated during ICFF.

Attendees could donate on-site to the Kickstarter campaign benefiting the 2nd Annual Student Design Fellowship. Rewards included the above pins and t-shirts, designed by Harry Allen, Bruce Mau, Georgie Stout, Paula Scher, and Luke Hayman.

Booth visitors supporting the 2nd Annual Student Design Fellowship.


Thank you to all who visited our booth at ICFF! Stay up to date with the latest news from Be Original Americas by following us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Images by Federica Carlet.


Members at NYCxDESIGN 2017

Will you be in New York City for NYCxDesign? Don’t miss Be Original Americas members and media sponsors. See below for a guide to exhibitions and events and where to find them.

Wanted Design Manhattan:
Terminal Stores
271 11th Ave

Bend Goods
Ligne Roset (Wanted Interiors Lounge at WantedDesign Manhattan, designed by Pratt Students in collaboration with Rockwell Group)
Fontana Arte


Wanted Design Brooklyn:
Industry City
220 36th St, Brooklyn NY

Egg Collective
Flavor Paper


Javits Center
655 W 34th St

AJK Design Studio: Booth #173
ANNA by RabLabs: Booth #1907
Artifort: Booth #1613
Bend Goods: Booth #953
Bernhardt Design: Booth #1319, 1333
Be Original Americas: Booth #1980
Cerno: Booth #853
Chilewich: Booth #1036
Emeco: Booth #1601
Eric Trine Studio: Booth #453
Fantini: Booth #757
Fferrone Design: Booth #332
Flavor Paper: Booth #1563
Fritz Hansen: Booth #733
Heller Incorporated: Booth #619
Koncept, Inc.: Booth #2017
Leland International: Booth #1128
LZF Lamps: Booth #1733
Marset: Booth #1535
Pablo Designs: Booth #833
Phase Design: Booth #2005
Secto Design: Booth #847
Skram Furniture Company: Booth #533
Soho Design District Booth (nanimarquina + FLOS): Booth #2879
WakaNINE: Booth #947


Flavor Paper: Exhibition at Hostler Burrows Gallery, featuring murals created by Flavor Paper.
M-F – 10:00am-6:00pm
51 E 10th St

Egg Collective: Designing Women
Opening Reception: 5/1 – 6:00-9:00pm
Exhibition runs through 5/26
304 Hudson St #307

Alessi: Launch Party of Washington Square by Night Limited Edition | MoreArt + Alessi
5/11 – 6:00-8:00pm
130 Greene St

Chilewich: Design Showroom Cocktail Crawl
5/17 – 6:30-9:30pm
Flatiron District

Be Original Americas: How I Made It…My Way
5/17 – 2:00-3:00pm
WantedDesign Brooklyn: 274 36th St Brooklyn, NY

IIDA: Leaders Breakfast 2017 New York
5/18 – 7:30 – 10:30am
583 Park Ave

Herman Miller + Magis: Design Pavillion Presents Magis Through Herman Miller
5/18-5/22 – 10:00am-9:00pm
Times Square – 42nd to 47th Streets between Broadway and 7th Avenue

Tom Dixon + Dezeen: Howard St. Block Party
5/19 – 6:00-9:00pm
19 Howard St

Moooi: A Life Extraordinary
5/19 – 6:00-9:00pm
36 E. 31st Street

Design Milk: Celebrate Clever Podcast’s 1-Year Anniversary with Sonos
5/20 – 6:00-9:00pm
101 Greene St

Cassina: ICFF Cocktail Reception
5/20 – 5:00-8:00pm
151 Wooster St

Poltrona Frau: ICFF Cocktail Reception
5/20 – 6:30-8:30pm
145 Wooster St

Blu Dot: Party with Blu Dot in Soho
5/20 – 6:30-9:30pm
140 Wooster Street

Herman Miller: Herman Miller Store Housewarming
5/20 – 11:00-7:00pm
251 Park Avenue South

Design Within Reach: Furnishing Utopia: Shaker Design Influence
5/20 – 5/24 – all day
110 Greene St

FLOS: Arrangements Collection by Michael Anastassiades
5/20 – 6:00-8:00pm (Opening Night Party)
152 Greene St

Ligne Roset: 2LG x Custhom Exhibition Kickoff
5/20 – 6:00-8:00pm
155 Wooster St

Vitra + Nanimarquina: Vitra Bash
5/21 – 6:00-9:00pm
100 Gansevoort

Bernhardt Design: The Creatives: Coloring Outside the Lines
5/21 – 2pm
ICFF: 11th Avenue at 38th Street

Design Within Reach + Design Milk: From Launch Pad to Market: A Discussion with Designer Elish Warlop
5/21 – 12:00-1:00pm
Launch Pad Gallery at WantedDesign: 269 11th Ave

Alessi, Kartell + Molteni: The New Brand Museums: How Companies Tell Their Stories
5/22 – 2:00-3:00pm
Conversation Room at WantedDesign Manhattan: 269 11th Ave

Fantini: Opening Night at the A&D Building
5/22 – 6:00-9:00pm
150 E. 58th St

Alessi: Showroom Cocktail Event
5/22 – 6:00-8:00pm
130 Greene St

Ligne Roset: Showroom Cocktail Event
5/22 – 6:00-8:00pm
155 Wooster St

Soho Design District Night
5/22: 6:00-9:00pm

Artemide: 46 Greene St
Blu Dot: 140 Wooster St
Cappellini: 152 Wooster St
Cassina: 151 Wooster St
FLOS: 152 Greene St
FontanaArte: 45 Greene St
Republic of Fritz Hansen: 22 Wooster St
Gandia Blasco: 52 Greene St
Kartell: 39 Greene St
Luceplan: 14 Wooster St
nanimarquina: 588 Broadway, Suite 607
Poltrona Frau: 145 Wooster St

Herman Miller + Metropolis Magazine: Designing for Movement
5/23 – 2:00-3:00pm
Conversation Room at WantedDesign Manhattan: 269 11th Ave

Interior Design Magazine: Crafting Technology: Handmade and Machine-made in Design Today
5/23: 12:00-1:00pm
Conversation Room at WantedDesign Manhattan: 269 11th Ave


Let us know your favorite events and exhibits and what you’re up to around New York City by tagging us on Twitter and Instagram @BeOriginalUSA!

Introducing the 2017 Summer Design Fellows

The Be Original Americas Summer Fellowship Program begins on June 12th, and two students have been selected from an outstanding pool of applicants for a 7-week immersive experience in the making, distributing, and selling of authentic design. We spoke with the 2017 Fellows Irene Lee of Cornell University and Tom Groom of Illinois University at Chicago about what brought them to the Fellowship, what they’re most excited about, and what they’re doing when they’re not immersed in design.

The Fellows:

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Irene Lee: My name is Irene Lee and I am a junior studying Design and Environmental Analysis at Cornell University. I am passionate about sustainable and preventive design and believe these facets of design are essential to improving lives. On my university campus, I am a designer for Waste Not, a project that aims to reduce post-consumer waste contamination and prevent diversion to the landfill by creating a uniform system of signage, product labeling, and educational tools. My goal as a designer is to be process-oriented, supporting my design decisions with thorough research and innovation.

Tom Groom: I am originally English—I moved to Chicago six years ago to marry my partner who I met in France when I was on a six month trip, cycling from farm to farm. I’m a little older than other people that I go to school with (I’m the big 3-0 this year), as I didn’t go to university in England—I originally wanted to be a fighter pilot or biochemical engineer. In my early 20s I played in a band and then decided to travel England and Europe staying with families and working on farms. This experience led me to design in a very strange way, where I became interested in locally crafted objects and graphic design. I am currently studying at UIC and will graduate in 2019 with a double-major in Industrial and Graphic design, and a minor in art.


What are your expectations for the fellowship? 

IL: I am excited to learn about the process of producing original design, all the way from the research to the distribution. I want to learn about the design philosophies of the companies we visit and hopefully develop my own to guide my future designs and work.

TG: I don’t really have any expectations, just excitement. I’m excited to meet the other student I’ll be spending the seven weeks with and get to know her. Second, I’ve never been to New York before, so I’m really looking forward to visiting and having the chance (in some down time) to see some of the huge cultural landmarks and museums there. Lastly and most importantly, I’m very eager to learn as much as I can from the experience and hope to be able to bring some of that back to UIC with me and pass it on to my fellow students here.


Why did you choose the Be Original Americas Fellowship?

IL: I chose Be Original Americas Fellowship because of its immersive nature. The opportunity to step outside of the classroom environment and learn from industry professionals will truly be eye opening. I know that the fellowship will help me in setting new goals as an aspiring designer.

TG: When I found out about the Be Original Americas Fellowship, I spent time looking at the website and was incredibly excited by the companies that Be Original Americas is involved with. This is a once in a life-time opportunity to look inside these incredibly famous and productive companies. I’m really looking forward to visiting different areas of the design industry and having the chance to have design professionals help develop my insight into areas which education at university can explore, but not fully develop like full-scale manufacturing, and in-industry research and development.


When you are not studying – or applying for fellowships- what do you do for fun?

IL: I love exploring the outdoors and taking photos of the gems I discover! I just came back from a backpacking trip in New Zealand. I enjoyed hopping around both the North and South Island and taking in the diverse geographical landscapes.

TG: I have a couple of jobs—I work in a creative space in Chicago called Lost Arts, which is run by Charles Adler (one of the founders of Kickstarter), and also at the UIC Innovation Center for BMW. I’m the outgoing president of the UIC IDSA chapter, so the last year has been a whirlwind of events and speaking to professionals, I’m looking forward to a couple of months off from writing emails! I try and take advantage of as many opportunities as possible, so with a group of friends, I entered a competition this semester called the White Space challenge, run by Northwestern University, where we designed a vibrator for mature women. I love to read and listen to podcasts, go to live music, and stand-up comedy. I also love new-media and interactive art and try to work on one or two pieces a year for fun and to stay practiced!


Stay tuned to the blog and @beoriginalusa on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram this summer to follow Irene and Tom during the 2017 Fellowship Program. They’ll share exclusive images from site visits to Bernhardt Design, Carnegie, Design Within Reach, Emeco, Flavor Paper, Herman Miller, Rich Brilliant Willing, and Vitra, and update on all they’re learning along the way.