That’s a Wrap: The 2017 Student Design Fellowship

That’s a wrap! The second annual Be Original Americas Student Design Fellowship has officially ended.

Check out the final presentation Tom and Irene gave to board members to recap their experience:

Did you have a chance to follow along with this year’s fellows, Tom and Irene? Get a behind the scenes look at what the Fellows experienced week by week here.


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 7: NYC Studio Visits and RBW

The second annual Be Original Americas Student Design Fellowship is winding down. Have you been following along on their adventures? Get a behind the scenes look at what Tom and Irene been learning via our weekly recaps here.

In their final week, the Fellows visited local NYC showrooms, including Suzanne Tick, Studio Dror, Fritz Hansen and Luceplan. Then, Tom and Irene spent the day with Rich Brilliant Willing to tour both their showroom and studio.

How was visiting showrooms in week 7 different than in week 1?

Irene: Walking into the showroom during week 7, I definitely felt more comfortable and open to ask questions. Before the fellowship, I would visit showrooms but rarely sit in the chairs or look under them for a glance at their constructions. The many showroom visits in New York gave me the opportunity to interact with Marketing Directors, PR & Communications Coordinators, and Managing Directors and learn about their roles within the company. In addition, every visit included both sitting in the chairs, examining fixtures, and exploring collections to learn about each company’s story.

Tom: It was really good to get back to New York and get to visit some more showrooms. Since the beginning of the experience, I feel I have gained a lot of confidence and have been able to deal with an “imposter syndrome” which I definitely felt I had before my experience with Be Original Americas. I have come to realize that people who work in design, even those in showrooms, love design and that given the chance they’ll chew your ear off about their favorite pieces. This confidence has extended to many other areas including talking about the industry as a whole, and it was great to get the chance to speak to some designers (like Suzanne Tick and Dror Benshetrit) in the final week and hear about their professional experiences and their personal development through their careers.

What did you take away about the creative process from the tour of RBW’s studio?

Irene: There were small scale foam models, 1:1 cardboard models, and 3D printed models lined up along the bench and hanging from the ceiling in RBW’s studio. There were also sketches pinned up to the walls to pair with the models. Everything seemed very hands-on and seeing the prototypes develop into the final product was amazing. Theo’s narratives on the reasons for adjustments in designs, methods in making fasteners invisible to the eye, and preferences in certain materialities were insightful and exciting to hear about. My impression of the studio very much reminded me of my own studio space in school and definitely gave me a push of desire to go back to school and start creating.

Tom: Charles, Alex and Theo were able to impart so much information in such a short time, it was amazing, there were definitely a few key takeaways for me. Always be making: being noticed or getting a chance to “make it” can be based totally on luck, but if it happens you had better have something to show. Get real: if you want to make something, make it practical—design it beautiful but make sure you design it for manufacturing, assembly, installation and use also. Follow your passions, but not blindly: rationalize what you want to do and whether you can afford to do it, if a market is too competitive and not where your strengths are, pivot and adjust.

That’s a wrap for the 2017 Be Original Americas Student Design Fellows! Check out their week by week recaps here on the blog and on our social channels: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Week 6: Bernhardt Design and BDE

The second annual Be Original Americas Student Design Fellowship is winding down. Have you been following along on their adventures? Get a behind the scenes look at what Tom and Irene been learning via our weekly recaps here.

Week 6 took the Fellows to North Carolina where they visited Bernhardt Design to learn about the brand and the manufacturing process, on site at their factory. Then, the Fellows traveled back to their home base in New York City to spend a day with bde to learn about public relations, social media, events and promotion overall.

Getting an intro the brand with Bernhardt Design

What was your biggest takeaway about design and manufacturing at Bernhardt Design?

Irene: At Bernhardt Design, we were able to get a very thorough look at the manufacturing facilities for wooden furniture, upholstery, and case goods. Within the construction and assembly processes, quality control is highly emphasized. There are checkpoints throughout the process to inspect seams, finishes, and materials for inconsistencies or defects. For example, skews of modular systems are staged to make sure the seams align when placed side by side. Outsourced material, such as glass and Corian, are 100% inspected to ensure pure surfaces. The craftspeople also have critical roles in maintaining the credibility Bernhardt has, especially with upholstery, in the industry. Those who make patterns and sew are experts in examining the stretch and rebound of fabrics. This is especially important for projects that involve the customer’s own material, when properties of the fabric need to be realized for proper cuts. The visits to the plants were opportunities where I was able to see Bernhardt’s dedication in pushing for the highest quality. Quality control is an art form that requires so much passion and experience and plays a huge role in the production of Bernhardt’s beautiful pieces.

Tom: It’s a small thing, but I was interested to learn that even a large company like Bernhardt can be surprised by the success of some of its own products. The design and development of a product is a long and iterative process, and manufacturing methods are strongly determined by expectations of the market, so if a product is surprisingly successful it might not end up being produced in the most efficient manner. It seems that the cost of manufacturing in some instances is a gamble, and even if the product is successful, it remains a gamble as the cost of tooling is only effective if the product continues to be in vogue and sell.

You’ve been learning a lot about how to market design along the way. What surprised you about your meeting with bde?

Irene: A common theme throughout our dialogue at bde was PR’s evolving nature due to developments in online platforms as well as the changes in how people now consume and interact. There are so many facets to PR, built up by paid, owned, and earned media, that I was not aware of. From social media to events to press releases, there is so much to be organized for successful outcomes, both in qualitative and quantitative measures. bde definitely has a method to the madness with its strategic pitches, editorial calendars, established A&D networks, and more to ultimately heighten brand awareness and the bottom line for each of its clients. It was my first time learning about PR, but the meeting was so much more valuable because I got to learn about PR in the context of design.

The 2017 Fellows at bde’s offices

Tom: It was great to spend some time at bde and get an insight into a world I know little about, but which is very important. This experience gave me a great opportunity to learn best practices in communication and have some time to speak with people who work with large brands. I hope to use some of the insights gained in this experience when trying to promote an entrepreneurial project in my final year of education. I was most struck by the discussion of the present use of social media and the potential use of VR/AR in the future to interact with consumers.

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 5: Herman Miller, Skyline Design and Maya Romanoff

There are only a few more weeks of the second annual Be Original Americas Student Design Fellowship! Catch up on our weekly recaps to learn what this year’s Fellows – Tom and Irene – have been experiencing here.

In Week 5, Tom and Irene traveled to Herman Miller’s headquarters in Zeeland, MI for a three day long deep-dive that included tours of the design yard, test lab, archives and more. Then, the Fellows headed to Chicago, IL to spend a day with Skyline Design at their plant and another day with Maya Romanoff, touring the facilities and working on a creative project.

You got to tour the Herman Miller archives. What did you learn by looking back at design history?

Irene: It was overwhelming to walk into the Herman Miller archives and see the filing cabinets, boxes, and shelves filled with printed ads, textiles, chairs, and so much more. Amy, the Herman Miller archivist, also took us through the story of Herman Miller’s establishment and development into a company renowned for its iconic furniture and systems designs. Starting as a family business, D.J. DePree built relationships with designers and took advantage of a time when the needs of people and institutions were changing. The archive is the best resource for Herman Miller to look back at its history, as cultural heritage is the core of the company.

I can’t forget to talk about our hands-on experience at the assembly facilities in the Greenhouse at Herman Miller. As any student interested in ergonomic design, we are trained to design for the well-being of the end user. However, I realized that the design process was missing a step, and that is also to design for operators. Personally, being petite never really helps in any type of shop environment, and assembling on the production line for a short while was physically straining. How could the environment be adjusted to reduce the distance operators had to reach for components, while also considering the range of anthropometrics among both females and males? Could organizational changes be made in training to support the needs of not only right-handed operators but also those who are left handed? My time at the assembly facility was a source of observational learning that I hope to incorporate into my design process.

Tom: Experiencing the Herman Miller archives was inspirational, seeing everything from original sales booklets, print adverts and photography, to the physical archive—they even have an Eames house tucked away! My visit here helped me to place Herman Miller in a greater context, and to see how the collected history of a company,  which can be used to help inform, resurrect and continue the culture of a company, can also be used to make sure that the individual stories of the products can continue to be told in the future. Strangely I hadn’t really considered before how the archive could also help inform the design department through the collection of pieces and an educated knowledge of reference and research to help designs stay true to their original designs, which shows another reason why it is so valuable.

What was it like to tour Skyline Design’s plant?

Irene: Skyline Design’s methods of creating glass have evolved through time, with technologies that allowed the company to take its designs to the next step. Everything is done in-house at its headquarters in Chicago, which is a benefit to the lifecycle of its designs. Developing its own proprietary machines to invent new ways from cutting to etching glass, Skyline Design has continually pushed the boundaries of what glass can do for people and the surrounding environment. An idea that was highlighted by Deborah, the creative director of Skyline Design, was to ensure that everything they did was intentional and not an afterthought. This idea was clearly evident during my visit to Skyline Design.

Tom: Skyline was an amazing place to visit. It was incredible to tour their facilities and to see the intricate work which they are able to produce. Their story of how they have constantly been developing and broadening their capabilities to stay at the apex of the industry and how this has allowed them to develop a huge range of capabilities gave me a great insight of a company growing into a design powerhouse. Experiencing the breadth of their facilities and the fact that they are always looking to develop new processes really demonstrated how they are always trying to innovate so that they can offer more visual capacity to clients.

Tell us about your creative project at Maya Romanoff. What did you learn?

Irene: We got to get our hands dirty at Maya Romanoff and make our own panel of Maya’s signature Mesa wallpaper. Maya Romanoff’s beautiful wallpaper involves so much trial and error during development, and craft during creation. The company truly finds novel ways of incorporating different materials and techniques to create a design that redefines the traditional definition of wallpaper. Because each panel of wallpaper is different, craftsmen number the panels to ensure a natural flow within each piece. In terms of quality control, all the wallpaper is inspected by eye before shipping. Seeing the process from start to finish during our creative project again reminded me of the importance of human touch to create original design.

Tom: Maya Romanoff was another fascinating experience. Each length of wallpaper had at least two people working on it at all times and the final pieces were all inspected by hand and then arranged for the best “flow.” It was interesting to see that one can be somewhat playful and take inspiration from everywhere and anywhere, and then take that back to the studio and just try things until you get the effect you were looking for. In the hands-on segment of the experience, it was pretty easy to see that the vast experience of the craft that the workers have there is definitely important—I’ll just say that our attempt at a piece of wallpaper wouldn’t have been winning Maya Romanoff any more awards!

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 4: The Fellows Visit Vitra HQ

Have you been following our weekly recaps 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 the previous weeks here)

In Week 4, Tom and Irene traveled to the Vitra Campus in Weil am Rhein, Germany and the company’s offices in Birsfelden, Switzerland. The Fellows spent the week immersed in all things Vitra, learning about everything from product development and testing to marketing to PR and more.

The Vitra Slide Tower by the German artist Carsten Höller

You got to see and experience a lot of Vitra’s campus in Germany. What was your favorite part? What was your biggest takeaway? Was there anything that surprised you?

Irene: Vitra was definitely a “good host,” as the Eames mantra goes. We were welcomed onto the campus and surrounded by amazing architecture, iconic design products, and passionate people. Our days consisted of touring through Zaha Hadid’s fire station, learning about the evolution of the Panton chair in the Schaudepot, visiting the headquarters to have an active dialogue about original design, and the list goes on. Throughout the range of experiences, a common thread I found to be true is Vitra’s dedication to integrating a story and process in its endeavors. By communicating those stories, Vitra hopes to educate and immerse consumers with the cultural legacy of the brand.

The Panton chair in the Schaudepot

I believe that one of the most successful things that Vitra does is opening up the campus to the public and allowing individuals to develop their definition of originality through experience. As an outsider looking in, the manufacturing process for chairs and the endless number of tests done on them was surprising. From redefining a method of upholstering through welding to back durability and UV testing, Vitra invests in innovation and creates for longevity through generations.

I can’t seem to choose a favorite part of my visit to Vitra because it was so holistic. Choosing one would deny the relationships each sight and each conversation had with the other. However, through each day, I was able to absorb the affirmative spirit Vitra upholds in celebrating the power of good design. My three days there were thought provoking and I hope to apply what I have learned to research, create, and sustain good design in my education and career. Thank you, Vitra so much for the wonderful experience!

Behind the scenes at Vitra HQ, as captured by Irene Lee

Tom: This was the first time we have been able to spend this long with a single company, and everyone worked incredibly hard to make sure that the three days we had on the campus were packed with meetings and experiences. There was so much to process that I am still catching up, to be honest! The access Vitra gave us to their process was unbelievable – everything from marketing and strategy through to the production facilities. It was amazing to have such an honest and candid view of the inside workings of such a renowned company. All of the great conversations gave me so much to think about around the concepts of authenticity and originality. We were also able to have honest discussions around how the business functions and how it functions as both a B2B and B2C company, which led to some interesting thoughts around messaging and communicating with a varied global audience with one voice.

This year’s fellows visit Vitra, where they got a look at all parts of the design process.

The access Vitra gave us to their process was unbelievable – everything from marketing and strategy through to the production facilities. It was amazing to have such an honest and candid view of the inside workings of such a renowned company. All of the great conversations gave me so much to think about around the concepts of authenticity and originality. We were also able to have honest discussions around how the business functions and how it functions as both a B2B and B2C company, which led to some interesting thoughts around messaging and communicating with a varied global audience with one voice.

It’s really hard to pick a favorite part of the whole experience. I think the architecture of the campus has to be up there, it really makes you understand the principals of the company as a project. It’s an idea which permeates every aspect of the company and makes it more than just a brand, but instead a cultural movement which has had a deep and lasting effect on the world of design and architecture.

Another view inside the Schaudepot, designed by Herzog & de Meuron

The Schaudepot has to be up there also—to see so many (400) iconic pieces of furniture in such a small space is incredibly impactful, especially as most of them I had only ever seen in books and never thought I would have the chance to see in the flesh. Finally, on the last evening, I decided to join the citizens of Basel, participating in something we had watched them do for the pay few days. I’ll never forget floating down the Rhine under old stone bridges on a Sunny evening in July as long as I live.

On the Rhine near Vitra’s Campus

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 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.