Student Design Review

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Student Design Review

In crucial ways, the battle for the top prize in this year’s Student Design Review was personal. At the end of the day, two projects remained in fierce contention, with jurors Lindsey Adelman, Tim Kennedy, and Gregory Krum weighing one design that looked out to the world against another that represented an interior life. Hideaki Matsui’s Cleanup, a collection of soaps shaped like land mines, stood toe-to-toe with Sarah Cohen’s Perfect, a lovingly handmade, utterly idiosyncratic 780-page book that’s as close to a diary as is ever likely to appear in a design review. “This has nothing to do with a need,” said Krum of Cohen’s stunning tome, “but I like absurd things like this because we have to deal with practical things all the time.”

Ultimately, though, practicality conquered all. “This is so much more of an important social issue,” Kennedy said of Cleanup. “It’s able to explain what it’s about in a really straightforward and elegant way.” The soap, which will be sold in design shops to benefit de-mining organizations, was one of many socially aware proposals that made it to the final round. There was also a branding exercise by CalArts students to overcome town-gown divisions in the school’s home base of Valencia, California, as well as a hammock for providing temporary shelter for the homeless, and a portable ultrasound machine for use in sub-Saharan Africa.

Nor was Perfect alone among the winners in plumbing intimate experiences: A Parsons grad conceived the Emotional Skin, a phototherapeutic membrane that alleviates the anxiety of riding in elevators, and a team of Danish designers turned their fears into cartographic coordinates in an effort to conquer them. *

GREGORY KRUM is the director of retail for The Shop at Cooper-Hewitt in New York. He began working in design in 1996 as the first product manager for Moss. In 2003, he created a new shop concept for the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum using a holistic approach that included product selection, custom displays and vitrines, lighting, an e-commerce website, and music. Most recently, he was co-curator of “The Wrong Store,” an art installation dealing with retail and the creation of desire. He is at work on a book of photographs. He lives in New York and Hong Kong.

LINDSEY ADELMAN is an artist and designer in Brooklyn, New York. From 2000 to 2005, she was a co-owner with David Weeks of the product-design company Butter; their collaborative work has been published in The New York Times, Wallpaper, and Metropolitan Home, and has received awards from I.D., Blueprint, and the International Contemporary Furniture Fair’s editors panel. The recipient of a B.A. from Kenyon College and a B.F.A. in industrial design from Rhode Island School of Design, she is a former instructor at Parsons The New School for Design. She is currently preparing a solo show of hair drawings, set to open in October at the Denise Bibro Gallery in New York.

TIM KENNEDY is the director of industrial design at Smart Design’s New York office. He studied design at the College for Creative Studies and Rhode Island School of Design, and worked with Niels Diffrient and Henry Dreyfuss Associates before joining Smart. His work has included consumer, medical, and industrial products, and office and residential furniture. Kennedy holds numerous design and utility patents and has received many international design awards.

DIANE VADINO writes about design, film, and art from her base in Brooklyn, New York. Her debut novel, Smart Girls Like Me, will be published in October by St. Martin’s Press.

BEST OF CATEGORY CLEANUP Responding to Hideaki Matsui’s Cleanup project—three soaps shaped like land mines—the jurors began at rapturous and worked their way up from there. “The more I think about it,” Kennedy said, “the more I admire its potential to have huge social benefits.” (Sales of the soap, which is destined for design stores worldwide, will aid organizations dedicated to mine removal.) But the jurors were equally enchanted with the metaphor of effecting change with a twist of the hands—watching the soap melt away in the simple, everyday act of washing. Apart from the lackluster packaging, Krum was impressed by a degree of resolution so high it seemed unlikely to have come from a student. “It’s absolutely whole,” he said. “There’s nothing else to be done.” Adelman, who had been invited to crit a recent Parsons senior thesis presentation of which Cleanup was a part, confirmed what the other jurors spontaneously recognized: The designer’s meticulous process. “His research was excellent, and everything about this project is top-notch,” she said.

DESIGNER Hideaki Matsui SCHOOL Parsons The New School for Design LOCATION New York

Q+A WITH HIDEAKI MATSUI Which came first—the soap or the subject? The topic, definitely. My parents are photographers, and one of my mother’s favorite photographers dedicated his career to documenting the devastation caused by land mines, so I grew up with these images. When I was presented with the opportunity to further a nonprofit mission through my thesis, the land mine crisis was the obvious choice.

At what point did you decide to make your point in soap? At first, I felt that a fundraising product needed to remain active over a long time so that it would continue to remind people of the issue. But then I thought, what if the product is actually something that diminishes? That in itself delivers a strong message, given the nature of fundraising for land mines. The point is for them to disappear.

How difficult was it to find a design solution that was both formally successful and politically pointed? It needed serious research as well as expertise from the nonprofit organization Adopt-A-Minefield, because they deal with this issue every day.

Is your work always politically motivated? Not necessarily. But I do enjoy creating products that have the potential to improve lives. This design is the pilot project for a company that’s being created through collaboration between Parsons The New School for Design and Milano The New School for Management and Urban Policy. Our product roster will include my designs, future designs from Parsons, and works by other emerging product designers.


Design Distinction

DESIGNER Sarah A. Cohen SCHOOL California College of the Arts LOCATION San Francisco


A 780-page tome covered in brown, blind-embossed fabric, Perfect is lightened by the addition of 10 colored ribbons, bookmarked between its hand-torn, French-folded pages. “It’s so grabbing,” marveled Adelman. “I saw it on the table and I had to come over.” The project investigates the nature of perfection, both physically—its measurements were calculated according to the Golden Ratio—and via a bracing narrative that explores the author’s inability to live up to an unnamed, third-person ideal: “She always washes her hands after going to the restroom and never touches the public restroom
doorknob/I am not sanitary enough.” The project straddles art and design, but the jurors praised it regardless of genre. “You’re not going to check it out of the library,” said Krum. “But we’re able to include it for formal reasons: bookbinding, typography. Even apart from the concept, the thing itself has such presence.”

DESIGNERS Rehanah Spence and Asad Pervaiz SCHOOL Rhode Island School of Design LOCATION Providence, Rhode Island


Adelman and Kennedy both attended the Rhode Island School of Design, but they worked mightily to discount any bias toward this entry. For their degree project, Asad Pervaiz and Rehanah Spence spent two months photographing RISD students in their studios; across nearly 600 pages, the group is shown holding hands, goofing off, playing with their hair, displaying their work, pulling down their pants, and generally acting like art students. “I can’t help but love this,” Adelman confessed. “It obviously comes from a very strong place. It’s not posing—it’s just warm.” Even the non-RISD grad was impressed: “It feels like a celebration, which is so rare for a yearbook,” Krum said.

DESIGNERS Karin Lindeskov Andersen, Anne Sofie Bendtson, Tilde Burrows, Lea Lerche Klaaborg, and Signe Thorsen SCHOOL Designskolen Kolding

LOCATION Kolding, Denmark


The jurors took one look at the Atlas of Fears (and accompanying Map of Fears) and pegged the entry to a European design program. “It’s so clean and elegant,” Krum said. Created by five students at the Designskolen in Kolding, Denmark, the project charts an array of terrors across demographics and locales. Among them: “not to find a husband…to get assignments that I don’t understand…to have smelly socks.” “We all agreed that fear was holding us back, as individuals as well as graphic designers,” the students wrote in their submission. Adelman was especially moved: “It’s something that every designer understands, and it’s great that they would want to examine it, and overcome it, so directly.”

DESIGNER Mathilde Koenig SCHOOL Ecole superieure d’art et de design d’Amiens LOCATION Amiens, France


“It’s not changing the world, but it does what it does very well. It’s so witty, so well resolved,” Adelman said of Mathilde Koenig’s Karotten Fraktur, which re-creates the Gothic font with slices of peeled carrot. Assigned to create a typeface using 3-D objects, Koenig selected Fraktur because of its form—she was able to produce its strokes and ligatures by laying slices flat or turning them on their sides. She also wished to address the font’s onetime status as a typographical outcast: “The Germans used it before prohibiting it in 1941,” Koenig noted in her entry. “Now it has so many negative connotations it’s been reduced to limited applications.” (Newspaper banners are among the vestiges.) The juxtaposition of a commanding font with rabbit food won the jurors over: As Krum said, “What could there possibly be not to like about this?”

DESIGNER Julian BittinerSCHOOL Yale School of ArtLOCATION New Haven, Connecticut


Assigned to promote a workshop series by the Pentagram partner Michael Bierut, Julian Bittiner, a second-year MFA student of graphic design at Yale, played with the classic bulletin- board motif. He layered type over a poster-size photograph of a collage of smaller signs to form one complete notice. Three versions of the same notice photographed from different perspectives provided clues to the construction. The jurors almost dismissed the entry as a conventional poster before figuring it out. “Once you see what’s going on,” Adelman said, “you realize that it’s really very clever.”

DESIGNER E. Caroline FurchesSCHOOL Corcoran College of Art + DesignLOCATION Washington, D.C.


E. Caroline Furches’s USA Astray explores the topic of culture jamming in the form of a broadsheet. The title is an obvious play on USA Today—complete with matching banner—but elsewhere, typography choices seem to reference several different sources. “My professor didn’t want me to imitate an existing paper entirely—it’s already designed,” Furches explains. The project plays with newspaper conventions, with thesis chapters laid out like headlined articles and classic advertising parodies where normal ads would be (“Chemotherapy scares me, Scout,” the Marlboro Man confides to his horse.) “I love the seriousness and sense of detail in this project,” Krum said. “It’s not comedy, but it’s very funny at times. Very Adbusters.” Added Kennedy, “It’s savvy about what’s going on in design these days.”

DESIGNER Cameron Ewing and Florencio ZavalaSCHOOL California Institute of the ArtsLOCATION Valencia, California


This project took on the fraying relationship between California Institute of the Arts and the town in which it’s located. “Valencia is hypersuburban,” Cameron Ewing explains. “Clean and crisp, and such a contrast to this dark art school up on the hill.” He and Florencio Zavala asked members of both communities: “What is one thing worth knowing about Valencia?” The resulting civic odes were printed on postcards, distributed free of charge around town, and later exhibited in a campus gallery, giving locals an excuse to visit. The jurors liked the use of graphic design for social activism. “It sounds like a very successful exercise, especially considering that it was self-initiated,” Krum said. Ewing recently confirmed that assumption: “We finally connected with each other beyond staring from afar at the grocery store.”

DESIGNER Remy LabesqueSCHOOL California College of the ArtsLOCATION San Francisco


The Urban Shelter hammock unfolds from a backpack and can be easily hoisted onto a tree, a chain-link fence, or any three anchoring points, says Remy Labesque, who was inspired to do something “more profound than designing another alarm clock.” In a city plagued by homelessness, this transportable solution gives San Francisco’s dispossessed a fairly comfortable place to rest while waiting for formal housing options to open up. The jurors applauded Labesque’s socially conscious thinking but questioned his application: “It’s a great concept, but it seems like a bit of a pipe dream,” Krum said. Kennedy agreed: “The best solution to homelessness would be homes.” For his part, Labesque proposes that an often invisible population might be more noticeable suspended in hammocks than tucked away under bridges or in the corners of BART stations. “It’s a big part of what I wanted to evoke with my design—to not just raise them off the ground literally, but metaphorically as well,” he says.

DESIGNER Eran Weinberg and Sal PrimoSCHOOL Art Center College of DesignLOCATION Pasadena, California


“Why isn’t this in production right now?” Kennedy wondered. “If the technology exists, it should be.” Adia—the word means “gift” in Swahili—is a portable fetal ultrasound blanket designed for women in sub-Saharan Africa. Many parts of the region lack rudimentary medical care, and pregnant women, unable to accurately estimate their delivery dates, often give birth en route to distant clinics, leaving the expectant mothers vulnerable to complications. Adia works without the gels and probes of traditional ultrasounds; embedded in its fabric are capacitive micromachined transducers, which produce a 3-D scanned image that a minimally trained midwife can transmit from a remote village to technicians anywhere in the world. The jurors’ few quibbles focused on practicalities—could midwives really be prop
erly trained to capture the images?—and on the product’s aesthetics: The current prototype resembles a piece of protective athletic gear. “The looks of it aren’t pleasing,” Krum said. “But the concept is absolutely great.”


DESIGNER Eugenia YuSCHOOL Parsons The New School for DesignLOCATION New York


Eugenia Yu’s businessman father was a peripheral presence in her childhood. “Growing up, I had an idea of him, but he traveled, so my idea was through photographs,” the Parsons fashion grad notes. Those pictures became the basis of Yu’s 26-piece collection of womenswear. The most successful items, the jurors agreed, put a feminine spin on mannish details—like a sleeveless blouse with buttons sewed into a petal formation and a pocket-protector–like flap forming the flower’s stem. They were impressed by the emotional charge of a look book that showed the garments next to the photos that inspired them. Said Kennedy, “Taken together, these elements achieve something I’m not sure they would have independently.”

DESIGNERS Corina Neuenschwander and Noemie ArrigoSCHOOL Hochschule fur Gestaltung und Kunst LOCATION Zurich


A catalog for Swiss fashion designer Noemi Wust’s Insomnia collection, Second Skin is more than a look book; it’s a graphic extension of the clothes, which, according to designers Corina Neuenschwander and Noemie Arrigo, were inspired by “nightmare worlds.” The jurors agreed that Second Skin staked out its own aesthetic turf by mixing photographs of rich fabrics with images of inspirations for the collection: fetal pigs, mythical creatures, Matthew Barney’s Cremaster cycle, albinos, bees, and sheaves of human hair, all of which might give you terrors. “It’s so luxurious—I just love looking at it,” Adelman said. “I want to take it home with me.”

DESIGNER Alafuro SikokiSCHOOL The University of the ArtsLOCATION Philadelphia


Can a disabled person’s attitude toward his affliction “change the way he is perceived and treated by the rest of society?” Alafuro Sikoki wrote in her entry for the Prosthetic Ornament. How, for instance, would society respond to an eyepatch stamped with the phrase temporarily out of service or another that bore a trompe l’oeil image of the eye itself? The jurors commended such wit and irreverence. “It’s an example of a project that had a social benefit beyond the design of an object,” Kennedy said. “It’s always great to see students investigate these kinds of issues and do it in a way that challenges our expectations.”

DESIGNERS Matthias Jens Kreutzer and Jens SchildtSCHOOL Gerrit Rietveld AcademieLOCATION Amsterdam, the Netherlands


To produce a limited-edition promotional magazine for the Dutch underground cultural center NDSM-werf, the designers had to grasp the group’s unconventional ideals: It’s a self-supported city of artists, created from scratch on a wharf on the northern side of Amsterdam. The debut issue (four were ultimately produced) included a collage of 16 manifestos, including those of the Fluxists, the publishers of the “Crap Art Manifesto,” and NDSM itself. The jury responded to the hodgepodge of postcards and brochures, glossy paper and saddle-stitched newsprint with a mix of bafflement and admiration: “I’m not absolutely sure what’s going on,” Kennedy said. “But it was clearly made by inventive minds, and I’m really interested to learn more about the project.”


SCHOOL Pratt InstituteLOCATION Brooklyn, New York


Ben Hopson’s Designing Movement project was a victory of substance over style. “The DVD itself was not a great filmic experience, but the subject was so good we didn’t care,” Krum says of the short films, which show 3-D playing-card sculptures being used to illustrate kinesis. Hopson was motivated by what he sees as a disinclination among designers to think seriously about movement. Well-designed motion, he argues, has always been the exception rather than the rule. “One thing that moves in a really beautiful way is the disk drive on a Mac, the way it just grabs it from you gently—as opposed to PC drives, which really yank it from you.”

DESIGNER Josephine GianniSCHOOL Glasgow School of ArtLOCATION Glasgow, Scotland


Josephine Gianni’s My Tour takes elements from travel guides like Lonely Planet and social networking sites like to deliver a personalized travel guide on users’ cell phones or PDAs. Tourists looking for a unique perspective would be able to tap into other users’ recommended itineraries; directions to those locations would come courtesy of GPS technology. The project’s success would depend on the enthusiasm of the users—something Gianni anticipated by rewarding uploaders with a financial incentive, a portion of the fee assessed to those embarking on the tour. The jurors particularly praised a DVD that showed users interacting with the software in various cities. “It’s the kind of thing that could easily have been confusing, but it’s not,” Krum said. “This is totally figured out, very commercial.” Kennedy praised the concept as well: “I’ve been in situations where I would appreciate having that service available to me—being in a strange city, not having much time, and wanting to pick the brains of people who might share my interests,” he said.

DESIGNER Mihoko OuchiSCHOOL Parsons The New School for DesignLOCATION New York

DESIGNERS Barbara Bona, Fabien Cappello, Erik de Laurens, Gaelle Girault, Dominik Hehl, Nicolas le Moigne, Johanna Rickenbach, and Adrien RoveroSCHOOL Ecole cantonale d’art de LausanneLOCATION Lausanne, Switzerland


For a spot of youthful vibrancy, the French luxury brand Christofle sponsored a product-design workshop with two dozen students at ECAL. Among the 35 proposals that emerged were a silver USB key and money clip permanently “marred” with a fingerprint, a tea set dipped in red latex paint, and a condom case as discreet as a business-card holder. Several of these items were displayed at the Milan Furniture Fair last April, and the condom box is now in production. “Somehow, the collection manages to be both very elegant and very fresh,” Adelman said.


For her Emotional Skin project, Mihoko Ouchi transformed the elevator from an oppressive, socially intimidating environment into a soothing one. Perforated metal walls are backlit with colored light that changes as the elevator ascends; curved walls maximize space; and multiple rows of buttons prevent passengers from jostling one another. “I was completely seduced by the whole presentation,” Adelman said. “I like that she’s using a manufacturing process to create a visual presence and a feeling of comfort.”