Over the Summer, Be Original Americas, the organization dedicated to educating and promoting original design, created a fellowship program that brought two design students together with major brands to learn about what it takes to make, distribute, and sell authentic design. The students, Sarah Ahart of Virginia Tech and Karina Campos of Syracuse University, spent 7 weeks traveling to Be ￼￼Original Americas member companies—Bernhardt Design, Carnegie, Chilewich, Designtex, Design Within ￼Reach, Emeco, Flavor Paper, Herman Miller, Ligne Roset, and Vitra. They also visited the studios of Dror, Harry Allen and Joe Doucet in New York City. Sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Be Original Americas Co-Founder and BDE President Beth Dickstein explains that the key reason for doing this program is involvement and education. “We are able to show our members’ processes that help explain why original design is valuable to our economy, environment and safety. The fellows told us that while in school, they hadn’t learned all that goes into a product—from design to manufacturing to selling. We had an overwhelming number of applications and many expressed the desire for ‘real life learnings’. Moreover, these students are sharing their experience with other students and one is even using her experience in her thesis.”
Gregg Buchbinder of Emeco explains that design brand ambassadors and manufacturers “should take every opportunity to meet or speak to design students and young professional designers about the value to them of choosing authentic original design. The fellowship was a way for Be Original Americas members to show our fellows how well-designed furniture is manufactured and why our products are worth the price. At Emeco, we take advantage of any chance we get to ‘Emecoize’ design customers, design professionals and design students. This was a good opportunity for us to preach the gospel of original design.”
Jon Sherman of Flavor Paper explains that “taking the time and energy to clearly communicate the design principles and company goals to student tour groups and interns allows them to have insight into why your company’s aesthetic and output define the brand and inform decisions. This will help them see how and why a brand is built based on design and allows them to decide if they’d like to follow your path or create their own. Flavor Paper is in an industry that was considered dead just 10 years ago. We only exist due to curiosity and a deep desire to make something different and unique. That process has resulted in the rebirth of the wallcovering industry and a much more interesting aesthetic in spaces around the world. Illustrating to the next generation why this is important, how fun it can be if you push design above profit, and that taking a risk regardless of what the rest of the world sees can result in something powerful for a fellow to believe in and add some value to the world.”
Sandy Chilewich of Chilewich told us that “as a designer who has always been copied, I have learned to better balance the emotional anguish of being copied with the pure joy of being creative. These two interns were so fortunate to have had the opportunity to see such a wide range of companies both small and large and learn how they each value creativity and authenticity. Seeing how staying true to these values will lead to success is so encouraging to designers in whatever field they are in.”
Needless to say, we had to find out how it went. So, we asked Sarah and Karina to tell us about their experiences!
What did you get out of this experience?
Karina: Actually knowing how things work in the “real world”. In school, the design process is very linear (once we hand in a PDF or a prototype, we are done) and from touring these design companies I have learned that the actual process of design is much more organic. There is a lot of push and pull between different people and different departments and there are unexpected variables that can change the design process with little notice, being able to problem solve during these moments is key.
Sarah: This experience made me exposed to so many new things that I had never heard of before. I think in order to sum it all up, the fellowship really gave me a better overall understanding of how things work in the real world. You can only learn so much in school, but until you see how everything works together in industry, you can’t fully understand what you’re even designing for. You have to be able to design for product developers, engineers, manufacturers, and brands, not just for yourself. I will be able to take my stronger knowledge of industry and apply to it everything that I design in the future.
What kind of hands-on experiences would you recommend for young designers and/or students to have to prepare them for their career?
Karina: For young designers or even those who are just interested in design, I think it’s important to be curious and observe and communicate with working professionals (or try your best to). School teaches you the design principles and skills but knowing how all those skills come together in a working environment is where the true learning begins (this was definitely a theme throughout this fellowship) Also, try not to stick within the boundaries of your chosen major, your interests, hobbies and curiosities will help evolve how you interpret your career and give it a unique point of view.
Sarah: I would recommend getting some first-hand experience like I was able to this summer. Whether this be getting an internship or two or just shadowing someone at a company for a few days. Go out and talk to real professionals about what they do and how they got to where they are today. It was eye opening to see such a variety of different people with such different backgrounds all working in the same field as each other. Along with that, I think it is very important to take classes that may not be part of the design curriculum, such as business, marketing, or finance. I have taken a few classes in these areas and they help to put everything in to perspective outside of the little design bubble world that I am used to.
What was your favorite part of the fellowship?
Karina: Touching everything! (and being able to observe professional interactions.) The moments I recall the most are those where I was sitting, touching, even smelling products (a personal favorite was touching original Charles and Ray Eames drawings, I fangirled pretty hard, not going to lie). For me the five sense can influence how I react to a design or a physical product and having these up close, in your face moments with both design professionals and amazing products stuck out the most.
Sarah: I most enjoyed all of the hands-on projects that we got to work on at each of the different companies. Many of the places we visited gave us a sample project brief and had us work on something similar to what they would do in the office. We were also able to get hands-on experience building furniture at some of the manufacturing plants. These mini projects gave me a real sense of what happens in an office. Rather than just hearing about it, I was able to actually experience it and get feedback from people in industry about how to improve my work.
What was the most important thing you think you learned over the course of the fellowship?
Karina: That not knowing what I want to do with my career is okay. Many times, society subtly suggests that at the age of 21 you should have your life figured out, have a five year plan or know your exact career goals, but that is not necessarily true. What twenty-year old knows what they want to do in the future? I don’t even know what I am doing in the next month, let alone 5 years from now. This fellowship has reminded me that there is excitement and opportunity in not knowing what lies ahead and this rings true–especially when the advice is coming from established design professionals–so I will continue being curious and exploring my interests and the rest will fall into place (hopefully!).
Sarah: I learned that what I’m majoring in can lead to so many different jobs that I never even knew existed before. I had an idea in my mind of what an ’industrial designer’ is, but through this program I have learned that there is much more than just that out there. There are product developers, engineers, fulfillment process teams, research and design teams, color and materials people, and so many more. All of these people work together in the development of these products, and have their own distinct role in the process. I am now more aware of all of the possibilities that I have after graduation.
Sound like something you want to get involved in? You’re in luck! Beth told us: “We plan on holding this fellowship next year and are excited for members to let us know if they can participate.” To stay in the loop, follow Be Original Americas on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.