Student Designs in Milan Magnifico!

Milan is Italy's cosmopolitan hub and a design mecca perhaps more often associated with high-end fashion than home/office furnishings. But the latter was the focus April 12-17 as the city celebrated the 50th year of Salone Internazionale del Mobile, also known as the Milan International Furniture Fair. It is regarded as the world's most important design show and has transcended furniture to include other products.

There is also a venue at the event for student and emerging designers called SaloneSatellite. NMU was among the few U.S. institutions invited to this highly selective, juried show. Seventeen human-centered design students produced exhibition-quality prototypes, built crates to ship them overseas, created brochures and business cards, designed the layout of the space and traveled to Milan to participate in the show.

"Just before leaving, I told the designers that they should be prepared for a very positive response from the visitors at the exhibition," said Peter Pless (Art and Design), who showed his own work at SaloneSatellite last year and accompanied the group on this month's trip. "I mentioned that the work they created over the past semester was of high value conceptually, technically and exceeded the expectations of an undergraduate program. I don’t think they believed me until they experienced the excitement from the crowds of people constantly gathering around our stand! This experience gave the students a major boost of confidence in their own work while making an international name for the human-centered design program.

"Throughout the exhibition, students were approached by press from around the world, manufacturers interested in producing their designs and others who just wanted to pay compliments for the beautiful range of ideas and products. International design students were inquiring about an exchange program with NMU, while faculty from other universities worldwide expressed interest in collaborative design projects with us. Overall, I feel that this international exhibition created many positive opportunities for professionalism, international collaboration and growth for both the students and the School of Artand Design as a whole."

It is hard to appreciate the scale of the show without experiencing it in person. Milan backed its claim as the design capital of the world by investing in a massive fairgrounds complex to host Salone Internazionale del Mobile, which last year drew more than 1,300 exhibitors and 300,000 visitors.

The complex has 24 pavilions, each with row upon row of booths. SaloneSatellite (right) occupies only the rear of two pavilions, yet is expansive in its own right and takes a good deal of time to fully explore. Students took turns staffing their space so they could stroll through the complex and gain inspiration from the world's top professional designers. Away from the show, the they visited Milan landmarks, took a day trip via train to Venice and experienced Italian culture and cuisine.

Their experience was documented through social media channels, including daily reports on Facebook, photo galleries on Flickr and video uploads to Northern's YouTube channel (see a video tour of NMU's exhibit space here). A public show is planned for early this summer at the DeVos Art Museum after the crates return from Italy.

The students' designs included seating, storage, lighting and timing options, handbags, displays for personal mementos and a transitional bookcase ("Nautilus," by Allie Bastian, pictured).

To view other high-quality images of their work, all shot by an NMU student, along with individual artist statements and more information, visit NMU SaloneSatellite.




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Updated: April 29, 2011

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