What do you get when you get when you tell students at Pratt Institute to immerse themselves in another culture and create products that demonstrate they understood what the experience was all about? Well, you get boxes that turn into chairs, ceramic wallets, kinetic toys—and a whole lot more.
It’s all part of a partnership with Herman Miller whereby industrial design students were charged with coming up with a theme, then executing their ideas in a competition. The prize? A booth at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF), held in New York City May 15-18. The students’ theme “Empathy for Culture” and the resulting creations won them a place at the show.
Herman Miller lent some of its people, namely Fabienne Munch, Gary Smith, and Tim McLoughlin, to provide guidance to the students throughout the creative process.
“Empathy for culture is beyond feeling for others,” said Fabienne, Director of Ideation for Herman Miller. “It appeals to a peculiar understanding of a culture’s own dialectics: what’s visible, what’s invisible or taken for granted; what’s felt, what’s cognitive; what’s conscious, what’s unconscious; what’s symbolic, what’s ephemeral?”
“They helped us to not only focus on our concepts, but also made us realize that our ideas were valid as designers,” Sara McBeen, a graduate student at Pratt, said about the guidance provided by Herman Miller. “Each of us found our own way to stay true and honest to the messages we were trying to communicate with our pieces. These kinds of opportunities are invaluable in shaping where we will go from here.”
McBeen’s project, the Aata table, “reflects the coming together, socializing, and sharing so strongly exhibited in Middle Eastern culture,” which she chose to investigate after traveling there and “appreciating their generosity, goodness, and hospitality.”
“This project gave me a chance to experience design expression in its purest form by translating my passion for Buddhism and meditation into a physical manifestation,” said Ivey Lian, another Pratt grad student, who was inspired by 10 days she spent at a silent Buddhist meditation retreat in Thailand.
Her piece, the Enso Wall Light, was based on a Zen Buddhist symbol showing the moment when the mind is free to let the body and spirit create.
“Every day distances within the world are shrinking,” said Mark Goetz, the students’ instructor at Pratt, who initiated the partnership with Herman Miller. “Pratt, an international gathering place for talent, is uniquely suited to express these issues. The exhibit represents a sincere effort from our students to express a deeper understanding a respect for cultures different from our own.”
And what better way to prepare them for the global village they’ll be part of as industrial designers?
Photographs of students’ work courtesy of Armando Rafael.