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JOEL Joel's Blog

The Northumbria University Designers in Residence Program


The Northumbria University Designers in Residence Program 4A few weeks ago when I was a guest of the Northumbria University booth at the ICFF show in Manhattan I had another chance to connect with the professors and designers at the University and more, importantly, see their work first hand and find what they are up to.

They Get It.

Let me say that again.

They Get It!

There is a fundamental understanding at Northumbria that being a designer is all well and good but at some point you need actual customers to look at your work and hopefully fork over some dosh. And this is exactly what our economy needs. new ideas, lots of new businesses, risk, all starting with an idea and some mechanism for getting the idea to people with wallets. The ICFF show was filled with small companies trying to make their mark, and exhibiting at the show costs thousands of dollars in fees and, hotel and travel costs. But here is a University that realizes the important of climbing down from their ivory tower and exposing themselves to the real world.

The Northumbria University Designers in Residence Program 5Where were the American design colleges? Where were the American woodworking schools? Sure, I bet that there were dozens of booths showing off the wares of RISD and North Bennett, and College of the Redwoods graduates but how much more relevant would be their education program if the senior shows were held in real commercial venues. It would teach the schools about connecting with paying customers and even more important it would help get more excitement into modern design. Win-Win all the way. There is a huge difference between an end of year show - even a show that is very very well publicized and attended (like the RISD show) and participating in a giant marketplace. The work of the people at Northumbria isn't being judged as "good for an academic" it's being judged by all 25,000 attendees as "do I want this item".

Northumbria is in the North of England. They could stay at home, have some local shows and complain buyers don't come north and thank god for arts grants. But they don't. They are here, In your face, showing off what they can do. I had thought that the reason they did the New York show was to get students, but it's not. It's to sell! sell! sell! their resident designer's work. This kick starts careers, business, and is about as important a job a University can do. You can read their Newsletter here (which contains an interview with yours truly). And I should clarify that the work in the show is all by their designers-in-residence (graduates and invited designers).

The Northumbria University Designers in Residence Program 6I bought the salt/pepper shaker at the show (paid full list). I thought the rivet lamps were cool (based on the shapes of copper rivets) and I fell in love but could not afford the silver pitchers (the shiny objects on the left) which I think were inspired by industrial pouring pitchers used for pouring oil from a can and wonderfully executed in silver with a gilt interior.

The Northumbria University Designers in Residence Program 7I should mention that in London in June, and I think all across England, art schools routinely have their senior shows in regular commercial art galleries. It's a very cool concept - it gets the students out there and start creating a relationship between graduate artist and gallery. Here however Northumbria has taken it one step further. They also do design shows all over Europe and in New York.

I got to know about the Designers in Residence program at Northumbria because a group of professors came to visit me last summer and later had an article about the work we do in their newspaper. You can read the issue with the interview here.

In other news recently Ron Hock posted an interview with me on his blog. You can read it here.

Join the conversation
06/05/2012 Mike Allen
Bravo Joel for once again putting your money where your mouth is when it comes to advancing the craft of woodworking!

I 100% agree with and support your comments about the value of the leading institutions at the apex of teaching the craft of woodworking increasing/emphasizing their participation in commercial events to emphasize the business of woodworking.

When the leading woodworking teaching institutions participate in business/industry events it not only increases the awareness of handcrafted wooden objects in the minds of buyers -- both commercial and private, but also better prepares their students to make a living with their craft.

I wonder if the craft of woodworking can be sustained over time if it only exists as a hobby? Don't we need handcrafted wooden furniture to exist as commercially viable products for the craft to survive? To me an interesting question, I wonder what others think?

All the best, Mike
11/06/2012 north face outlet
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