Contract - Design Trends: Manufacturers Giving Back to A&D

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Design Trends: Manufacturers Giving Back to A&D

17 December, 2010



Contract’s annual Brand Report, available via our December 2010 digital edition, measures the market penetration of various manufacturers’ brands, and product design competitions—like Best of NeoCon®— annually recognize manufacturers for good design of individual products. But there are other, largely unrecognized ways in which commercial furnishings and finishes manufacturers contribute something important to the design industry that have less to do with the products they sell and more to do with their desire to create partnerships with the design community. So, in this “season of giving,” it is appropriate to pay tribute to those manufacturers who go above and beyond the typical vendor/customer relationship to bring something of added value to our A&D community.

In this age of exploding product choices and the information overload that goes along with it, how do manufacturers distinguish themselves among overworked designers being pulled in several different directions simultaneously, and their demanding clients? Some buy advertising, some sponsor industry events, and some host parties. And increasingly, some manufacturers make frequent use of social media to extend their customer outreach.

All are good strategies for getting attention. But there are some who invest in more unique opportunities to create meaningful professional relationships with architects and designers. A few good examples follow…all of which I have been pleased to experience.

Teknion: Educational Outreach and Social Responsibility

Toronto-based Teknion has exhibited an ongoing commitment to providing educational programs to the design community in key markets around the country. Recently, the office furniture manufacturer partnered with Public Architecture in support of its efforts to encourage active engagement in socially responsible design activities. “We feel strongly about educational programming,” says Teknion U.S. director of marketing communications Mary Ellen Magee. “We all desire to advance our skills and learn as architects, designers, and manufacturers to stay ahead of the curve, advance our profession, and stay relevant so we can continue to design spaces and products that are more meaningful and sustainable.”

In recent months in several key markets across the United States, Teknion has pulled together a series of educational programs where Public Architecture founder and president John Peterson and principals from local design firms discuss the firms’ accomplishments under Public Architecture’s The 1% program, which encourages pro bono service by architects and designers. “Hosting John Peterson and the design firm principals who have committed to The 1% program was exciting for both the firms, who could talk about their projects, and the A&D audience, who may not have had any previous knowledge but were interested in getting involved,” says Magee. “When we hosted this event in Dallas, some of the audience began cheering spontaneously, as some of the team members who were involved in one of the profiled projects were in attendance. The energy in the room was palpable. Many of the e-mails we receive after these events are notes about inspiration and how the firms are approaching pro bono work with a new perspective. It really is why we are in the profession—because design matters and should be available to all. It’s a great message and one that resonates in our industry.”


Winners of Shaw Contract Group’s annual Design Is… competition enjoy a celebratory weekend in Chattanooga, Tenn.—a city that has been called a model for smart growth and urban development—where they attend Wine Over Water, a fundraiser that supports the restoration of local buildings and promotes good design.
Design Is WInners Shaw
Shaw: Defining What “Design Is…”

Shaw Contract Group of Dalton, Ga., sponsors the annual “Design Is…” competition, which recognizes designers for exceptional project work incorporating Shaw carpets. “We are in the unique position of both being a part of the design community and a resource that enables designers to recognize their vision,” says vice president of marketing John Stephens. “We see designers as clients, partners, and colleagues.”

According to Stephens, the Design Is… Award allows the company to engage the A&D community in several ways that it deems important, including celebrating design from around the globe, facilitating a panel of expert judges during the design process, recognizing and celebrating winning design firms, and funding design school scholarships in the names of the winning firms. “We also fervently believe in the power of design and take seriously our ability and responsibility to promote great design and great designers,” adds Stephens.

To celebrate, Shaw invites two members from each winning firm to Chattanooga, Tenn.—a city that has been called a model for smart growth and urban redevelopment—to the annual Wine Over Water (WOW) celebration, which is a massive fundraiser for protecting historic buildings in the city that also promotes good design. “Bringing the winners together with our team to celebrate good design in such a relaxed environment allows us to develop strong relationships with each designer, enables the designers to connect with others who share their passion, and allows them to reflect on the work they have done and the profound impact the design profession has on quality of life,” says Stephens.

marfadestinationTandus: Meeting in Marfa

Each year, Dalton, Ga.-based Tandus Flooring takes a small but influential group of designers to Marfa, Texas, to experience this remote art and design hub in west Texas that basically was put on the map by Donald Judd, who founded the Chinati Art Museum there in 1979.

“Many designers may have heard about Marfa, and may not have had the opportunity to experience Donald Judd’s work and the Marfa art community themselves,” says Tom Ellis, vice president of marketing for Tandus. “We are in a unique position to ‘curate’ an annual visit with Suzanne Tick that exposes new people to the work of Donald Judd, his art and architecture, the desert high plains landscape, and the artists he inspired to experiment with him there. Our guests come away inspired, energized, and spiritually moved.”

Each year, Tandus Flooring brings together a group of small but influential designers for a trip to Marfa, Texas, the isolated design hub in west Texas where Donald Judd established Chinati in 1979.
marfadestination2
Over the four-day trip to Marfa, the guests experience Chinati and the artist colony that has grown up around it, as well as the culinary, literary, and intellectual culture that it has inspired, plus the enjoyment of getting to know the other designers in attendance. More than a few professional and personal relationships have resulted. “Our culture at Tandus Flooring will always respect and foster continuation of meaningful relationships,” adds Ellis. “These relationships develop into lifelong friendships among our guests—perhaps the most important benefit of all.”

Transwall: Mentoring A&D’s Future Product Designers

Finally, but by no means the last example in the industry, Transwall, a movable wall manufacturer based in West Chester, Pa., recently has committed both financial and mentoring support to a class in the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Architecture Integrated Product Design program that is taught by Jordan Goldstein, a managing principal in the Washington, D.C., office of Gensler.

The interdisciplinary workshop guides students through the product design process, from design brief to scaled prototyping, in one semester, working firsthand with a manufacturer to focus on a specific product need. Early in the semester, students are presented with the design brief, which introduces them to the main design problem, macro-level design constraints, schedule, goals, and project objectives. Based on this product brief, students begin to conceptualize their design ideas by generating sketch concepts that are evaluated through a series of group and individual design critiques and then presented to the manufacturer and a review panel at milestone points during the semester.

Goldstein has done an admirable job of structuring the class to provide a realistic view—albeit in a compressed schedule—of how commercial design products evolve and come to market. Transwall executives have their role very seriously, attending classes to offer guidance and critique, and making themselves available for offline discussions with the students throughout the semester.

“Bringing as much reality to the classroom is critical for today's students,” says Goldstein. “Doing so provides a realistic perspective of how the design industry truly works and injects design pragmatics into the curriculum rather than just design theory. In the case of my UPenn class, Transwall brought a level of thinking that hit on the realities of mass-production, price points, and material performance. The students benefited from regular interaction with Transwall senior level leadership, and Transwall, in turn, had rapid-fire exposure to fresh, innovative ideas."

The Give Back, Get Back Circle

Manufacturers who “give back” are not doing so purely out of altruism. They are savvy enough to know that good ultimately will result in better sales relationships and/or new design ideas. Perhaps Terry Mowers, chief creative officer for Tandus Flooring, says it best: “Design professionals have many suppliers and manufacturers that call on them for their time and attention. We constantly are asking ourselves, ‘What can we do as a true partner that adds value, to give something back.’ Over the years, we have created programs for design professionals that promote learning, collaboration, and greater insight. We receive tangible benefits, as well. The interaction leads to deeper relationships among everyone and dialogue that has sparked innovation.”

If our magazine’s annual Contract: Design Forum teaches us anything, it is that interior designers and architects, their clients, and the manufacturing community share one very important common goal: the pursuit of good design. When structured properly, the opportunities for them to interact and learn from each other can provide lasting mutual benefit.


Design Trends: Manufacturers Giving Back to A&D

17 December, 2010


courtesy of Shaw: Winners of Shaw Contract Group’s annual Design Is… competition

Contract’s annual Brand Report, available via our December 2010 digital edition, measures the market penetration of various manufacturers’ brands, and product design competitions—like Best of NeoCon®— annually recognize manufacturers for good design of individual products. But there are other, largely unrecognized ways in which commercial furnishings and finishes manufacturers contribute something important to the design industry that have less to do with the products they sell and more to do with their desire to create partnerships with the design community. So, in this “season of giving,” it is appropriate to pay tribute to those manufacturers who go above and beyond the typical vendor/customer relationship to bring something of added value to our A&D community.

In this age of exploding product choices and the information overload that goes along with it, how do manufacturers distinguish themselves among overworked designers being pulled in several different directions simultaneously, and their demanding clients? Some buy advertising, some sponsor industry events, and some host parties. And increasingly, some manufacturers make frequent use of social media to extend their customer outreach.

All are good strategies for getting attention. But there are some who invest in more unique opportunities to create meaningful professional relationships with architects and designers. A few good examples follow…all of which I have been pleased to experience.

Teknion: Educational Outreach and Social Responsibility

Toronto-based Teknion has exhibited an ongoing commitment to providing educational programs to the design community in key markets around the country. Recently, the office furniture manufacturer partnered with Public Architecture in support of its efforts to encourage active engagement in socially responsible design activities. “We feel strongly about educational programming,” says Teknion U.S. director of marketing communications Mary Ellen Magee. “We all desire to advance our skills and learn as architects, designers, and manufacturers to stay ahead of the curve, advance our profession, and stay relevant so we can continue to design spaces and products that are more meaningful and sustainable.”

In recent months in several key markets across the United States, Teknion has pulled together a series of educational programs where Public Architecture founder and president John Peterson and principals from local design firms discuss the firms’ accomplishments under Public Architecture’s The 1% program, which encourages pro bono service by architects and designers. “Hosting John Peterson and the design firm principals who have committed to The 1% program was exciting for both the firms, who could talk about their projects, and the A&D audience, who may not have had any previous knowledge but were interested in getting involved,” says Magee. “When we hosted this event in Dallas, some of the audience began cheering spontaneously, as some of the team members who were involved in one of the profiled projects were in attendance. The energy in the room was palpable. Many of the e-mails we receive after these events are notes about inspiration and how the firms are approaching pro bono work with a new perspective. It really is why we are in the profession—because design matters and should be available to all. It’s a great message and one that resonates in our industry.”


Winners of Shaw Contract Group’s annual Design Is… competition enjoy a celebratory weekend in Chattanooga, Tenn.—a city that has been called a model for smart growth and urban development—where they attend Wine Over Water, a fundraiser that supports the restoration of local buildings and promotes good design.
Design Is WInners Shaw
Shaw: Defining What “Design Is…”

Shaw Contract Group of Dalton, Ga., sponsors the annual “Design Is…” competition, which recognizes designers for exceptional project work incorporating Shaw carpets. “We are in the unique position of both being a part of the design community and a resource that enables designers to recognize their vision,” says vice president of marketing John Stephens. “We see designers as clients, partners, and colleagues.”

According to Stephens, the Design Is… Award allows the company to engage the A&D community in several ways that it deems important, including celebrating design from around the globe, facilitating a panel of expert judges during the design process, recognizing and celebrating winning design firms, and funding design school scholarships in the names of the winning firms. “We also fervently believe in the power of design and take seriously our ability and responsibility to promote great design and great designers,” adds Stephens.

To celebrate, Shaw invites two members from each winning firm to Chattanooga, Tenn.—a city that has been called a model for smart growth and urban redevelopment—to the annual Wine Over Water (WOW) celebration, which is a massive fundraiser for protecting historic buildings in the city that also promotes good design. “Bringing the winners together with our team to celebrate good design in such a relaxed environment allows us to develop strong relationships with each designer, enables the designers to connect with others who share their passion, and allows them to reflect on the work they have done and the profound impact the design profession has on quality of life,” says Stephens.

marfadestinationTandus: Meeting in Marfa

Each year, Dalton, Ga.-based Tandus Flooring takes a small but influential group of designers to Marfa, Texas, to experience this remote art and design hub in west Texas that basically was put on the map by Donald Judd, who founded the Chinati Art Museum there in 1979.

“Many designers may have heard about Marfa, and may not have had the opportunity to experience Donald Judd’s work and the Marfa art community themselves,” says Tom Ellis, vice president of marketing for Tandus. “We are in a unique position to ‘curate’ an annual visit with Suzanne Tick that exposes new people to the work of Donald Judd, his art and architecture, the desert high plains landscape, and the artists he inspired to experiment with him there. Our guests come away inspired, energized, and spiritually moved.”

Each year, Tandus Flooring brings together a group of small but influential designers for a trip to Marfa, Texas, the isolated design hub in west Texas where Donald Judd established Chinati in 1979.
marfadestination2
Over the four-day trip to Marfa, the guests experience Chinati and the artist colony that has grown up around it, as well as the culinary, literary, and intellectual culture that it has inspired, plus the enjoyment of getting to know the other designers in attendance. More than a few professional and personal relationships have resulted. “Our culture at Tandus Flooring will always respect and foster continuation of meaningful relationships,” adds Ellis. “These relationships develop into lifelong friendships among our guests—perhaps the most important benefit of all.”

Transwall: Mentoring A&D’s Future Product Designers

Finally, but by no means the last example in the industry, Transwall, a movable wall manufacturer based in West Chester, Pa., recently has committed both financial and mentoring support to a class in the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Architecture Integrated Product Design program that is taught by Jordan Goldstein, a managing principal in the Washington, D.C., office of Gensler.

The interdisciplinary workshop guides students through the product design process, from design brief to scaled prototyping, in one semester, working firsthand with a manufacturer to focus on a specific product need. Early in the semester, students are presented with the design brief, which introduces them to the main design problem, macro-level design constraints, schedule, goals, and project objectives. Based on this product brief, students begin to conceptualize their design ideas by generating sketch concepts that are evaluated through a series of group and individual design critiques and then presented to the manufacturer and a review panel at milestone points during the semester.

Goldstein has done an admirable job of structuring the class to provide a realistic view—albeit in a compressed schedule—of how commercial design products evolve and come to market. Transwall executives have their role very seriously, attending classes to offer guidance and critique, and making themselves available for offline discussions with the students throughout the semester.

“Bringing as much reality to the classroom is critical for today's students,” says Goldstein. “Doing so provides a realistic perspective of how the design industry truly works and injects design pragmatics into the curriculum rather than just design theory. In the case of my UPenn class, Transwall brought a level of thinking that hit on the realities of mass-production, price points, and material performance. The students benefited from regular interaction with Transwall senior level leadership, and Transwall, in turn, had rapid-fire exposure to fresh, innovative ideas."

The Give Back, Get Back Circle

Manufacturers who “give back” are not doing so purely out of altruism. They are savvy enough to know that good ultimately will result in better sales relationships and/or new design ideas. Perhaps Terry Mowers, chief creative officer for Tandus Flooring, says it best: “Design professionals have many suppliers and manufacturers that call on them for their time and attention. We constantly are asking ourselves, ‘What can we do as a true partner that adds value, to give something back.’ Over the years, we have created programs for design professionals that promote learning, collaboration, and greater insight. We receive tangible benefits, as well. The interaction leads to deeper relationships among everyone and dialogue that has sparked innovation.”

If our magazine’s annual Contract: Design Forum teaches us anything, it is that interior designers and architects, their clients, and the manufacturing community share one very important common goal: the pursuit of good design. When structured properly, the opportunities for them to interact and learn from each other can provide lasting mutual benefit.
 


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