design collab no.1

February 6, 2015

How a class of art students developed one of our smartest collections to date

When we first saw the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Whatnot exhibit, to say we were captivated would be an understatement. That collection showcased the talented team of professors and students at SAIC—located about 10 minutes away from our merchandising office—and the potential for a groundbreaking collaboration between us was born.

After months of discussions, SAIC launched a course for 12 students with the goal of creating a product to be produced exclusively for us. Our merchandising team would collaborate with the students and professors just as they do with established designers, and the course would call on the experience of two professors—Jim TerMeer and Tim Parsons—and a teaching assistant, Carlos Ortega.

The students explored out-of-the-box concepts, such as what a snail could teach them about nesting tables, and created a true-to-scale apartment from cardboard and sheet foam. They sketched ideas, debated, enhanced, and critiqued them before voting on and the best ones to move to the prototype stage. Some weeks our team would visit the school to see how concepts were progressing; other times, the class would meet at our offices.

Final drawings were delivered in early December 2013, and they were immediately sent off for sampling in hopes they would be selected for the Spring 2015 assortment. While the students enjoyed winter break, factory-made prototypes were created that incorporated feedback from our buyers.

What were the results of Design Collab No.1? Space-saving furniture and accessories as smart as anything on the market. From textiles that reference floor plans to an ultra-thin modular bookshelf, the collection is truly innovative.