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What is WhatNot?

November 1, 2015
Edgee by Ting-Yu Tseng, MFA 2017

For the tenth year, emerging designers from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) will debut new work in Milan, Italy, during the annual Design Week, which runs from April 4 – 10, 2017.  The 2017 ‘whatnot’ design collection will be launched to the public at Spazio Rossana Orlandi, Milan, one of the most revered platforms for the exhibition and retail of avant-garde design.  ‘whatnot’ is a yearly changing collection of contemporary designed objects (whatnots) that are rich in both materiality and meaning.

The 2017 collection has be imagined, developed and produced by students enrolled in a year-long External Partnerships studio directed by Professors Helen Maria Nugent and Tim Parsons.  The primary goals of the course are to enable students to find their individual voice as designers and execute a thematic collection of highly refined and relevant work. 

For the tenth anniversary SAIC partnered with West Supply—a Chicago-based artisanal foundry and fabricator of designer furnishings, lighting, and fine art—to develop a collection of heirloom-quality objects in glass and bronze. By working with form, texture, and finish in relation to phenomena such as transparency, reflection, refraction, and diffusion, the student designers have developed works that respond to light in unique and innovative ways, harnessing the inherent qualities of these precious materials. Encompassing furniture, lighting, and accessories, the projects include a floor lamp that captures the gesture of shaping molten glass, a rhizomatic modular candelabra and a blown glass drinking vessel inspired by the eyed-kylix used in Ancient Greek symposia. Each piece has been hand-cast and hand-finished by West Supply’s team of highly skilled technicians, drawing upon many years of experience producing high-quality metal and glass objects for artists, architects, and designers. The Whatnot x West Supply collection consists of fifteen serially produced multiples, the first editions of which are available to purchase from Rossana Orlandi Gallery. Subsequent editions produced by West Supply are available to order through SAIC.

In the first semester students generate initial ideas in response to an annually-set theme, then develop these into viable design concepts through months of intense research and iterative prototyping.  In the second semester students produce final products, packaging and exhibition furniture utilizing the school's diverse workshops (from digital looms to a full metal foundry), and in collaboration with local manufacturers.  As emerging designers and young entrepreneurs it’s vital to experience all aspects of producing salable and innovative work, from researching materials and processes, to negotiating with external vendors, organizing the shipping manifest, and engaging with customers at an international exhibition.  The comprehensive learning-by-doing approach of this class gives students a realistic understanding of what it takes to bring a design to market and begin the process of presenting themselves as professionals.  

“Being design junkies, we're fascinated by the people and ideas shaping the broader design conversation. That's why we were so excited to recently learn about the impressive Industry Projects studio at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC)"
— ‘L’Arco Baleno, Managing Editor Ana Carnick
Kylix by Majenta Alcyone Strongheart, BFA 2017

In a recent article for ‘L’Arco Baleno, Managing Editor Ana Carnick writes: “Being design junkies, we're fascinated by the people and ideas shaping the broader design conversation. That's why we were so excited to recently learn about the impressive External Partnerships studio at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC).....This 360-degree, real-world approach to learning—offering students a practical sense of what's entailed in bringing a design to market, from a concept to a finished, packaged item on a shop shelf—is invaluable, and provides the students impressive international exposure.....We can't wait to see what's next!

Recently, METROPOLIS magazine cited Norman Teague's Sinmi as best in show 2015.  Click here to read about this.

Professor Helen Maria Nugent

Helen Maria Nugent is a designer, educator, and founder of the Designed Objects programs at SAIC. She has been teaching design for more than 20 years and has lectured widely, most recently in China, Boston, and Miami. As an academic leader she has initiated many successful ventures for SAIC with external partners including the Tacoma Museum of Art, CB2, Industreal, Danese Milano, Dupont Corian, Kikkerland, The Future Perfect, and Spazio Rossana Orlandi. Nugent is also a Design Arts Master Teacher for the National Young Arts Foundation and selects nominees for the Presidential Scholarship in the Arts.  In fall 2017 she will assume the Directorship of SAIC’s Shapiro Center for Research and Collaboration.

Nugent is cofounder with her husband, Ron Kirkpatrick, of HAELO Design, an independent, research-oriented studio that pursues speculative and commercial design projects with a focus on furniture, objects, services, and exhibitions. The studio’s work has been exhibited at the Istanbul Design Biennial, the Chicago Cultural Center, ICFF, NeoCon, and Devening Projects. She was born and raised in Scotland and studied Environmental Art and Interdisciplinary Design at the Glasgow School of Art.


Associate Professor Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons is a product designer, design writer, and Chair of the Designed Objects programs at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He has taught product design in Britain and America for more than 15 years with a focus on exploring the plurality of the subject and its relationship to other disciplines. For the past five years he has co-taught studio classes that investigate the intersection of design and art, specifically product design and sculpture. In 2009 he wrote Thinking : Objects – Contemporary Approaches to Product Design, a primer for students, charting the landscape of contemporary object design.

Tim is cofounder with his wife, Jessica Charlesworth, of experimental and speculative design practice Parsons & Charlesworth. They work across objects, installations, participatory workshops, and writing to explore the rhetorical and narrative opportunities of designed objects. The Chicago Cultural Center recently hosted Spectacular Vernacular, a survey of their studio practice from the past five years. Their work has also been exhibited at the Istanbul Design Biennial, London Design Festival, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

Rhizome by Angela Huang, BFA 2017
Aqua Fluctus by Kaan Tombaz, BFA 2017
This Moment by Yuling Yu, MDes 2017
Pause by Irem Mimaroglu, BFA 2017