For any student studying a Design discipline in the UK, proudly exhibiting their work at the final year deadline is the pinnacle of hundreds of late nights and early mornings, saturated with sketching, modelling, building and researching, spanning three short yet infinitely memorable years. Sadly, for most product design students, these exhibitions are confined to their university studio space or local, affordable, rented galleries. However, for the lucky few, the international exhibition scene is a blank canvass for innovation, self-expression and entrepreneurial prowess. Having recently graduated, I am fortunate to reflect on the last three years of my university experience which brought with them the privilege of exhibiting in Milan and New York and traveling to collaborate with students in Pennsylvania and California.
In the year before becoming a student at the University of Lincoln, the Product Design department were developing a proposal to initiate a brand under which their students could design, produce and market their designs. By the time my final year had arrived the necessary preparations had been made and the brand was ready for unveiling at the Salone Satellite in Milan under the name ‘Mbrela’. A jovial misspelling of ‘umbrella’ in classic Product Design humour was not to detract from the deeper meaning of the brand; just like an umbrella protects you from the elements, ‘Mbrela’ is a vehicle designed to gently ease aspiring Product and Industrial designers into the industry buffering them from the harsh competition from big name designers and brands. This invaluable sense of security was highly sought after as I submitted my interior light design for evaluation.
My light design was one piece of a collection consisting of products from the University of Lincoln (UK), San Jose State University (US) and Philadelphia University (US). Spending almost the entirety of my third university year contacting manufacturers and producers about various materials and components the final acrylic and Corian light was ready for exhibition. The first exhibition on the schedule was the world famous Furniture Fair in Milan, Italy. From organizing accommodation and travel options to assembling our exhibition stage at the design center, all aspects ignited a sense of excitement within the group. As with all the design groups and student chapters exhibiting we were responsible for designing and assembling our own stand and after flying to meet with the students from the other two institutions in San Jose, California we decided on displaying all the products on one open stage; in essence a ‘catwalk’ for our ‘supermodel’ products.
The trip to California from England was an experience in itself as none of the seven students that were visiting had been before. The tutors had arranged for us to stay with some of the students that lived near the university allowing us to experience the difference in schooling and culture which remains the highlight of my university life. Once all the designs were organized we headed back to England to finalize the manufacturing of our products and packaging for traveling to Milan. After discussing the best way to transport the products it was decided that the American products would be flown to England and then the whole collection was to be driven from Lincoln to Milan.
The exhibition itself can only be described as immense in both size and quality; hundreds of designers from all over the world collaborating together under one collection presenting thousands of products displaying individual interpretations of innovation and solution. It was impossible to appreciate everything as the site was the definition of colossal and we were only there for a short time. While looking round the exhibition, it was often forgotten that we, too, were exhibitors and not just spectators; receiving such positive feedback from professional designers, manufacturers, producers and members of the public was a huge confidence boost and instilled reassurance that a graduate design job was within our reach as, for so many students, employment is a constant concern.
With the confidence of Milan behind us it was time to check the remaining boxes where coursework was concerned as, with the excitement of the exhibition, many of us had forgotten we still had work to submit in hope of a good degree. However, all this would be put on hiatus once again as, while we were busy with international trips, our tutor, Dave Bramston, had applied and been granted the right to exhibit at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) in New York not two weeks after the finale of the Salone Satellite. The products being exhibited at the ICFF had to be driven back to UK and then repackaged and collected by a courier for transportation overseas. The deadline was a tight one however the products made it back with mere hours to spare. What followed was then a repeat of the preparation needed for Milan and now that we were professional international exhibitors it was easier, quicker and more relaxed. The ICFF was a smaller more intimate event in comparison to the Salone Satellite however the experience and knowledge acquired was just as valuable.
The hard work involved in the years up to exhibition was appreciated by all and is highly recommended to any students wishing to boost their CV. These experiences have influenced me so much that I wrote my dissertation for my final year grade on the importance of exhibitions for students. Not only did these events help my pass my degree but I have made friends in many different areas of the globe, enjoyed traveling, enhanced my design CV and added plenty of stories to pass on.
About the author: Adam is a Product Design Graduate from the University of Lincoln (UK). Particularly interested in 3D and physical model prototypes Adam is currently collating his portfolio consisting of final year work and exhibition pieces. Contactable via e-mail: email@example.com