Marquette to Milan

Lucy Hough

Transiessence. That’s what human-centered design professor Peter Pless gave his students as a prompt. He defined transient as “not lasting, enduring or permanent” and essence as “the basic, real, and invariable nature of a thing or its significant individual feature or features.” He put the two words together and told his students to create a piece of furniture that embodied transiessence however they wanted to interpret it. Some of the best results from that project are going to the Salone Satellite in Milan, Italy, the world biggest design exposition in the world.

To be accepted to display in the Salone Satellite isn’t an easy process, and Northern is among only 20 to 25 design schools in the world to feature. Eighteen Northern students will attend, each toting a piece of furniture that they created from its infantile stages. The only requirements were that it be a functional piece of furniture and somehow interpret “transiessence.”

“What I was looking for with this project was to basically find other solutions to sustainability that might not seem so direct and down your throat and see what people would do about it,” Pless said. “I basically told (the students) what the theme was, broke those two words down, transient and essence, and said run with it, respond to it somehow. And that’s pretty much all I gave them.”

Final interpretations run the gamut from time capsules to a bookshelf that shows one’s growth to a light switch to a lounge chair that nurtures one’s natural form. The furniture has all already been sent to Italy in big crates that the students made themselves, some the size of large refrigerator boxes. The students will be in Milan from Friday, April 8 to Tuesday, April 19, and the actual expo lasts April 12 to 17. Before and after, Pless said that the students will spend their days setting up and then taking down their exhibit. During the Expo, Pless, who has been four times in the past, said that students will experience something that they will never forget.

“They’re going to meet so many people there it’s overwhelming. The amount of people that come through –– there’s going to be architects and designers alike coming through and looking at the stuff,” Pless said. “You can’t walk away from it feeling like it was a bad experience.”

Nick Mailhiot, a senior Human Centered Design major, said that he’s very excited to leave for Milan, especially after the semester was so stressful.

“As a whole it was pretty challenging, just coming up with a concept that was good enough to be brought to Italy; learning to fiberglass was a challenge; learning about the psychology; all of that stuff,” Mailhiot said. “There really wasn’t an easy aspect to it. It was just time, lots and lots of time,” Mailhiot said.

His prototype works to appeal to both introvert and extrovert personalities, and is a chair that can be flipped over to provide seating for more than one person. To make this form effective, Mailhiot researched introvert and extrovert psychology, looked at what other designers were making, made various sketches and over 100 foam models.

“It just answered the question that I wanted to pursue the best, which was how do I make a chair available for introverted people and extroverted people, and how do I link those two together without being super complex and mechanical, and this was the form that worked the best for it.”

The whole process, Mailhiot said, has taught him a lot about what designing is like beyond the classroom.

“(I’ve) learned what I’m really interested in. I knew I wanted to do design, and now it’s not just what I want to do, it’s what I do,” Mailhiot said.

Pless said he is thrilled with how much work the students have put into their ideas and the process of preparing for the Milan trip.

“It’s not really about it being an assignment any more, it’s about them being designers,” Pless said. “And that’s really, what I think, the value is of university education. It’s not about the grades but it’s about what you’re making yourself into, and that’s really all that matters.”

Kelsey Mckinney created an interactive light installation that can be continually changed. She said it can be transformed day by day or mood by mood so that the light can change with the person and is more likely to be appealing to the person as he or she changes.

“It is important to me to have a connection to certain artifacts. The more ability you have to transform certain objects so that they are different than before, the more likely, I believe, you are to hold on to that certain artifact,” Mckinney said.

Mckinney said that she is excited about the Milan trip to be around so many designers and the different culture.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” she said. “To be exposed to so many designers from around the world as well as them being able to see our work as individuals and as a whole is so amazing.”