Art students collaborate to display furniture in Chicago

Anna Lang

Students from AD 411 Human Centered Design: Design Research, presented final designs of contemporary wicker furniture to Lloyd Flanders, a company that produces traditional, woven furniture, in December 2013, following a semester of preparation.

(Anthony Viola/NW) Associate Professor Peter Pless works with students in the human centered design lab located in the Art and Design building at NMU.
(Anthony Viola/NW)
Associate Professor Peter Pless works with students in the human centered design lab located in the Art and Design building at NMU.

Five students’ designs were chosen to be displayed at the International Casual Furniture and Accessories Market from Tuesday, Sept. 16 through Friday, Sept. 19 in Chicago, according to associate art professor Peter Pless, who teaches the class.

“They wanted to select three pieces and take them to the next level of engineering, but they ended up selecting five to display,” Pless said.The ideas chosen were designed by senior human centered design majors Matt Steinmetz, Paige Doolin, Nolan Warn, Aaron Ratza and Michael Rasmussen. They were told their ideas were chosen at the beginning of this semester. According to Pless, the process started with research to determine what consumers want and gathering initial ideas.

“We identified the target consumer group, which is a younger demographic, versus older, 50-plus normally,” Pless said. “We wanted to get that number down.”The class then took a trip to Chicago to the Lloyd Flanders showroom, followed by a tour of the factory located in Menominee, Mich.The class then had two weeks to design initial concepts, which were shown to the vice president of sales and two research and development specialists. Critiques were giving, and from there, the students began redefining their designs.

For six weeks of the semester, smaller groups of students took biweekly trips to the factory to learn more about the process of producing furniture. In December, final ideas were presented to Lloyd Flanders, vice president of sales and research and development specialists, as well as members of the company’s administration.“It was really cool for them to have that experience,” Pless said. “It was pretty rare to see that level of commitment from a company.”The idea of working with Lloyd Flanders was brought to Pless by a former student, who now works for the company.

Pless said Lloyd Flanders expressed interest in continuing this process, but not every year. He also said he would like to find other companies in the U.P. or around the region to work with.“It gives students a chance to present concepts outside of class,” Pless said.Senior human centered design major Matt Steinmetz said the experience working with a national company was very new to him.

“I definitely learned that there are a lot of constraints out there in the real world versus just the constraints of a school especially in what’s readily available,” Steinmetz said.He also said working with Lloyd Flanders was useful for after graduation.“I gained experience working in groups especially with people who already had experience,” Steinmetz said. “The guys over there had 40 years of experience just working together.”