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Design conference at Illinois focuses on nexus of design, business, technology

Melissa Mitchell, Arts Editor


Cat Chow
Click photo to enlarge
Photo by James Prinz
Cat Chow, the avant-garde, Chicago-based artist/fashion designer who is making waves with art dresses fashioned from unlikely materials, such as zippers, tape measures and dollar bills, will be among the designers participating in the IMPACT conference.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — While filling the tea kettle in the morning, most people probably don’t give a whole lot of thought to the shape or style of the kettle, let alone ponder why the handle on the tap is angled just so.

But someone else has given considerable thought to such matters. In fact, a whole team of industrial designers likely has labored over the design of just about every consumer product we come in contact with daily – from alarm clocks to zippers, and yes, even the kitchen sink.

“Good design should go unnoticed,” said Deana McDonagh, a professor of industrial design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. McDonagh is providing faculty oversight for a student-led initiative that goes against that grain. U. of I. students Danielle Moorman, Mona Haggag and others have been working overtime to push industrial design out the shadows of inconspicuousness and into public focus on campus next month.

As a result of their efforts, some of the field’s most talented and respected designers will assemble at the U. of I. April 7-9 – along with industrialists and academics – to share their experiences and vision as participants in “IMPACT – The Synergy of Design, Business and Technology,” the Midwest conference of the Industrial Design Society of America’s Midwest Conference. The U. of I.’s industrial design program is hosting the event, one of five regional conferences organized each year by IDSA.

Conference activities will take place in Lincoln Hall Theater, 702 S. Wright St., Urbana; the Art and Design Building, 408 E. Peabody Drive, Champaign; Temple Buell Hall, 611 E. Taft Drive, Champaign; Krannert Art Museum, 500 E. Peabody Drive, Champaign; and Wohlers Hall, 1206 S. Sixth St.. For registration information and updates on event locations, visit the conference Web site.

“This year’s event is unique because we’re bringing in top names in design, business and technology,” McDonagh said. “We’re attracting speakers that no one has brought together in one place before.”

Among the “star” attractions are New York City-based designer and self-described “cultural provocateur” Karim Rashid, whose projects for such companies as diverse as Prada and Sony range from consumer products, furniture and lighting to interiors, fashion, fashion, art and music.
Other conference headliners include:

• Cat Chow, the avant-garde, Chicago-based artist/fashion designer who is making waves with art dresses fashioned from unlikely materials, such as zippers, tape measures and dollar bills;

• Dan Formosa, a design and research consultant with Daniel Formosa Design, whose background includes being a member of the teams that designed IBM’s first personal computer and OXO Good Grips kitchen tools.

• Bruce Nussbaum, an author, essayist, broadcast commentator and editorial page editor of BusinessWeek, who also frequently writes on design topics.

Guest participants also will include Rashid’s studio manager, Michael Regan; Nike senior designer Stefan Andren; Martin Gierke, identity manager, and Gary Bryant, industrial design manager, Caterpiller Inc.; Velma Velazquez, human factors specialist, IDEO; Tucker Viemeister, president, Springtime-USA; Greg Leubbering, senior designer, and Randall Sandlin, director of industrial design, Electrolux; and Herb Velazquez, aesthetics researcher, Kimberly Clark. Also, U. of I. alumni Larry Bell, professor of space architecture, University of Houston; Bryce Rutter, founder and chief exectuive officer, Metaphase Design Group; and Jim Wicks, vice president and director of the Consumer Experience Design organization, Motorola.

“These are the people who shape the world we live in and shape the products we surround ourselves with,” McDonagh said, adding that such products “can either strip us of our dignity or empower us,” depending on the quality of their design. “Carrying out everyday tasks should be pleasurable experiences.”

Moorman said the IMPACT conference has been planned to educate and engage multiple audiences – from students and faculty members to design professionals and members of the public.

The conference’s opening panel discussion with Rashid and others, at 7 p.m. on April 7 in the Lincoln Hall Theater, is free and open to the public.

Also opening to the public on April 8 will be an exhibition of the industrial design program’s new Design Excellence Collection at the U. of I.’s Krannert Art Museum. The collection, which includes products designed by Rashid, Michael Graves, Ross Lovegrove, TEAMS Design, Herman Miller, SmartDesign and others, has been organized by McDonagh “to promote design excellence, designers and manufacturers who are investing in design excellence.” McDonagh said the collection will be used for teaching design students, research and public exhibitions. It also will be featured in a forthcoming publication celebrating the impact of design.

Among other conference highlights will be the presentation of the IDSA’s Midwest District Merit Award. This year’s winner is recent U. of I. industrial design graduate Toshihiro Fujimura, who now works for TEAMS Design in Chicago.