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Kean University

Industrial Design Students Exhibit Work at Prestigious Design Show in Milan

Kean students pictured with their exhibit at the prestigious Salone del Mobile in Milan

Kean industrial design students exhibited their work before an international audience of more than 350,000 people this month after being selected to take part in the prestigious Salone del Mobile design show in Milan.

The nine students from Kean’s Michael Graves College (MGC), who have spent the semester studying abroad in Rome, also had the opportunity to work with and learn from leading designers from the renowned Italian design firm Alessi and collaborate with graduate students from ISIA Roma College of Design in Rome. 

Working with Alessi, the students were challenged to create “Next Gen Essentials,” or household items that Gen Z and other younger people would desire. Their designs included “jewelry” for dogs that links to a leash, offering a nod to the generation’s love of their pets, and a sleek spike for crocheters to store their yarn, designed for the Gen Z hobby of crocheting.

“Our students got experience working on a global scale and exhibited their concepts at the biggest design show in the world, which is highly selective,” said Assistant Professor Efe Kutuk. “They had an amazing time and an amazing opportunity to network. It will be a lifetime memory for them and definitely a launch pad for their careers.”

MGC Dean David Mohney said the College’s industrial design program is nationally recognized for quality, and the student experience in Italy further elevated the program’s stature.

“Alessi is one of the historic brands in product design, and their willingness to collaborate with Kean students speaks volumes about the value of the program,” Mohney said. “I think this is an amazing opportunity. The value to the students is they understand that even as students, they are active participants in the contemporary discussion of product design.”

MGC began its Rome program for architecture in 2018, then added graphic and interior design students a few years later. This year was the first for industrial design students to study in Rome for a semester. 

Going forward, Mohney said, study abroad in Rome will be part of the program for industrial design.

The connection to Alessi, an internationally renowned houseware design firm, came about after Kutuk reached out to Donald Strum, president of Michael Graves Design, in Princeton. Graves, the late architect and designer, gave his name and helped develop MGC at Kean.

Strum contacted Alessi, and the firm offered the opportunity to the Michael Graves students. Students were able to travel to Alessi headquarters, present their Next Gen Essentials concepts to Alessi designers for feedback, and receive their guidance.

The students’ design concepts also included a stylish chopstick holder for travelers, inspired by the long-legged bird, the crane; a pill-holder bracelet that carries the wearer’s medications; and a multi-tiered display tray inspired by bananas.

Working in teams with the Italian graduate students, the students developed their projects. Then, they were selected to show at the Salone del Mobile, in the section for emerging designers and schools. 

“This collaboration has proved to be richly successful,” said Rose Gonnella, associate dean of Michael Graves College. “Many connections and friendships were made.”

Senior industrial design major Carlos Cruz, of Keasbey, was one of the students who worked with Alessi and took part in the exhibition in Milan. He envisioned and created “Koma,” a yarn-holder that allows users to crochet at home or on the go.

“Rather than elevating the experience of cooking through design, which is what Alessi is known for, we decided to elevate the experience of crochet, which is a trending hobby among Gen Z,” he said. 

He said working with Alessi and showing at Salone del Mobile were “the opportunity of a lifetime.” 

“This was an amazing way to kick off a career as a soon-to-be-graduate, especially with all the connections made,” Cruz said. 

Senior industrial design major Ryan Rojo, of Clifton, designed "Bino," a pet product. The "jewelry for dogs," connects to a leash, envisioned as a product “for the newer generation of people who travel with their pets."

Rojo said he gained skills throughout the experience, from collaboration with students from a different culture; to public speaking at the exhibit; and receiving valuable feedback from designers on his work.

"Working with Alessi was a great experience,” he said. “It gave me insight to the expectations of professional design." 

The students' work will also be exhibited in New York City in May at WantedDesign's Schools Showcase,  at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF), held May 19-21 during NYC Design Week.

For more information, visit the ICFF website.