American designer Paul Rand once said, "Design, just as art, has multiple definitions. ... Design can be art. Design can be aesthetics." An exhibition orchestrated by industrial design students showcased the art of form in industrial design.
FORM | Line-Plane-Solid debuted in May 2014 in the Perspective Gallery in Squires Student Center and featured more than 220 projects from nearly 100 students. Students in Professor Mitzi Vernon’s second-year industrial design form studios produced the work.
Those students spent three years exploring the key concepts of form through six exercises — “linear flowform,” “planar flowform,” “solid flowform,” “planar tectoform,” “solid tectoform,” and “solid rotoform” — and four form products — platter, hand tool, vessel, and citrus juicer. The resulting work ranges from small, handheld pieces created with a 3-D printer to statuesque wooden creations fabricated with routers, lathes, and other machines.
Vernon started teaching her form studio in 2011 as an attempt to answer the question, “What makes anything worth making?” She drew inspiration after a visit from Joseph Ballay, an industrial designer, partner at MAYA Design, and professor emeritus at Carnegie Mellon University, during which he shared his form family construct and teaching methods,
Vernon said a strong understanding of form is a critical aspect of design education. That allows students to design products that truly are worth making, she said.
“I want them to be more thoughtful about what they do, and form is an avenue to get there,” Vernon said. “What you want is for students to be able to form something that is ergonomic, aesthetically pleasing, efficiently produced, not wasteful, that makes good sense for materials, and has a reasonable lifetime.”
Through a series of assignments that build on one another, students learn to be purposeful in their designs and aware of form at every scale.
“My definition of form has changed, and it has been growing and expanding,” said Jonathan Kim of Fairfax, Virginia, a senior majoring in industrial design. “It’s something that I overlooked before I started making my own forms.”
In the studio, students created objects out of metal, wood, and plastic. While the objects in the exhibition have sculptural beauty, Vernon said there are different considerations driving the work.
“The thing about beauty … is that it’s different for a designer than an artist because the artist is making work as a form of self-expression. In some instances, as designers, you are designing for the self-expression of others, so that audience has to be part of the decision-making process,” Vernon said.
With the students from the first form studio graduating in 2014, the time was right to stage a major exhibition of the work, Vernon said. Smaller exhibitions were held in 2012 in Notodden, Norway, and at the Virginia Tech Research Center in Arlington, Virginia, but this exhibition includes what Vernon calls a “critical mass” of work.
The exhibition is a work of art — and design — in its own right. Over two semesters in 2013-14, Vernon led an exhibition design class of 19 students, primarily juniors and seniors, who had been through her studio in their sophomore years. The students curated the work, soliciting objects to display and organizing them, and produced everything from the signs, branding, catalog, and video documentary to the architecture of more than 700 joints and 1,200 aluminum tubes that displayed the objects.
“There were many pivotal moments in the development of this project, when people or vendors offered ideas, sponsorship, outstanding service, or simply said ‘yes’ instead of ‘no,’” Vernon said. “Among those, Jeff Snider and Matt Tolbert, metal shop craftsmen in the college, were critical to the success of the exhibition architecture because they agreed to take on the fabrication of the connector, and Chris Taylor, my graduate student assistant, provided project direction support and was the primary designer of the tower display system.”
The exhibition was designed for easy breakdown and travel, so the next step is to locate national and international venues to showcase the work designed by students from Virginia Tech’s College of Architecture and Urban Studies.
Created by second-year industrial design students in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, these sculptural objects are all assignments from Professor Mitzi Vernon’s form studios.
Industrial design students in the College of Architecture and Urban studies created a traveling exhibition to showcase projects from Professor Mitzi Vernon’s form studios.
Watch a video the students created about their work and the exhibit.
The FORM exhibit team included students Alex Barrette, Claire Butterfield, Alex Chiles, Chris Crowley, Campbell Efird, Lina Garada, Jonathan Kim, Chris Kitchen, Aleyse McNealy, Hannah Minnix, Linnea Morgan, Chelsey Pon, Amanda Phung, Brian Pughe, Sarah Qureshi, Tomon Sasaki, Scott Shumaker, Meredith Walker, and Emma Weaver along with Graduate Teaching Assistant Chris Taylor and Professor Mitzi Vernon.
The following units supported the exhibit:
The full, student-designed catalog is 200 pages and includes photographs of all projects in the exhibition, project briefs, a photo index, and a section on the design of the exhibition architecture. Copies of the catalog are available for purchase.