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Milan Design Week 2017: Jessica Fügler and Elena Manferdini

We speak with the Lexus Design Award finalist and her mentor about turning concepts into the tangible

When Jessica Fügler was selected as a finalist for the 2017 Lexus Design Award multidisciplinary creative Elena Manferdini, one of the program’s mentors, was drawn to her very conceptual proposal. Neither Fügler nor Manferdini knew what was going to become of the idea, exploring color shifting. Most other finalists had fully-fleshed out product ideas for the competition—the theme of which is the broad “Static Yet Changing.” Fügler, however, found that brief to be an ideal fit for her own ideas probing color and refraction. Still, she says she was wildly surprised when chosen as one of the four finalists.

Manferdini was impressed with Fügler’s academic background, her already accomplished design portfolio, and the perspective with which she approached this competition. Fügler had been studying the pigments of cell structures in animals, studying how structural colors looked different from various angles of a cell. This would be the backbone of her project and ultimately sealed the deal with Manferdini as her mentor. We spoke with the two multi-talented designers ahead of Milan Design Week. Together, they addressed the project, how to create something functional yet conceptual and how the Lexus Design Award have created a platform for something genuinely interesting, inventive, creative.

Speaking with both at the same time provides inspiration for collaboration. The two designers bounce off each other in an energetic way—clearly excited about the project they’ve worked on together. Manferdini tells us she was drawn to Fügler’s pitch precisely because it wasn’t a rendering for a finished product, rather it was an exploration of a passion. She says, “Most other entries were a finished product, but hers was conceptual and open-ended.” But even more so, “it was an affinity between my interest in color and her interest in color,” she explains.

“It’s an oxymoron, an unstable concept,” she continues, “I thought colors and the optical effect would fit very well into this category—’Yet’—that is not easy to define. It’s usually defined by the vision of the client.” The two then sought practical applications by way of an in person meeting, email and many calls over two months.

Fügler says, “Trying to find a function for color [in this way] was difficult.” Eventually Fügler realized that color—in meaning different things to different individuals and their points of view—isn’t functional, but decorative, so they followed that path. They met in person in LA to conjure the tangible. “Elena pushed me to create something that has a purpose and can change people’s lives,” Fügler adds. It began with the idea of a rug or upholstery—or even a surface.

Fügler produced a floor covering (not quite a rug) made from rectangular beads that have been woven into the piece in such a way that they can be spun. There are four colors per bead, and two different types of beads. The prototype was ceramic while the second was 3D-printed. With this visual creation, people have the opportunity to spin the beads and have one of the different sides facing the up in any pattern or order they like. The reality is a functional floor rug, while also being a piece of art and an interactive entity. Not only does each side of each individual bead have a different color, it has a different texture—so not only are the eyes treated, but the sense of touch is also tickled under foot.

Fügler is one of the first ever American finalists for the Lexus Design Award. She relishes in both the honor and the opportunity to be at Milan Design Week. The award, she says, “is so mature, and well funded, with so many applicants—it’s open to many designers, they don’t want you to respond to their aesthetic.” Further, she makes clear that “there’s no sense of ownership, and it doesn’t have to fit their branding.” Lexus provides a venue and the support of the creators, and designers and the design community have a platform for ideas with great cultural depth that goes beyond typical design awards.

Visitors to Milan Design Week can see Fügler’s work alongside of the other three prototype winners and the eight panel finalists at Lexus’s installation at La Triennale di Milano, via Alemagna, 6, from 4-9 April 2017.

Images courtesy of the Lexus Design Award


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