Cal State Long Beach Industrial Design Student Captures Top Honors in 2011 National Student Design Competition

Alix Armour, a California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) industrial design major, has been named the winner of the 2011 Student Design Competition sponsored by the American Society of Furniture Designers (ASFD).

This year’s competition asked students to create a production-friendly cocktail table for the Phillips Collection, and Armour captured the top prize with her “Pine Scales Table” design.

“I feel great,” said Armour, a resident of Long Beach.  “When I received the news, I was so elated and immediately called my entire family.  I’ve been all smiles since that Friday.  I loved that design and I was so happy others could appreciate it too.”

As the first-place winner, Armour will receive $1,000 and a free one-year student membership to the ASFD. 

David Landells, a part-time lecturer in the CSULB Design Department, rated the significance of Armour’s success in the competition as high both for her and for the department.

“This first-place win is something she can take when she goes out into the world and use to get her first few jobs and those first few jobs often define what we end up doing for the next few years,” he said.  “The significance for Alix is huge and well-deserved.  But it’s also great for the university.  It shows the world what our students are capable of.  It puts our name out there alongside other universities.”

Competitors were asked to create a work inspired by nature that should be a conversation piece with a story behind it.  The story behind Armour’s design began in the mountains above Santa Barbara last November where she picnicked among the pine cones with her aunt, uncle and sister.  A five-pound pine cone landed with a huge thud on their picnic table, nearly striking her aunt. But what could have been a fatal experience became a design project.

“I picked up the near-deadly pine cone and examined it closely,” Armour recalls.  “Its scales were so sharp, like shark’s teeth.  I loved the organic shape of the cone’s scales and observed how they intertwined and overlapped each other.  As I took a few off the cone, I realized the shape looked somewhat familiar, as if it could turn into a piece of furniture.  That’s when ideas came pouring in.

“I see many possibilities with this piece of furniture: it could become a larger dining room table or a bench with only one pair of legs,” she added.  “At the same time, I realized this would be perfect for the ASFD competition.”

Landells applauded Armour’s use of a back story to her creation. “So many people forget to do that. They may be brilliant designers but they don’t know how to develop a story that invests the other person in the piece,” he said. “She did a marvelous job of doing that.”

Landells believes one reason for her recognition was the thought Armour gave to her project’s constructability.  “That includes the construction methods used to produce the piece,” he explained. “When I looked at her presentation, I saw that she demonstrated that the design she had also had broader applicability.  She showed it might lead to a series of pieces. You could see from her sketches that she had ideas about how the piece could be used. She definitely hit home with that.”

Armour believes one reason for her recognition is the context of her presentation.  “There was a great living room background which I rendered with 3D software to make it look as realistic as possible,” she recalled.  “The creative director of Phillips Collection mentioned that he really liked the effort put into that.  I also think the story behind the design played a big part in the recognition.”

She she said she was looking forward to her creation’s professional prototyping display, which took pace in April at the High Point Market in North Carolina.  “It’s a big deal for me because the High Point Market is the largest home furnishings industry trade show in the world,” she said.  “I also have been invited to North Carolina for the trade show and to receive my prize.  The design piece might even lead to production with a chance for a full collection design opportunity for me within the Phillips Collection.”

When Armour first enrolled at CSULB in 2004, she arrived with an awareness of the industrial design program.  “I wish more people knew about product design because it’s a great degree that encompasses art, engineering, model making, creative thinking, innovation, styling and more.  It’s definitely going to grow in importance in the future,” she said.  “So from the very beginning I sought out a degree in industrial design and, a complete opposite, in Chinese Studies.”

Armour chose CSULB after completing high school in Paris.  She said she wanted to go back to California for the sun, beaches and large public universities.

“In 2004, in terms of public schools, my choices were CSU San Francisco, San Jose, Long Beach and Northridge,” she pointed out.  “Cal State Long Beach was closest to the beach, had a large following of volleyball and also one of the best Chinese programs in the American university system. The choice was easy.”

Armour first found out about the furniture class that eventually led to her recognition from Landells, a member of the university since 2007. “In furniture design class, I showed Prof. Landells about 20 different concepts in two different phases but, every time I showed him, he didn’t seem convinced there were any winning concepts for the competition,” she said. “He kept on making me go back to the drawing board until the story literally fell from the sky and enabled me to find a beautiful piece of nature that has been overlooked in the past, pine scales from the Coulter pine tree.”

Armour’s portfolio is available at www.alixarmour.com.  She also invites the community to visit the Design Department on campus.  “Talk to us designers,” she said.  “We’d love to show you around and share what we know about one of the most fun and most challenging careers in the world.”

Spring 2011 Issue

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