Featured Course

Surface World

In this project-driven Illustration course, students communicated and connected directly with luxury brand Neiman Marcus to design store window displays. Collaborating as a team, students learned to design interior spaces and apply pattern and surface designs to both theatrical display concepts and objects. The class culminated with students’ installations on display in four windows of the Beverly Hills department store.

Interview with Instructor Jon Nguyen

ArtCenter: Surface World is a new course — what inspired the idea?
Jon Nguyen: The Surface Design Track in the Illustration Department is fairly new. I developed a surface design project for another class years ago, in which students researched a color palette tied to a specific decade and applied that palette to a pattern. Everyone gravitated to this assignment because they saw the potential for their designs to be applied to so many objects and products.


Neiman Marcus Window Displays Designed by Surface World Students

What I valued most about this class was the opportunity to work with design professionals from a prestigious brand and watch the effect of our work on people passing by.

Shannon FaltysProduct Design

AC: What inspired the direction you took with the curriculum for this class?
JN: I wanted each of the four Neiman Marcus windows to have its own story — or vignette — and feature a distinct surface design. So we created Coral World, Plaid World, Stripe World and Pop World, which has an Andy Warhol vibe.

AC: What are some of the most important concepts and ideas you hope students take away from the experience/classwork?
JN: I continue to ask students to stay focused on the main message. It sounds easy, but when presenting multiple ideas to a client, the main message can get diluted. To that end, I also want students to develop a sense of editing — everyone works extremely hard, but not everything can go into the final project. Lastly, since students are working with a client, I reinforce the importance of attention to detail and taking good notes. You don’t want to call a client after a meeting asking for the specs or show up with a design that doesn’t fit through the door.

AC: What are some of the assignments and materials you’ve incorporated into the curriculum that you hope will encourage and provoke students to challenge themselves and break new ground creatively?
JN: This project is so layered — it’s like a massive onion. And there are so many different types of students with different skill sets, so communication is key. Within the classwork, I built assignments and tasks that encourage students to consider varying viewpoints and aesthetics. Designers must be strong communicators and listeners. I hope they walk away knowing more about how an environmental designer would interpret something differently than a graphic designer, and open their minds to those unique perspectives.

AC: What were some of the most interesting/surprising ways the students responded to the challenges and assignments?
JN: Some of the of the quieter students were very bold and loud with their expressions and design impact. That was a great surprise.

mock up of a floral patterned Neiman Marcus window display

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