Designer Niu with his Zero chaise. Photo by William Cole.

profile / alumni / product-design / transportation-design
April 25, 2015
Writer: Anna Macaulay

A Polished Performance

Nolen Niu (BS 99)

When a casting agent called Product Design alumnus Nolen Niu asking if he would be interested in participating as a judge on a Spike TV show, Niu didn’t hesitate. “Hell yeah!” Those two words landed him a stint as one of three judges on Framework, Spike’s newest reality show, where contestants vie to be named best furniture maker—and win a $100,000 prize.

Joining Niu on each weekly episode are hip-hop artist and actor Common, and Hard Goods’ founder Brandon Gore. “Common is the tastemaker and represents the everyday consumer, and Brandon is the build expert,” says Niu. “Both give insightful critiques without the design lingo.”

As the only formally trained designer on the judging team, Niu is often reminded of the intensity of his time at ArtCenter. “The demands on these competitors, designing, building and finishing an entire piece of furniture in 24 hours, with back-to-back-to-back challenges, was really impressive to watch.”

In tune with the current maker movement, the show offers a glimpse into the process of creating handcrafted goods. “This has been one of the best experiences I’ve had during my career as a designer,” says Niu. “The opportunity to judge a competition and hold a position of authority related to design was an absolute honor.”

On one episode, Niu’s fellow alum Richard Holbrook (BS 81 Transportation) shared that honor, as a guest judge.