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2015 Student Design Competition Winners Announced

Retail Design Institute awards a combined $20,000 to Top Student Work and Educational Institutions

(Cincinnati) June 19, 2015 – The Retail Design Institute has announced the winners of its 2015 student design competition. This year more than 100 projects representing individual and group submissions from design schools, colleges, and universities across the country competed. The project challenge was to redesign and launch a new mid- to high-end, sustainably conscious, and technology-savvy jewelry store prototype. Submissions were reviewed last month by the Institute’s Ohio Chapter judging committee at BHDP Architecture, Cincinnati.

“The quality of submissions was quite strong this year,” notes Andrew McQuilkin, FRDI, the Institute’s international chairman and BHDP Architecture’s retail leader. “Selecting the top winner was challenging because of the variety and quality of approaches and solutions.”

Laura Stargala, a third-year student in design and environmental analysis | human ecology at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., received $10,000 for her concept titled “Lux: A Gallery of Jeweled Light.” In her entry submission, Stargala wrote, “’Lux,’ meaning ‘light’ in Latin, is a luxurious gallery space for high-end jewelry. Handcrafted glass balls form droplets of light from the ceiling, each containing the precious stones. Through the use of glass, light, and rough materials the jewelry store takes on a subtle yet grand environment. The intent is to align the new environment with the consumer’s experience and the brand’s new awe-inspiring identity. The space will effectively convey the modernized brand through the use of minimal materials, such as raw concrete and handcrafted details. Personalized luxury will be addressed with interactive technology such as touch screens for all employees who will be able to assist customers while perusing the gallery.” Stargala’s professor is Kathleen Gibson. Cornell also receives $500 for its participation.

Rebecca Thompson, a third-year design student at Florida State University, Tallahassee, Fla., received $4000 for her winning entry titled “Fervens.” Thompson’s explained the design rationale in her entry. “The name, ‘Fervens,’ is derived from the Latin word for ‘hot,’ which evokes the sense of passion desired for the space. It is influenced and informed by the features of an elusive white dwarf star. This inspiration stems from the hypothesized crystallization process undergone by the star in which extreme heat combined with compressed oxygen and carbon form a massive diamond deep within the star’s core. This concept will be demonstrated with a layered application of materials, displays, and spaces similar to that of the layers within the star. Additionally, lowered ceilings and darker finishes will provide that sense of compression, while raised ceilings and lighter finishes, will represent light and grandeur.” Her professor is Steven Webber.

Austin Gauley, a second-year graduate student at Florida State University received $2000 for his submission titled “Allur.” Describing his entry Gauley wrote, “Allur is positioned among other jewelry brands in the upper-middle to high-end market, especially the engagement and wedding sector. To reflect this positioning, current retail trends … the concept of a high-end lounge and bar scene was decided upon. A lounge has always been a social space and will be used to foster one on one interaction between retailer and client. The introduction of touchscreen bars and tables will allow consumers to keep all of the product at the tip of their fingers and augmented reality will also play a role in the technology experience. Couples or a group of girlfriends could treat themselves to an exclusive setting that the store provides while featuring their favorite alcoholic beverages and of course diamonds.” His professor is Dr. Marlo Ransdell.

Maira Vega and Zenidey Saavedra, both juniors at California State University-Long Beach, Long Beach, Calif., each received $1500 for their first-place winning group submission titled “Ugly Duckling.” The design took its inspiration from the evolution of the jewelry industry. In their entry, they explained, “The store design focuses on displaying a metaphorical journey throughout the space and branding while establishing itself as a destination store. Ugly Duckling distinguishes itself by understanding its target guest, which is someone in search of a high-quality fashion statement piece that contains sentimental value added by the individual in production.” CSULB also receives $500 for its participation. Eduardo Perez is the program coordinator.

Singled out for merit recognition was Jessica Bosworth, a junior in interior design at California State University-Long Beach, for her concept titled “Eye Candy.” Eye Candy played off a “kid in a candy store” theme through colors, materials, fixtures, and furnishings. Her professor is Dorothy Ottolia.

“What we appreciated most is that beyond being competent, the winners each brought a unique perspective redefining the idea of jewelry shopping,” notes industry vet and fellow judge Jan Tribbey. “I think we all would have liked to experience these concepts because they just didn't fit the norm -- they were intriguing and exciting.” Lux, the top entry, “broke all the rules,” McQuilkin comments, citing the lack of traditional fixturing and the judges responded favorably.

Allur combined a cocktail bar with a jewelry showroom. “This entry made us think,” Tribbey explains. “Here was an opportunity to turn jewelry shopping into a social event -- not just another boring trip to the mall. It definitely had a strong Las Vegas vibe,” Tribbey adds, “but was conceivable for at least selected cities or locations.”

The Institute began an annual student design contest in 1971 to simulate the real-world conceptual development of a retail store. The competition is a way to encourage and recognize emerging design talent, but a key goal remains to give educators a tool that helps students develop a process around how they solve design problems and approach solutions. For that reason, the Institute decided to mandate hand drawing as part of the submittal, which it did several years prior. “Rendering by hand has become a lost art, but it's a critical piece to any design process,” McQuilkin says. “Students become too dependent on their ability to manipulate a computer program, limiting their ability to demonstrate all the ideas of the concepts. The judges were reading their amazing concept statements, but would then review basic 3D rendered models that didn't deliver on their ideas.”

Thanks to that mandate, “We continue to get support from professors for hand drawing,” McQuilkin says, “They understand the value in connection ideation, the thought process, and what ends up on paper.”

By strengthening the student’s ability to fully describe and support their concepts, the Institute believes these individuals will have a clear advantage when seeking professional employment. “We’re confident we’ll see many of this year’s contestants entering our design field,” McQuilkin continues, “because our tracking indicates 85 percent of those recognized over the past five years are now employed in our industry designing for retailers or agencies.”

In addition to McQuilkin, this year’s judging committee included: Claudia Cerchiara, RDI, BHDP, Ohio Chapter president; Maureen Pinyard, RDI, Macy's, Cincinnati, Ohio Chapter vice president; Steve Pottschmidt, RDI, Pottschmidt Design LLC, Columbus, Ohio Chapter chairman; and Jenny Baker, RDI, Praxis Connections, Ltd., Powell, Ohio. Additional judges were Robert Carey, RDI, Macy's, Cincinnati; Brian Davies, University of Cincinnati, School of Design Art Architecture and Planning, Cincinnati; Kelly Gaddes, CR architecture + design, Cincinnati; Eric Kuhn, RDI, BHDP; Lori Kolthoff, RDI, FRCH Design Worldwide, Cincinnati; Jim Wagner, RDI, Cincinnati; Parke Wellman, RDI, Helzberg Diamonds, N. Kansas City, Mo.; and Dena Yamaguchi, RDI, president of the Institute’s Pacific Northwest Chapter.

This year’s competition was co-sponsored by Helzberg Diamonds. The following companies generously contributed funds toward cash prizes for winning students, Faubion Associates, Pacific Northern Inc., KMDI, Westwood Contractors, Quality Project Management, Koroseal, Mid-America Contractors, Sargenti Architects, Tri-North Builders, PowerSecure Lighting, Halper Lighting Solutions, and Blue Sky Glass Design.

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