Crafts, Interior Design and Illustration students step up to the real-world challenges of creating — and selling — wallpaper designs with Fathead brand Guild & Grace.
In spring 2019, Detroit wall graphics company Fathead partnered with the College for Creative Studies to sponsor a student design studio for Guild & Grace, the company’s brand of premium, removable wallpaper for the home. Led by CCS alumnus and Section Head of Fiber and Textiles Jeremy Noonan, the studio, “Collection Design for Interiors,” challenged students to create wallpaper designs across a number of themes — from contemporary, country and vintage styles to coastal, traditional, bohemian and beyond.
“There’s a balance between self-expression and design for a client, and the students had to learn that. But everyone was up to the challenge,” Noonan explained.
Drawn from Fiber and Textiles (and the CCS Crafts department, generally), as well as the Illustration and Interior Design departments, the 12 students and Noonan travelled to New York City for three days in February, visiting Surtex®, an annual trade show for the surface design industry; New York Now, the largest wholesale trade show in America; as well as such renowned home furnishing showrooms as Kravet and Wolf-Gordon Wall Coverings. They also spent time touring Fathead offices in Detroit and familiarizing themselves with the company’s operations — all in an effort to begin research, gather inspiration and better understand marketplace trends.
Students had a lot to master, said Noonan. “They pulled a lot of information from the interiors market: What are current pattern trends? What colors and types of wall coverings are suitable for home versus commercial use? They looked to fashion, home interiors, to product design and even architecture. There were so many aspects of the project that were exciting and new to them. They had to go back to hand processes in order to achieve their final goals: how to marble fabric, how to use shibori dyes and watercolors, how to cross-stitch, but, especially, how to make designs manually instead of going direct to software.”
Each student researched three wallpaper themes — modern, Victorian and industrial, are three examples — designed three patterns within each theme, and produced three different colorways of each pattern.
The payoff? The Fathead team, Robby Hogle, Tom Becka, Ellen Chang and Nick Gayde, initially expected to choose only a few student designs suitable for sale on the Guild & Grace website. They ultimately chose all of them, and every student will receive royalties from the sale of their work.
“Bringing in fresh perspectives can be really helpful,” said Robby Hogle, CEO of Fathead. “An effective way to do that is through the kind of partnership we have with CCS. The way we’ve designed the Guild & Grace site is that we can work with artists from anywhere, and we pay them a royalty on any sales of their designs. It allows us to build an ecosystem of artists and designers and have a varied collection.”
The team also chose designs by three students in the course for display in the elevators of CCS’ A. Alfred Taubman Center for Design Education during last May’s Student Exhibition: “Molasses and Whiskey” by Sansanna Good, “Woodland Whimsy” by Lauren Nyquist and “Pressing Architecture” by Sophia Yauck.
The successful Fathead design studio speaks to the preparedness and diligence of CCS students who, perhaps several times during their education at the College, will work in industry-sponsored studios and be required to deliver the goods — that is, meet real-world professional expectations.
Lead Designer Ellen Chang, who also attended CCS, noted how impressed she and other members of the Fathead team were with the quality of work students delivered. “Seeing the variety of designs, colors and textures and the depth of research was inspiring,” Chang said. “It was a proud moment. When you’re designing for a brand, you get this consistency going. But, going into an environment where the students are still learning and growing and creating all of these amazing designs, it takes you back to your time as a student when you were still this bright-eyed designer. So it was surreal, but at the same time refreshing. They did more than just create wall patterns for us; they really inspired me personally.”