Next time you buy a pillow for your living room, it just might be one designed by Sarah Montes.
She's a recent graduate of Savannah College of Art and Design, one of the nation's premier design schools.
Through a student/alumni collaboration called Working Class Studio, her Mediterranean-motif pillows -- and an array of other home decor products created by other students, alumni and faculty -- are sold on the web and at retailers across the country.
"I became an artist to create, but choosing art as a career means achieving a balance between my artistic vision and what's right for the market," Montes says.
It's an exciting yet nerve-racking time for budding designers. There continues to be great demand for interesting new home products, even in a down economy. And students graduating with the ability to balance creative innovation and savvy marketing may be the resilient face of a new design generation.
Schools today can take emerging talent through simple drawing exercises to full 3D computer renderings and final prototypes.
Victor Ermoli, SCAD's School of Design dean, says that with the success of IKEA, "many companies are realizing that designs actually sell. So students know their designs are playing an important market role, and they've been shifting toward more commercial design."
They learn how to listen to company briefings. They observe and analyze lifestyle trends. Ermoli says today's furniture design student studies fashion, art and industrial design. SCAD has a 44,000-square-foot facility with woodworking and metal fabrication studios, bench rooms, a plastics working laboratory, a welding facility, a painting booth and an advanced technology lab.
Cassie Hart Kelly is another SCAD alum lucky enough to get her vision to the marketplace. Her pillows feature bold images like owls and flowers in fresh contemporary hues.
Her advice to design students: "A lot more schools have really good design programs, so there's intense competition. Make yourself stand out. Take content that's popular but design it in a new way. You'll be showing employers that you know what will sell but that you have fresh perspective."
* Parsons the New School for Design: www.newschool.edu
* Fashion Institute of Technology: www.fitnyc.edu
* Rhode Island School of Design: www.risd.edu
* Savannah College of Art and Design: www.scad.edu
* Maryland Institute College of Art: www.mica.edu
* Cranbrook Academy of Art: www.cranbrookart.edu
* San Diego State University: www.sdsu.edu
* Savannah College of Art and Design: www.workingclassstudio.com