IDC Bulletin: Product Introduction 101: "The Cage"

May 1, 2008

A look at the history, and future, of a product library that is a legacy at the University of Manitoba.

By Laney Stewart

"The Cage" could be one of the most infamous words in the design industry in Canada—common to many design education programs, and of specific significance to the interior design program at the University of Manitoba, Faculty of Architecture.

The current product catalogue collection, or product library, was established as an offshoot of The Cage—the original yet very rudimentary product library in the Faculty of Architecture.

The Cage was established many years ago, prior to the product catalogue collection, and is probably an early testament to sustainability in the product sample industry. How could that be ... especially in the 80s and 90s, when tossing everything and anything into the landfill wasn't such a big deal? Well the answer to that question is that The Cage was a very highly-utilized resource for interior design students in the Faculty of Architecture.

It was, and still is, where everyone comes to "spec" product for those infamous all-nighters (a.k.a. studio projects). It is where every student begins the long journey into the product world abyss and many have chosen to never turn back. But I digress, back to sustainability; this is where all discontinued and duplicate samples came to rest, temporarily that is. All samples in The Cage were donated by product representatives and manufacturers as well as numerous design firms. All of these groups saw the value of passing along the "oldies-but-goodies" and keeping the landfill free of clutter even during the years of product sample gluttony.

So, still wondering why this space is called "The Cage." Well, this moniker was given to the first product library which was literally housed in a steel mesh-walled cage—padlock and all. So from The Cage came the product catalogue collection, which was established by the Canadian Students of Interior Design, Manitoba Chapter, in 1991, with the help of design professionals, as well as, product manufacturers, distributors, and various representatives in the industry. They all recognized a need for more than just samples. They also wanted to develop a library of technical data that supported the proper specification of products.

This product library has evolved from its rudimentary beginnings and is now home to more than 10,000 material resources, including samples and technical product data. It encompasses product used in the interior design, architecture and landscape architecture professions. The product library was recently renovated (summer 2007) with the support of significant donations from large groups in the industry such as EQ3, Haworth, Cloverdale Paint, Milliken, Designweave, Crown Wallcoverings, Formations (Formica), Antex Western, Interface Flooring, and countless others. These generous supporters, along with a broad range of industry stakeholders, recognize the value in this resource.

The students are the largest stakeholder group that recognizes the value of a product library. It is where we all begin to learn about product and have the ability to touch, feel, and work with the newest and latest materials due to the on-going generosity of manufacturers, distributors and representatives. The introduction to product is beneficial not only during the educational program years but also when the design graduates move into practice. Often a junior employee is asked to "clean up" the product library in the design firm or to quickly go spec something for a current project. So with all the chaos associated with the first few days on a new job, the young graduate will stop, take a deep breath, and remember the product catalogue collection and things start to become a little clearer. I can attest as I once walked in those patent vinyl shoes!

Who else sees the value? The product catalogue collection is also a resource that can be utilized by any design professional in the city ... with a capacity to house a larger library where most design firms have a limited amount of allotted sample space. The product catalogue collection is roughly 2,000 square feet full of material resources from all over the world. The collection is managed by a full-time dedicated staff member (a graduate of the interior design program at the University of Manitoba) who will also provide support to source the latest innovative products in the global marketplace.

One wonders, because of technology and the Web, if a product library has become a thing of the past? How many times have you ventured off to specify a product online, carpet for example, and several hours later found yourself completing an online booking of a vacation on Travelocity? A product library provides the "touchy feely" aspect that is necessary to properly specify product for a client. A product library is the core or heart of every office—albeit typically a disaster zone until the next junior designer comes along. It's a fundamental aspect of design; it is its own entity; it is where creativity is explored. It is the space that keeps each designer on task yet opens the mind to countless possibilities without diversion (unlike the Web). The product library, for many designers, is a happy place where we want to stay and play!

So what's the forecast for the future of the product catalogue collection (product library) at the University of Manitoba, Faculty of Architecture (besides continually increasing the infinite product lines and integrating the whole new realm of "green" products to its collection)?

We can only diversify and grow from here, but it will never be replaced by an LCD screen!

Laney Stewart, BID, IDC, is president of Professional Interior Designers Institute of Manitoba and an NCIDQ Certificate holder. She can be reached at [email protected].

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