Design Collaborative: Inspired Opportunity

Sept. 9, 2009

Mannington Commercial’s tx:style design competition provides a unique opportunity for the design community, including this year’s winner: Meagan Webb.

What began as an inspiration has flourished into a wonderful opportunity for young designers while also influencing the way that new products are developed. Mannington Commercial’s tx:style design competition, which debuted this year, far exceeded the company’s expectations and opened the door to broadening its product development approach.

“Historically, we were very traditional when it came to product development,” says Natalie Jones, Mannington’s vice president of commercial brand development and creative product. “We showcased Kaitlin Phelps’ product at NeoCon® 2008, and enjoyed the experience of working with a recent graduate. We wanted to develop a platform to showcase the talents of new designers and believed that social media was the way to facilitate what we wanted to achieve.”

The tx:style design competition was open to designers with seven years of experience or less. Entrants were tasked with creating a new textile that could be used as a floor covering in a variety of markets. Each submission was done via the Internet to facilitate the review process.

Jones says that she and other company officials weren’t sure what type of response they would receive. “We thought that 150 entries would have been good; we were overwhelmed when we received submissions from 440 designers.”

All entries were posted on the company’s Web site and by February almost 1 million votes had been cast, which resulted in the selection of six finalists. (The company originally intended to choose five finalists, but went to six based on the close vote count.) The finalists were invited to Mannington’s headquarters for a weekend to refine their designs and colorways and to take all the steps necessary to turn their concepts into an actual textile carpet.

“The information that we received from the entrants and our finalists was very revealing,” notes Jones. “At least 90 percent of the entries had very organic themes, which leads us to believe that a healthy portion of designers are looking for patterns that reflect this quality. We also gained even greater knowledge regarding designers in general—where they find inspiration, what colors resonate with them, and what they know about product development and the manufacturing process.”

The designs of the six finalists were posted on the competition Web site, and more than 460,000 votes were cast. Ultimately, Meagan Webb, of Nashville, won the $7,500 prize and her design, Squareberry, will be part of a new collection offered by Mannington.

Webb, who graduated from Middle Tennessee State University six years ago, says that winning the competition offers her the chance of a lifetime. “I am blessed to have the opportunity to delve into product development at a very young age,” she says. “I’m thankful that Mannington decided to involve young designers through this process.”

Webb says she loves spending time outdoors, and happened upon an unusual tree during one of her many walks. As she examined the tree, she was inspired by the wealth of images it presented.

“There is a geometry in nature that is amazing to me,” explains Webb. “The tree had a massive silhouette that was square in appearance and the bark and tree canopy provided numerous images for me to consider. When I looked closely, I noticed tiny berries at the end of the tree’s branches, and the berries really made the tree for me.”

The Squareberry design presents Webb’s interpretation of the tree and its berries and, in Webb’s opinion, is appropriate for use in a variety of installations. Her colorways of earth tones, blues and green reflect her love of nature and the creation that inspired her design.

Squareberry will be part of Wellspring, a new collection by Mannington that will feature bold patterns. Webb will likely design at least one other pattern in the Wellspring Collection. Plans call for a March 2010 launching of the book for the new line, which will work in both broadloom and carpet tiles. Designs in the collection will meet all of Mannington’s manufacturing and sustainability requirements.

The competition’s effect on both Mannington and Webb will be felt for some time. Jones says that the online competition will continue, and that online social networking will be used to an even greater extent to enhance product development. Rather than giving the competition insight into Mannington’s plans, she and others in the company see the tool as a way to increase transparency regarding product development. In her words, “It will help us build and strengthen relationships in new and exciting ways.”

The company is working to expand the social-networking platform to include other opportunities for product generation, collaborative design development and customer feedback—all of which can be accessed through Mannington’s retooled Web site (www.manningtoncommercial.com).

Webb—who was unfortunately part of her former employer’s downsizing efforts earlier this year when the firm felt the economic pinch—says that winning the competition has opened doors to further product development efforts. She plans to explore broader career opportunities in carpet and textile design in addition to using her design talents in other markets.

Janet Wiens is a freelance writer based in Memphis, TN. She was formerly marketing manager for HNTB and now works with industry clients to address their marketing and public relations needs. She can be reached at jwiens@ bellsouth.net.

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