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Furniture Design Alumnus Luisa Ruge's Work Highlighted in New York Times

For an artist in any field, a positive mention in the New York Times is a good thing. The Times recently highlighted the work of one of the Academy of Art University's finest alumni: Luisa Ruge, a graduate of the School of Industrial Design. Her elaborate and very stylish sectional sofa earned raves, and it's not hard to see why.

Luisa created the Neo Geode S2B sectional sofa for the Conran Shop, a boutique located in Manhattan's East Village. The Times describes the piece as "Blue felt wedges, some with backs ($2,500) and some without ($1,775), group around a matching hexagonal ottoman ($1,375) to resemble a faceted gem ... or can be arranged in other ways." In other words, it ain't your father's sofa.

Luisa Ruge's Neo Geode S2B Sofa
Luisa Ruge's Neo Geode S2B Sectional Sofa

We spoke to Luisa about her burgeoning design career, her time at the Academy, and her plans for the future:

Have you always been interested in design?

Truthfully, no. as a high school student I always had wanted to study advertising, but a few weeks before sending in my college applications, I went over to a friend's house. He was studying architecture and I was enraptured by the maquete and blueprints he was working on. I decided to change my major to architecture; however, in the midst of applying and my chances of getting in, I enrolled in the Academy's School of Industrial Design with plans to switch over to architecture.

This was the best stroke of luck for me. I now realize that I wouldn't have loved either architecture or advertising as much as I do industrial design.

Are you strictly a furniture designer?

My focus is not necessarily furniture, and to me it is all industrial design. The different approaches depend on the problem at hand, and although people train to acquire certain skills, I think as an industrial designer, if your core education, drive, and abilities are correct, you can be a furniture, toy, product or car designer all in one.

How did you begin your professional furniture design work? How are things going?

The production of the Neo Geode S2B was also something I had not planned on. I started an internship at Surface Magazine working with the editor in chief, Riley Johndonnell. I was in charge of finding designers who would develop the pieces needed for the Bombay Sapphire Gin Pop-Up Store in New York. As time went by, we couldn't find anyone who had a design style for a chair/lounge piece. My boss asked me to sketch out some ideas, and as I refined and fine-tuned them he loved the design and picked it as one of the pieces to be in the show.

How would you describe your work?

My work is very logical. This might be interpreted as a bit rigid but that is not the case. Most of my pieces are accompanied by a very structural and deep-rooted reason behind them. I'm not only referring to what they do but also how they do it, how the user appropriates it, how it is produced, etc. When you look at them and hear the story behind them, the reaction I get the most is "Yeah, that makes total sense."

Once again, because I consider myself an industrial designer I have projects that involve toy design, furniture design, product/appliance/medical design, and car interiors. It provides me with a variety of problems to solve.

How well do you think the Academy prepared you for your career?

I am originally from Colombia and had an undergraduate degree before I arrived at the Academy. I already had a strong conceptual background. When I arrived at the Academy, I had a hard time adjusting to a more rigid, practical approach to design. But the more I got into the program the more I started enjoying the complementary aspect of this practical training.

The Academy gave me the skills I needed to enhance my methodology and process; it allowed me to reach concrete results as an industrial designer. All of the classes had some influence on me and the teachers as well. Everyone was very helpful and supportive, and I was able to develop not only student-teacher relationships but also strong peer relationships. From David Moore (my design drawing teacher) I took enthusiasm; from Stephanie Henze (my graduate thesis advisor) I took thoroughness; from Jim Shook (my thesis preparation teacher), endurance; and from our director Tom Matano, I learned relentlessness and the option to forever improve.

What advice would you give to an up-and-coming designer who is looking to start working professionally?

You have to be organized because it is a long and grueling process. Start by defining your goals when it comes to how you want to market yourself for employment. Create a strong portfolio, something you believe in and that is easy to update and change, because you'll forever find ways to make it better. Make mailers, leave behinds business cards, and look at the market and where you think you would fit in. Then, start calling people, making contacts, and being persistent (but not obnoxious!). If you believe in your work, your capabilities, and your ability to learn, the job will somehow find you -- but you have to let it know where you are.

What are your plans for the future, both of your professional work and for yourself?

I had a choice to make, and recently I finally made it. It's like the egg or the chicken… what comes first? As a professional, it's a question of whether you choose the job first or the location. I decided to choose my location first. When I first came to the states, my final destination was New York City, and now I have decided to make this a priority. I am relocating to D.C. for a while and looking for a job in New York or the surrounding area.

As for myself, my plans are to have a steady job in the field of industrial design and gain not only economic but personal Independence. I want to become the woman I expect myself to be first, and then embrace what the future brings.

To find out more about our Industrial Design programs please check our Industrial Design School pages.

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