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Industry & Trends

Design Emphasis Student Competition Promotes ‘Innovation Shaping the Future’ Theme of WWMM

As Woodworking Manufacturing Month kicks off this week, winners of the annual Design Emphasis Student Competition talk about what it’s meant for their careers.

The IWF Design Emphasis program is widely acclaimed as a foremost furniture design competition for U.S. college students and as Woodworking Manufacturing Month is now live throughout October it is a reminder of the previous year’s event and the winners.

Design Emphasis 2022 Winners
2022 IWF Design Emphasis Student Competition winners.

“The IWF Design Emphasis Student Furniture Design Competition has long given the youngest Woodworking Industry Designers a platform to showcase their innovative designs, helping to build their futures in the Woodworking Industry,” IWF said in promoting the competition. “Design Emphasis affords students a platform to demonstrate their design skills and talent as the next generation of industry professionals.”

Woodworking Manufacturing Month 2023, themed around “Innovation Shaping the Future,” opened on October 1, providing a global showcase of the latest innovations and new product and technology introductions from more than 50 top-tier wood products industry manufacturers and service providers. 

See previous winners of the Design Emphasis Student Competition

The 2022 honorees included Best in Show winner Rebecca Juliette-Duex for her tea towel cart, who told IWFNN what it meant to her to take the top prize. “Participating in the Design Emphasis show was a unique and unforgettable experience. Displaying work that was uniquely mine from design through construction was a proud moment. On top of that, the Best-in-Show award gave me confidence in my work and myself as an artist.”

Right: Designer, Rebecca Juliette-Deux; Left: Best in Show 2022 Winner – Tea Towel Cart

Juliette-Duex has used the honor to go on to bigger and better things. “Soon after the 2022 IWF show, I was awarded the Gondring Artist Residency at The Sawtooth School for Visual Art in Winston-Salem where I have the opportunity to be a student, teacher, and studio assistant and to continue my own independent studio practice. These roles have allowed me to deepen my knowledge of woodworking and to share the joy of creation with others.”

An earlier winner, Maggie Jo Sanderson, who took Best in Show in 2018 for her Skool Desk, had similar thoughts on how the competition shaped her career going forward. “Winning Best of Show marked the starting point of my career as a furniture designer and maker. This achievement not only gave me the self-confidence I needed as a designer but also provided the media attention necessary to secure my first clients. It was a pivotal moment that propelled me on the path to success.”

Maggie Jo Sanderson’s current work from top left: Bench, Poker Chairs and Desk

Since winning five years ago, Sanderson completed her education at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, and following graduation, launched her own business, selling custom pieces nationwide.

The 2016 Best in Show winner, Ben Grant, said “Winning Design Emphasis was a very inspirational experience. Seeing the work of so many other talented students was definitely a highlight for me. The entire process was highly motivational. Being around that many people who all shared the same passion made me excited to continue pursuing the craft.”

Ben Grant’s current work is displayed clockwise from top left: Puzzle Table, Bear, Puzzle Table Dovetail, Fish

One of the earliest winners, Sean Yoo, honored in 2000, has gone on to numerous additional honors, including the Concorso Young & Design Award at the Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan, several I.D. Annual Design Review Awards, the Grand Prix Award sponsored by Next Maruni of Japan, and the Premio Iconos del Diseño 2009 from Architectural Digest Mexico.

Left: Designer, Sean Yoo; Right: Best in Show 2000 Winner – Multifunctional Sofa

He credits the IWF Design Emphasis honor with starting it all for him. “It was a great honor of course, but it also gave me industry-wide exposure and opened many doors.”

The next IWF Design Emphasis competition will be held in conjunction with the 2024 International Woodworking Fair, August 6 to 9 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta.


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