‘My brain just exploded’: See the work of Utah’s best designers in this Salt Lake City exhibit

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Atelier Jörg Rügemer's The Slim House is on display at a showcase for Utah Design Arts at the Rio Grande Depot in Salt Lake City, Sept. 12, 2019.

Hannah Lutz, a recent design graduate from Brigham Young University, was trying to create a better dispenser for sanitary napkins and tampons for public restrooms. But the product packaging kept getting jammed in the mechanism of her device.

She was complaining to a friend about how her designs weren’t working when the friend suggested, “Yeah, wouldn’t it be so great if pads were just on a roll like toilet paper?”

“My brain just exploded and I was like, wait, wait, wait a second. This solves everything, all of these problems that I’ve been running into,” said Lutz.

Her solution, called Ensi, is just that: a roll of disposable pads dispensed via a toilet paper attachment. She had wanted to provide free supplies for those who need them, in a way that was accessible for those with disabilities. She also made a logo to use outside restroom stalls to indicate which ones have Ensi inside.

Ensi is one of the many projects submitted in the 16th annual Design Arts Utah competition, and featured in a juried exhibit open until Oct. 18 that allows Utah professionals and students to share their work with the public, other creators and potential clients.

New York designer and author Gail Anderson, this year’s judge, is chair of the Advertising and Design departments for bachelor’s degrees in fine arts at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, where she has taught for close to 30 years.

She chose 45 projects out of more than 100 submissions from 54 Utah designers and said she was impressed by what she saw, especially from students.

“When I was in school, it was just assumed that you had to live on either coast to find work as a designer,” Anderson wrote in an email interview. “... That’s definitely not the case in 2019. You can have gorgeous Utah mountains as your backdrop instead of skyscrapers. Jobs — and designers — are everywhere. And if they’re not, you wouldn’t really know anyway, since so many of us are designing away in communal workspaces everywhere.”

The exhibit, located in the Rio Gallery at the Rio Grande Depot in downtown Salt Lake City, showcases a variety of designs, from industrial work to consumer products.

Everything from the clothes you wear to the buildings you live and work in, the computer and phone you use to the roads you drive on were created and influenced by designers, said Jim Glenn, visual arts manager of the Utah Division of Arts & Museums.

“The work of designers is so embedded in our everyday experiences it is easy to forget or not notice,” he said.

Four design professors at BYU won this year’s professional category award, with a collaborative printed project titled “Unity & Division” by C520 Press. Their goal was to combat the negative rhetoric and divisiveness they saw increasing on their college campus, in social media, and around the world.

“We agreed on a palette of colors, a palette of typefaces and then we all agreed that with these common elements we could each address issues of our choice,” said Linda Reynolds, a BYU design professor and co-collaborator. The common elements “create a unity” within the differences, she said, and “have it speak in a cohesive, beautiful way.”

Their process included using a Risograph, similar to a combined copy machine and screen printer, which creates bright, vibrant colors, and adds fidelity to images. During the printing process, they discovered that by overlaying the pieces, each design came into conversation with the others, aesthetically and typographically.

Other pieces in the exhibit include 3-D printed dishes that look as flawless as any ceramic dinnerware; eco-friendly and affordable housing architecture; Pioneer Theatre Company’s model set design for Sweeny Todd; an album cover design for the band Lord Huron; and a repurposed wood side table inspired by Monet’s “Water Lilies” series.

The table’s designer, David Evett, couldn’t bring himself to throw away the baffle cutouts left over from loudspeaker boxes he made for a customer. He stored stacks of the 14-inch round cutouts for years, trying to come up with a practical use for them.

“I remember seeing Monet’s lily pad painting and [the pads] would overlap each other and I thought whoa, wait a minute. A table doesn’t have to be so rigid, it can be multiple tops and they can overlap each other,” Evett explained, as he crossed his hands together.

He next plans to construct a dining table using his lily pad design. He said it’s already designed in his mind; he just has to build it. He was excited to be a part of this exhibit, he said, because seeing other people’s ideas inspires him and ignites his own creativity.

“I have this theory that the best designs, we haven’t seen them yet,” he said.


The 16th annual juried show features top designers from around the state, both students and professionals. A public reception will be held Sept. 20 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., during the Salt Lake Gallery Stroll.

Where • Rio Gallery in the historic Rio Grande Depot, at 300 S. Rio Grande Street in Salt Lake City.

When • Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., now through Oct. 18.

Admission • Free

Coverage of downtown Salt Lake City arts groups is supported by a grant from The Blocks, a cultural initiative of Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County.