New Orleans isn't generally known as a hotbed of industrial design, so when Gerald Billes, AIA, and his partners, media expert Jeanne Souders, and interior designer Lisa Herron, IIDA, launched Billes Products (an offshoot of Billes Architecture), they figured the best way to attract fresh talent and new product design concepts was to hold a student design competition. The firm's current product lineup—a carefully curated collection of home and office furnishings as well as personal and small office accessories, now in the manufacturing stage—is the result of the inaugural competition in 2008.

Recently, Billes Products completed the first stage of its 2009 International Design Contest, attracting student talent from 18 of the top industrial design universities in North America. An internal review board selected 10 design finalists—mostly chairs and tables, as well as one umbrella stand—each evaluated for creativity, aesthetics, high-end appeal, technical design, comfort, ease of use, manufacturability, shipability, profit margin, and whether it addresses a previously-unfulfilled need. To view all 10 finalist product concepts, visit

At a Project Runway-style event, moderated by local television personality and New Orleans Living magazine publisher Maria Muro, a judges' panel will question designers on the spot about their products and select three top winners. The panel includes Jesse Ashlock, editor in chief, I.D. magazine; Brian Fichtner, design editor,; Kyla Boutte, guest editor, CUE magazine; and Marc Nunez, Southern Services & Equipment, Billes' manufacturing partner.

Each of the winners will receive $1,000 in cash and will have the chance to partner with Billes Products to take their design concepts to market as finished products. The event marks the official launch of Billes Products' e-commerce site at, and will showcase its first line of products.

The event will be held on Nov. 7, 6-9 p.m. at Design Within Reach, 3138 Magazine Street, New Orleans; and is free and open to design-minded members of the public. For more details, visit