Print this page
Sunday, 27 April 2014 22:00

Design Matters: Grassroots effort celebrates regional design community’s national relevance

Written by 
Rate this item
(1 Vote)
The design community in West Michigan wants to showcase its capabilities and breadth of talent by allowing the general public a behind-the-scenes look into what goes into the design process for local professionals. The UICA is hosting the Process Exhibit from Tuesday, May 6 through Saturday, May 10 from noon to 9 p.m. daily. The design community in West Michigan wants to showcase its capabilities and breadth of talent by allowing the general public a behind-the-scenes look into what goes into the design process for local professionals. The UICA is hosting the Process Exhibit from Tuesday, May 6 through Saturday, May 10 from noon to 9 p.m. daily. PHOTO COURTESY OF DISHER DESIGN & DEVELOPMENT

As a writer, I’ve been in this business long enough to know that my byline has not lured you, the reader, into this story.

You’ve likely started reading this story for a range of reasons. Maybe the bold headline drew you in, or perhaps a piece of artwork enticed you to pause on this page and begin reading. But most readers probably don’t realize the role good design plays in their reading habits. The way a designer combined the elements to create this page forms an inherent, seamless part of the user experience.

In much the same way, the sizeable design community in West Michigan often flies below the radar. Designers are embedded in a number of institutions and industries and go about the business of designing products and processes that affect the lives of people across the globe. And judging by the catalog of innovations that runs the gamut from fine home furniture, appliances and carpet sweepers to office environments and shoes, West Michigan designers have been active and engaged for more than a century.

“We’ve always had design in the community, but with West Michigan’s traditional humility, we never fully leveraged that,” said Tim Mroz, vice president of marketing and communications at The Right Place Inc., a nonprofit regional economic development group tasked with supporting job creation.

With the launch of the inaugural West Michigan Design Week from May 5-10, a loose grassroots coalition of the region’s design community wants to highlight the unique range of capabilities and design talent that it says sets the region apart. In essence, West Michigan’s first ever Design Week aims to erase more than 100 years of indifference toward a key economic driver and a major piece of the region’s cultural heritage.

[RELATED: Details on West Michigan Design Week]

“We want to show our design history and the current design happening here to prove we’re relevant in design nationally and internationally,” said Gwen O’Brien, president of AIGA West Michigan, an association for graphic designers. “We want to get people talking about it.”

The weeklong series of events offers an inside look into the region’s design-based past, present and future, as well as puts local design into context with outside speakers and design icons. The festivities were timed to correspond with other design-themed events such as TEDxGrandRapids and Kendall College of Art and Design’s annual student art exhibition.

Speakers at events during West Michigan Design Week include:

  • Richard Saul Wurman, the founder of the TED conferences
  • Mei Mah, the deputy director of education at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum
  • Susan S. Szenasy, the editor in chief of Metropolis Magazine

The week also features a curated exhibit on object design at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts that offers a behind-the-scenes look at the design process for a handful of Michigan-based companies. Other events include a lecture on Michigan-native Florence Knoll’s contributions to design, a design-thinking workshop for Grand Rapids Public School students, walking tours of Grand Rapids architecture, a showing of the film “Exit Through the Gift Shop” at the UICA, an exhibit on Michigan modern design at the Grand Rapids Art Museum and bus tours of design studios across West Michigan.

The city of Grand Rapids officially declared May 5-10 as Design Week. As a truly regional celebration of design, there are also events in Traverse City and on the lakeshore.

The idea to host a design week in West Michigan sprung initially from O’Brien and her colleagues at the local AIGA chapter. When she was on a road trip to Lansing in January with other West Michigan-based designers to meet with state officials and designers from the east side of the state, O’Brien raised the topic of having each represented design discipline host an event as part of a local Design Week. The mention of the topic quickly catalyzed a range of brainstorming and planning, she said.

“It has come together really well considering the extremely fast timeline,” said Sara Klele, AIGA West Michigan Design Week chair. “It’s truly a grassroots effort, and that shows how excited everyone is.”

The loose coalition of designers supporting the effort covers disciplines ranging from architecture and interior design to graphic arts and industrial design — and has the support of the local professional organizations.

“Design Week is great evidence of the excitement and energy that West Michigan has around design,” said John Berry, director of the more than 1,000-member Design West Michigan. “The collective disciplines are working together to highlight the importance of design to West Michigan and the energy those creative forces bring to our region.”

Importantly, organizers say, the event aims to raise the awareness of the capabilities and design talent in the region. They point to the area’s rich legacy in furniture design and its “world-class” art and design school with Kendall College as evidence that West Michigan can be part of the national design conversation.

“We’re showing people what is here, that we’re rich in design,” said Greg Metz, an architect and director on the board of the American Institute of Architects Michigan. “We don’t do enough to make West Michigan aware that it is design-centric. This is a very design-rich area, with a long history of it, and we’re starting to change attitudes, accept it and celebrate it.”

While Design Week is focused on raising awareness within the region about the role of design, it also serves to show outsiders what the West Michigan design community is capable of, according to the event planners.

“That we are a hotbed of creativity focused on furniture, shoes and appliances is something the rest of the country should know about,” Berry said.

Kris Larson, president and CEO of Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., agreed.

“We really can perform on that (national) stage, and drawing recognition is important,” he said. “We want to attract the 21st century jobs so designers can locate here. And we have the high quality of life … that you cannot replicate in (major metro areas).”

Read 6972 times Last modified on Thursday, 01 May 2014 17:29