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Wednesday, 18 June 2014 21:48

Q&A: Ken Krayer, Kendall College of Art and Design

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Ken Krayer, director of business engagement at Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids Ken Krayer, director of business engagement at Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids COURTESY PHOTO

As a veteran of office furniture companies, Ken Krayer will look to create a bridge between industry and higher education in his new role as director of business engagement at Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids. He’s the first person at the college officially tasked with creating professional opportunities for students upon graduation. Krayer, who describes his role as being both “an educator and practitioner” of design, talked with MiBiz about what design means for West Michigan and the various methods at his disposal to engage students and businesses in the region.


What’s changing about design that requires the college to educate and engage students in different ways?

Design can run the gamut with some pretty serious stuff. Think about Stryker and medical equipment. It’s a different kind of mindset outside of your core design skills. It’s more technical. Then you get on the other side like Wolverine Worldwide or the furniture companies where you’re getting into the more emotional side of (design).

What’s the potential for the design sector in West Michigan?

Here’s where I think the opportunity is: I look at everything as a giant complex branding exercise. You’ve got all these outside companies with their own brands. Steelcase is very different from Haworth and is very different from Herman Miller, even though they are all doing contract furniture. From a student perspective, we are educating creatives, so I tend to look at them as a brand I’m trying to develop in and of themselves.

How do you go about doing that?

You don’t want to (have the students come out the same way). And frankly, in education, it’s easier if you do it that way. The real challenge to me is to have enough of an understanding of what that base skill set is so that they can go out (into the workforce). You want to make sure that their education is general enough that they can move around, but they are also going to excel when they are coming out the door. I think that is going to be the real challenge.

What are some of the methods at your disposal to expose students to the variety of industries looking for designers?

I don’t have internships underneath me … but that will be a component for this and I’ll have to watch that. I will be focusing more on bringing the companies in. I’m doing a series of pop-up lectures starting in the fall. (I was at NeoCon earlier this month) talking with big companies about sending people to Kendall where it doesn’t cost them anything to talk and we have the space and the room and the network. The primary focus would be on the students. But we can also use Design West Michigan and AIGA West Michigan to bring their professional networks to those lectures as well.

What about this position lured you away from industry?

What is interesting about these positions is that more and more, people are having to create their own jobs. This job wasn’t created by Kendall and posted. It is happening to more and more people. Once you get in and you’re doing some work, you realize where organizations need some help. [Editor’s note: Krayer taught courses in design practice as an adjunct professor at Kendall College.] I think organizations don’t always know how to define that. Design is an interesting place, and education is an interesting place. For design, we come in as both practitioners and educators. (Kendall) is an art and design school, and I think if you go back in the history … design is creative, but it’s in the context of business, so we have to understand that.

Former Kendall President David Rosen built a reputation for working closely with the business community to create new programs. With his resignation earlier this year, do you have concerns about how best to tackle this position?

I’m coming into something that has some history. Kendall has a long history with Stryker and Wolverine, for example, and we want to keep building on what’s good. ...Ultimately we are the ones who have to get the work done. All of the initiatives (started under Rosen) … are continuing to move forward. (Interim president Oliver Evans) has been very clear that he is not going to try to make any big changes or implement anything new. That will all happen when the new president comes in.

What’s your strategy to match up students and companies based on specific needs?

In some ways, it’s going to be like a dating service. I look at each student and each group as a brand, basically. In reality, you’re going to have some weaknesses but you’re going to try to develop those students and match them up with other outside businesses. So that is going to be the challenge. A lot of times, it happens through individual faculty members, so we will have to develop some kind of process. … That process has to be built, put in place and communicated.


Interview conducted and condensed by Nick Manes.

Read 2912 times Last modified on Wednesday, 18 June 2014 21:33

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