All By Design

April 10, 2006
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ZEELAND — With a rich history in design coming from the furniture industry and others in the area, Luciano Hernandez is hoping more companies will be looking at West Michigan as a center for industrial design.

Hernandez, president of industrial design firm Tiger Studio, said industrial design has played a role in the success of the region throughout its history, laying the groundwork for a market that could bring new business to the area.

"One of the reasons West Michigan has been so successful is the emphasis that different companies have put on design," he said.

Hernandez cited companies such as Tiara Yachts, Herman Miller and Magna Donnelly, all in different industries, but all design-oriented.

"All of these companies highly value design," he said. "Corporations know the value of it and the role it has in offering successful products."

 With many jobs lost to manufacturing, Hernandez said he hopes design can be an answer to boosting the economy.

"We still have a core of creativity and design that we can take advantage of to create new markets," he said.

His six-year-old company, located in the remodeled Colonial Clock Co., has enjoyed  steady business as more corporations contract with studios rather than employing in-house designers.

"We expect this year to be a growth year, as well," he said.

Tom Edwards, chairman of the Industrial Design program at Kendall College of Art and Design, said he has also seen more companies contracting with studios.

"I think that type of relationship works well for larger companies that want that flexibility, but also for smaller companies that are only starting to realize the value of industrial design as a business strategy," he said.

Edwards said he also sees more students coming to the college with an interest in industrial design, which is the third or fourth largest program Kendall offers.

"We're expanding the program," he said. "We're looking at additional concentrations that might allow students to take their studies to specific industries and product categories."

An automotive interior program is in the process of becoming a concentration, Edwards said.

"We are currently working with consultants from the automotive industry and running trial classes, determining curriculum, faculty, facilities and other types of resources," he said.

Having that specialization will make students more marketable, especially in the automotive industry, which tends to hire those students from dedicated programs, Edwards said.

The school has strong support outside the automotive industry, as well. Companies such as Bissell, Steelcase, Herman Miller, Gerber Baby Products, Wolverine World Wide, Whirlpool and Tiara Yachts have partnered with the school for semester-long projects in the past.

"I just mentioned some very important names in a number of diverse industries that are located here in Michigan," Edwards said of the companies. "Most if not all of those companies realize the importance of industrial design as a business strategy and either have their own design staff or regularly work with design consultants."

Edwards said the future for industrial design is bright.

"I guess as more and more companies understand or apply design as a strategy in things like globalization or intense world-wide competition, it's just going to grow," he said.

Hernandez and Randy Thelen, executive director of economic development group Lakeshore Advantage, are helping to make sure some of that bright future shines on West Michigan.

The Industrial Designers Society of America Michigan chapter recently held its annual meeting at the Colonial Clock Building, an event hosted by Tiger Studio and Lakeshore Advantage. The chapter is the second largest in the country, behind only New York.

Hernandez said he believes the attention and recognition that the event brought to the area and its resources spoke well of the presence of industrial design in West Michigan and the effect it could have on the economy.

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