Academy Debuts

August 1, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — Design West Michigan concluded its pilot Business Academy program last month. The program focused on teaching design thinking to non-designers.

The goal of the academy was to “expose business professionals to design and how design can be a component to their bottom line,” said Amanda Chocko, project manager for Design West Michigan at Lakeshore Advantage.

“Many (attendees) now see where design can play a role in just about all aspects of business, and realize there is a process involved and that it’s not just sugar-coating at the end,” said Chocko. “(They’ve learned) they really should consider implementing design in the beginning of all of their planning and processes.”

The academy used case studies from various locally based companies such as Whirlpool and izzydesign to see how they implemented design and how it helped boost profitability. One presenter was George Erickcek, senior regional analyst with the Upjohn Institute.

Erickcek, who believes production is directly tied to innovation and design, spoke on the importance of design in manufacturing. He pointed to the U.K. and Italy as examples of countries where companies emphasize design to accelerate their rate of return. In the U.K., Erickek reported, shares in design-led business outperform key stock market indices by 200 percent. In Italy, a “design cluster” group of companies highlighting design saw 75 percent growth over 10 years as opposed to other companies in the European Union, which saw an 11 percent growth.

The Italian companies also employ the “Edison business model” of collaborative networks that create a bigger “knowledge base.” Al Ashbaugh, owner of Big Picture Imaging, was an attendee of the academy: “Having been in technical design for many years and now coming into a softer side of design, I recognized that there were some strengths that the creative community had that the technical community isn’t tapping into very well. I was hoping that I would be introduced to maybe some concepts or basic questions to be asking about design when considering problem-solving.”

Ashbaugh has a background in technology and said there was a lot of things he was ignoring aesthetically.

“I’m not an expert now in those aesthetic design features,” said Ashbaugh. “But I realize the importance of them and I realize that I need to be networking with those types of designers who are experts at the aesthetic side of it.”

Chocko said feedback on the event has been positive, and many of the attendees said their understanding of design and how it relates to business has expanded.

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