A united front for local design

December 5, 2008
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Designers gathered last Tuesday evening to take part in a discussion about the relationship between design and business during the Design West Michigan event held at Steelcase University.

Headlining the event were Nancy Miller, senior editor, Wired magazine; Julie Lasky, editor-in-chief, I.D. magazine; and moderating the panel discussion was Peter Lawrence, chair of the Corporate Design Foundation and editor of @issue magazine. The topic was the media's coverage of the interaction between design and business.

The distinguished panel assembled by Design West Michigan was certainly a draw for those in attendance, but what is equally impressive is how successful DWM has been in bringing the local design community together.

In only the second meeting for the organization, more than 300 people pre-registered for the event, which made it a full house. Architects, professors, graphic designers, industrial designers and design students, as well as representatives from area furniture companies, all were in attendance.

The reasons for attending varied also. For one group of students, it was because their professor "strongly suggested" they attend. Many more students were there to build relationships and to network.

Others see the group as a way to stimulate the conversation between business people and designers. Many of the attendees commented that design and business are a natural match.

Robert Ferguson, architectural designer with Progressive AE, mentioned the benefits design can have, not just in what a product looks like and how it works, but because design thinking creates a culture and a framework for innovation.

Service businesses can also make gains from design, said Ferguson, as it can help create stronger customer relationships and identify potential problems.

Tim Seyfert, a professor at Kendall College of Art and Design, Grand Valley State University and Grand Rapids Community College; noted that designers facilitate communication, in how to relay an idea from one party to the next.

The panel discussed a multitude of topics including design's role in a down economy, stating that design can be used to give companies a competitive edge and cut costs.

Design, in some cases, can even replace the user's manual.

"Failure of a product," said Wired magazine's Nancy Miller, "is if a user has to read the manual."

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