Design has rich history

September 21, 2009
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According to Ric Grefé, executive director of AIGA, the professional association for design, the presence of design in West Michigan has not quite “reared its head” in terms of recognition.

Grefé recently visited Grand Rapids for a series of events that included a Business Breakfast with design leaders from businesses such as Progressive AE, Herman Miller, Haworth, Steelcase and others. A Design Educators Summit brought together teachers from Grand Valley State University, Ferris State University, Kendall College of Art & Design and Michigan State University.

The day was capped off with a Design West Michigan event that evening, which covered a variety of topics, including the push for a National Design Policy on the federal level.

Throughout Grefé’s discussions, some commonalities emerged. One was the rich history of design in West Michigan businesses and how it’s a story that hasn’t been told enough.

“Looking at West Michigan from a distance, it’s got an immense amount of creative talent,” said Grefé. “There are incredible case studies in West Michigan that ought to see the light of day that are examples of how design is used to create value.”

During the Design West Michigan event, George Erickcek, senior analyst with the Upjohn Institute, stressed the importance of design as a competitive advantage U.S. companies can have in a global market. This theme was apparent at both the breakfast and lunch as attendants discussed the role of design and designers in business.

“Creativity can defeat habit, and habit has gotten us into the problems we’re in today,” said Grefé. “The ability to tap into creativity and use it productively is a way to change the way society, business and culture manifest themselves.

“We really believe that every designer should be a T-shaped individual — broad knowledge (and) then a narrow skill set descending from that. It’s a role designers can play in society because of the way they think. Designers approach problems in a very different way than businesses do.”

The Business Breakfast brought out other interesting observations on design’s impact on business. For example, for the Van Andel Institute, the design of its building has been a major recruiting tool.

“We do play on an international stage and try to attract people here,” said Joe Gavan, VAI vice president of communication and development. “The design of our building has made it so much easier. I’ve been getting scientists recently that come in and say, ‘Daylight in a lab? You’re kidding me. We’re not stuck in a basement on the fringe of a college campus?’”

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