A creative approach for business growth

October 3, 2009
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“There’s a business term that says you set your company up to ‘true north.’ In other words, recalibrate your compass,” said Nate Young, president of NewNorth, a brand-new center for educating businesses about design.

“NewNorth is saying, ‘Yeah, we’re that,’ but our little twist on it is that we’re about bringing a new approach, a new way of thinking in this economy, so that you can get new growth.

“There’s a new economy we’re dealing with. You have to deal with a new economy with a new approach. You have to have new thinking because you need new growth, and that’s why we call our company NewNorth.”

NewNorth is a nonprofit educational organization to help companies learn about the creative process of design. It is funded by Lakeshore Advantage and will make the official announcement of its launch Oct. 20.

“We’re taking working practitioners — people who have done it — as instructors to help companies learn about the creative process,” said Young. “I’ve got faculty I’m lining up who have experience with the automobile companies, Disney, electronics companies, communication companies. We’re going to get a pretty wide variety of working practitioners who are able to bring these systems in.”

Often when discussing the importance of design in business, Apple Inc. comes up. Young said that as a designer, he is frequently asked how Apple continues to keep innovation alive in the company.

“Frankly, what they have done is taken a very disciplined creative process and they’ve become design driven,” he said. “It’s no mystery. We know how they do it. It isn’t easy, but you can learn how to do this.”

A team of about five people will make up the core of NewNorth staff. A rotating group of working practitioners will come in from all over the country to teach classes and give seminars. Topics will range from executive education and product portfolios to pure innovation methodologies and creative systems. The organization will also offer custom training.

Young graduated from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., in 1987 with a major in transportation design. He went to work for Prince Corp. in Holland where he got his first taste of West Michigan. At the time, Prince Corp. was a small firm of around eight people. When he was named vice president of design in 1994, Prince Corp. employed more than 100 people.

“There is where I like to say I went and got my master’s,” he said. “Prince Corporation sort of turned me from a designer to really focus on leadership.”

The company was acquired by Johnson Controls in 1996 and Young became vice president of product development, until the year 2000 when he and a partner started a consultancy firm called TWISThink.

The two sold TWISThink in 2003, and Young went back to California to take the job of executive vice president and chief academic officer at Art Center College of Design, his alma mater.

“I kind of saw on the frontlines this need to put education and business back together again,” said Young. “That’s been my goal. How do we develop a resource for West Michigan, to just be one of the things to continue to help (the region) be more competitive in the world marketplace?”

Young was pulled back to West Michigan to run NewNorth by a phone call from John Berry, executive director of Design West Michigan, an organization dedicated to branding West Michigan as “design centric” and using design as an economic building block for the region.

“I was back in Holland on some business and I got a call from a guy named John Berry. He said there’s a group of people in Holland here who have an idea. Frankly, I was not optimistic at all, but I agreed to meet with them,” said Young. “Design West Michigan’s goal was to be the advocate of design in West Michigan, but the missing piece was ‘What’s the catcher’s mitt?’”

The problem Design West Michigan and Lakeshore Advantage found was that business and design seemed to be disconnected.

“They said, ‘Hey Nate, how about putting together a plan for what you would do to start an institute of some kind?’” said Young.

And that’s exactly what he did, launching the business plan in late fall of 2008.

NewNorth will begin custom training in January 2010 and will have open enrollment available by the summer.

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