Advertising, Marketing & PR, Film, and Technology

Training the creative class

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Proactive business owners are constantly asking themselves how to stay competitive in today’s market. Dwelling Place Neighborhood Revitalization Specialist Jenn Schaub has the answer: “Hire a creative professional.”

No matter what the industry, the era of blogging, YouTube, Twitter and Pinterest has hit, and there’s no end in sight. Businesses compete on a global scale, reaching out to consumers who see thousands of advertisements every day. Increasingly, these consumers recognize good design when they see it. They also know when it’s bad.

These forms of visual communication immediately create a perception of a company, helping consumers determine if they would recommend it to their friends, if their mothers would shop there and, ultimately, if they’re going to spend money with that company.

Having good service, a quality product and an efficient manufacturing process are essentials for any good business. According to Schaub, those who intend for their businesses to stay ahead of the curve should add exceptional design and branding to that list.

“If your staff person has a visual background, they’re going to bring that creative professionalism to the marketing and communications pieces you’re able to produce,” said Schaub. Having an employee with the necessary aesthetic and technical skills to navigate new forms of media can breathe new life into a business.

“You need someone who can think outside the box,” said Schaub. “And that’s what creative professionals are trained to do. That’s what we do best.”

Pamela Patton, editor of Kendall College of Art and Design’s Portfolio Magazine, said the college responds to market need when considering what majors to offer. Out of the 14 undergraduate programs and three graduate programs, students in disciplines such as metal and jewelry design are likely to head to New York City upon graduation. But students in graphic design, digital media, art education, industrial and furniture design are increasingly staying in West Michigan.

The $28.5 million renovation of the Kendall Federal Building is set to be completed next month, bringing with it new classrooms, offices and gallery spaces for the quickly growing KCAD student body. The expansion will provide the necessary space for new programs, a few of which will be geared toward creating a sort of hybrid creative-business training program.

The collaborative design BFA program — the only one of its kind in existence — will be added in the fall semester. Patton said this ground-breaking program will span all artistic disciplines, training creative professionals in interactive communications, dialogue and personality development, and exposing them to nonprofit and for-profit organizational structures. The students will learn well-rounded artistic skill sets that can be applied to all the visual needs of a corporation, in everything from brand development and logo design to conceptualizing a space or creating multimedia communication pieces.

John Berry, Kendall’s executive director of design in West Michigan, said corporations are increasingly aware that employees with broader educational experiences tend to have an easier time being innovative and using strategic thinking than those with a specifically focused discipline.

As Kendall began developing the collaborative design degree, school officials had a lot of conversations with companies that wanted their employees to be more creative in their thinking. “This (program) is absolutely aimed at developing those kinds of capabilities in students so they’re able to hone that kind of thinking process for organizations,” said Berry.

One of Kendall’s existing programs, the MBA certificate in design and innovation management, is comprised largely of working business professionals looking to enrich themselves and their companies by developing their design thinking.

“I strongly feel that the benefit and value of the creative community in West Michigan is truly one of our unsung strengths and is just now becoming fully recognized as having the importance that it does to our economic growth,” said Berry.

Evan Koons, an industry relations specialist at Compass College of Cinematic Arts in Grand Rapids, said companies such as Steelcase, Haworth and Amway are tapping into the cinematography talent in Grand Rapids, enhancing their business through videos. Compass students are finding film and video work in West Michigan in the form of commercial, corporate, web, creative, independent and even major motion pictures such as “30 Minutes or Less” and “Touchback.”

“I think we’re entering a creative class,” said Koons. “Manufacturing is different. It’s not just bricks and mortar: It’s ideas. If we can encourage the growth of ideas in Grand Rapids and in Michigan, we’re setting ourselves up for a larger plan down the road.”

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