Design Work Boosted By Active Group

June 6, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — According to Daniel H. Pink, author of “A Whole New Mind,” there is a design-focused movement taking root in America, and Design West Michigan is helping that movement grow on three different fronts: nationally branding West Michigan as “design centric”; linking designers in all design fields, as well as those who need design services; and educating “non-designers on design thinking.”

The latter has taken shape as Design West Michigan’s pilot two-day Business Academy.

“West Michigan is doing what other regions no doubt will be doing soon: developing design education for business people who aren’t designers,” said Pink. “The piloting of a business academy is a wise and savvy move to support economic development.”

The academy will take place July 17-18 at Kendall College of Art & Design. The intent is simply to help people think with a design philosophy in order to positively impact their organizations as well as the regional economy. Kendall is also awarding CEU credits for the class.

Design West Michigan was formed as part of the InnovationWorks/WIRED initiative, and is charged with determining what role design plays in the economic development of West Michigan and fostering education about that role.

The WIRED initiative inspired many proposals, one of which was to form a design council in support of the design work that takes place in West Michigan. That idea was taken to Lakeshore Advantage, the economic development organization along the West Michigan lakeshore. Lakeshore Advantage asked John Berry, a consultant with Greystone Global, if he would be interested in getting involved.

“I was,” said Berry, who now chairs Design West Michigan. “But I thought the idea of a design council was limiting and wrought with all sorts of issues that councils have that I didn’t find favorable. But I liked the idea of seeing how design could be recognized and then encouraged to be an economic building block in West Michigan.”

Berry said he was excited about the idea of connecting all professions of design in all industries. A major gathering of design professionals is planned for June 23 at Haworth headquarters in Holland, the latest effort of the group to coalesce the varied design efforts. “So now we’re talking graphic, industrial, architectural, interior, landscape, fashion, digital interactive media, design engineering — all those disciplines that basically have degrees attached to them,” Berry said.

Berry pursued the concept by talking to the heads of design at Steelcase, Haworth and Herman Miller, as well as other contacts in the industry and garnering support to help bring together a creative synergy and generate the awareness that West Michigan is a creative community. The people Berry spoke with felt the growth of awareness and connections within the creative community would help “continuously raise the bar and attract and retain talented people.”

The advisory group was formed and contains varying levels of professionals, from recent graduates to senior vice presidents responsible for design and development for major companies. The 42 members represent multiple disciplines in the geographic area of West Michigan.

“We had our first meeting to begin to understand what the concept of Design West Michigan was,” said Berry. “The concept here was to see how design could be recognized as an economic building block; see if we could become advocates of design; establish a value on design; begin to connect different design disciplines; and begin to see how we might, in effect, become an educational arm on design for non-designers.”

Berry said the group went through a series of proposed ideas on how to achieve those goals, which Berry described as a design process in and of itself. Out of that trial and error approach, a decision to focus on education became the Business Academy program.

The initial funding for the academy will come from WIRED funds, but Berry said those funds will run out soon. Design West Michigan plans to sustain the academy through tuition.

Along with the regional advisory group, Berry formed a national advisory group within colleges, universities and the Museum of Modern Art.

“What I was doing with that was confirming that what we were doing wasn’t being done anywhere else in the country,” said Berry. “I got that confirmation, and they’ve given me good input along the way. One of them was when we started talking about West Michigan as a center of design excellence, they said, ‘That’s a mistake. West Michigan isn’t the center of design excellence. There are centers of design excellence in little pockets all over the world. But if you think of the term design centric, now you’re talking about an attitude of companies and individuals where design is important.’”

The June 23 event is described as a “Designers’ Gathering and Headcount.” Participants will learn more about Design West Michigan, tour Haworth’s new One Haworth Center, and more.

“This is the first time all designers have been asked to come together,” said Berry. “We’re going to use that as the occasion to launch a Web site — the Design West Michigan Web site.”

“There’s positive political support for design that creates innovative opportunities and gets a recognition that creativity exists in our workplace,” Berry explained. “And by that I mean, what we do — not just where we do it — is really important to the economy.”

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