It has been built and they are coming

October 10, 2008
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“If you build it they will come,” a voice said to the character played by Kevin Costner in the movie “Field of Dreams.” He designed and built a baseball field that brought baseball players back from the dead to play ball (it’s amazing what good design can do).

Design West Michigan is doing the same thing — only instead of a baseball diamond, it’s a Web site, and in place of ghosts, it’s attracting designers and business people.

“The hope is to help (people) recognize that there is a place — the Design West Michigan Web site — where they can go and gain a better understanding of the different kinds of design disciplines and how they work at resolving different kinds of business problems for their own comparative understanding. If they have interest in connecting with someone, that’s a great connecting spot, so I see it as having multiple values,” said John Berry, chair of Design West Michigan.

“It’s not only a network among different designers; it’s a network among business people who are looking for services.”

The Web site, constructed by Grand Rapids-based Conduit Studios, originally went up in June 2008 as a basic site to connect and communicate to designers and business people. More recently, the site has added new features. One is the search-ability of the site. Members can be found both by discipline and by industry. The site has also made more case studies available and will continue to add examples of how design solutions have solved the problems of different companies.

“We will continue to populate it with case studies and examples — particularly those coming from the U.K. — of educating folks on how design makes a difference in your business,” said Berry.

The notion of a design-focused group like Design West Michigan may be new here in the states, but in other parts of the world it has already caught on. The United Kingdom has a government-backed program that has been studying the relationship between businesses and design for some time.

“The British Design Council, which has a staff of 48 people and is funded by British Parliament, spends a lot of good resources in Great Britain to be able to demonstrate that investing in design increases the revenue of the companies who invest in it, and that design is of economic value to the company,” said Berry. “The result has been the comparison of the kind of thing we’re trying to do.”

The case studies will help make the connection between business and design, and how design can be an economic building block for the region.

“One of the obstacles in the Web site being what we ultimately want it to be is the difficulty in measuring results from good design,” said Berry. “There are not hard metrics for measuring soft assets.”

To ensure the case studies contain valuable information for both designers and non-designers, Berry said it is important that the studies be consistent: “What was the problem that needed to be addressed? What was the process, the design disciplines involved? What was the result in some economic measurement and then what was learned for future activities?”

Designers have been joining the site more often since the new cross-search ability has been added to the site. Berry said designers enjoy the marketability it naturally provides.

“I got an e-mail from a designer,” said Berry. “He said, ‘All I want to do is design. I don’t want to pitch myself. I love the fact that I can put out work that I’ve done, and I have a higher hope of somebody coming to the Design West Michigan Web site to see that.’”

While making designers more visible is a desired outcome, Berry is weary of the site attracting “marketing hype,” which should be kept down by the outline for posting case studies of “problem, process with design disciplines, economic results, and did you learn anything from the process of all this.”

Berry said the Web site is fundamentally important to the overall mission of Design West Michigan, which is to explore design as an economic building block for the region.

While there is an outline for submitting case studies, anyone can join the community. The Web site is

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