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Kate Hunt

DESIGN BRIEFS Connecting Past to Present, Community to Collaboration

N EU - 2015

So, what is this Design Briefs thing and why have we — a group of chronically over-involved volunteers from American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) West Michigan — spent so many early mornings plotting with our friends at Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) to make it happen?

departments of Learning and Audience Engagement, Guest Services, and Communications, and members of AIGA West Michigan’s Design for Good committee. We also enlisted the support of Herman Miller, WorkSquared, GR Current, Custom Printers, Proper Soda, and Brewery Vivant. Maybe most importantly though we engaged Visual Hero — a design research, visual communication, and experience design firm in Grand Rapids — to help facilitate the event and lend their expertise to presenters and participants.

Well, long story short, we saw an opportunity for experimentation that we couldn’t pass up. This past summer’s GRAM exhibition, Michigan Modern: Design That Shaped America, was a perfect framework for our community to explore design, collaboration, and innovation in the context of the region’s collective history.

With all moving parts in place, Design Briefs came to life. Panelists, Julia Jamieson and Laura Vaughn of Sitting in a Tree, kicked off the June session with a few words on the importance of design in entrepreneurship.The session included presentations from Custom Creativity Cube, an oversized customizable dice for educational games and group activities by Dave Veldkamp; GRArt, an interactive calendar of events designed to pull together art-focused events by Veronica Kirin; and Blue Marble Threads, a fiber arts incubator that combines a design studio, retail store, and sewn product manufacturing by Camille Metzger, Janay Brower, and Jen Zimmerman.

Michigan has a unique history of design, entrepreneurship, and philanthropy, and fortunately for those of us who live and work here, that energy is still alive and well. Unfortunately, as the nature of work has become increasingly specialized since the mid-century, and as the importance of efficiency, productivity, and clear ROI have been stressed, the casual or chance collaborations that have led to so many meaningful, and inherently cross-disciplinary advances, have been lost.

The August session included presentations from Open Me, a smartphone controlled garage door opener by Justin Menkveld; Collapsable/Expandable Bike Rack, a bike rack designed for triathlons and other large events by Matthew Vidro; and Slate, a digital signage software that aggregates news, curated content, and social feeds by John O’Neil.

We wanted to help change that attitude, and we wanted to do it by sharing the power of design as a strategic tool with the people hungriest to move the needle. So, connecting two of the community’s most valuable assets — designers and entrepreneurs — sounded like a pretty basic idea. The plan was to connect the idea-havers with design-thinkers, and to engage them in a conversation under the guidance of some of our communities best do-ers in order to better understand and chart the landscape of the work ahead for individual projects.

In both sessions, each entrepreneur was asked to present their project — its strengths, its weaknesses and the largest challenge they believed they were facing — to a panel of professionals in product design, visual design, industrial design, strategic design, and communications. The panelists then asked a series of thought-provoking questions and gave several points of feedback from the stage, before joining individual breakout sessions with each entrepreneur.

To set these big ideas in motion, we brought together a cross-functional team with representatives from GRAM’s

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NEU: Design Thinking  
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