AIGA in West Michigan
Last week, we lit a match.
There are AIGA chapters in Detroit and Chicago and student groups at local schools (GVSU, FSU and Kendall), but there is no professional group in Grand Rapids. As a way to encourage a maturation of the local design community, we have long planned to start a local AIGA chapter in West Michigan. In December, without any fanfare, I started LinkedIn and Facebook groups to gauge interest, thinking I could collect at least the 20 names required by AIGA National to get the ball rolling. I was amazed that we found more than 70 interested people almost immediately. So I quickly put together a smaller group of the vocal members and we organized an event last week. Two hundred people attended. Here are the photos.
We’re so pleased to have started, and we’re looking forward to the next steps, which include conducting a survey of potential members and organizing a launch committee. If you’re reading this and would like to participate, please comment below to let us know!
At the event, I made a few remarks to share my views on all this. And here they are…
AIGA West Michigan First Meeting
January 20, 2009
I’ve been in and around the professional practice of design for the better part of 20 years. As I look out on this audience, I see two things. One, I can safely say that I’m no longer the youngest person in the room! Two, there is significant interest in design in this region?. I’m inspired by the creative energy and potential of the people here.
Over 20 years, things have changed, starting with the emergence of desktop computers as the primary tool (Show of hands: who has used a stat camera?) This lowered barrier for entry into the profession, which has created more competition. It has lowered the cost of production, which has devalued some of our services. The emergence of the Internet and its intersection with graphic design? has led to an overlap of existing disciplines — product design, environmental design, research, strategy? — and has led to new and growing disciplines: interaction design, experience design, service design, and beyond.
One thing is certain: We can expect to see even more changes in the next 20 years?. More people in the design profession and more press about it have increased client awareness of the value that design strategy and design thinking can bring to their endeavors.
Design has become mainstream — more and more people participate in the process of design who didn’t go to school for “design” per se. Design has never had greater awareness. Yet, in many ways, it has never been less understood?. We, in this room, have an opportunity to change that, at least in this region.
Here are two thoughts I’ve had about regionalism. On one hand, regions are becoming less important. In this profession, it used to be that you’re either in New York City, or you’re not. ?Now, it doesn’t matter as much. Travel and technology have diminished the significance of geography as a factor in business and professional expertise. On the other hand, regions are becoming more important. Because of technology, people don’t have to travel as much. Coupled with environmental concerns, valuing a higher qualify of life, building communities, city revitalization, regions have new interests in developing a local identity.
I’ve spent much of of my professional career in this region — West Michigan — and have seen a lot of change right here. In that time, downtown Grand Rapids has been completely transformed, from the Van Andel Arena, DeVos Performance Hall, and the new Grand Rapids Art Museum, to the Van Andel Institute and the emergence of the Medical Mile. There is actually a variety of places to eat dinner! Another trend I’ve witnessed: Rather than fleeing to bigger cities after school, young people are staying in West Michigan. Our region is developing its own identity. What role can we as designers play in shaping it?
My hopes for design in the region
As I’ve stated elsewhere, I believe design is less about itself, more about society, business, and people – recipients of good design. Which is to say: Sorting out design versus decoration, meaning vs style alone. For us here in West Michigan, I would hope for a less provincial attitude, and at the same time, developing a strong local presence. I would challenge this group to consider:
How can we as a region be design leaders?
How can we set a new precedents for AIGA chapters?
How can we find new ways to add value for members, educators, suppliers, and buyers?
How can we use new tools, methods, and technologies to better ourselves and our businesses?
How can we best leverage the talents and potential of this group?
Don’t get me wrong, this is not altruism! Each of us – including me – have self-serving goals for our professional and personal lives. But make no mistake, we are competing in a global marketplace. There are competitors in the room, but the larger question is: How can we we lean on each other for mutual benefit? How can we do our part to help shape this region, leveraging what we know – and want to know – about design, elevate our profession, and help West Michigan live up to its potential?
Our opportunity with a local AIGA chapter is to work together to answer these questions.