Design Briefs: Connecting past to present, and community to collaboration


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

Well, long story short, we saw an opportunity for experimentation that we couldn’t pass up.

This summer’s exhibition Michigan Modern: Design That Shaped America was a perfect framework for our community to explore design, collaboration and innovation in the context of our own collective history. As the Design For Good Director of AIGA WM, I saw this as a chance to shift the current conversation around designers doing good from “free creative work for nonprofits”, which we’ve become known for, to something more sustainable—like creating positive social impact through entrepreneurship and collaboration.

With a community of energized entrepreneurs and a widely referenced (though infrequently cited) stat of ‘more designers per capita’ in the state of Michigan than any other, connecting two of our communities most valuable assets—designers and entrepreneurs—sounds like a pretty basic idea. True or not, Michigan does have 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 we’ve specialized the work of designers and other professionals since the mid-century, and inflated the importance of efficiency, productivity and clear ROI, we’ve lost the casual collaboration that’s lead to so many meaningful, and inherently cross-disciplinary advances. As a result, our learned attitude around “good ideas” is to protect them—with patents, NDAs and sometimes just silence—rather than to share them and let them grow with the help of others.

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.

With our would-be partners over at GRAM fresh from the development of their own human-centered strategic plan, and with a new focus on reinventing their approach to inspiring creativity and innovation, the timing was right to try something new. The idea was to connect the idea-havers with the 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. We also had a hunch that if we set that interaction against an inspiring background of artifacts and accomplishments from an era of undeniable inspiration, we could not only help frame long-term strategy of these individual projects, we could contribute to strengthening our local ecosystem by encouraging deeply open dialogue.

So now, to continue that mission, we’re taking a step back from this ideas-focused, experimental event to look at the findings. We’ll be sharing what we’ve learned this Thursday, November 13th at 3:00pm EST, with other organizations interested in collaboration as a way to create shared value—and in true form, hope to continue learning in the process. Please join us in the discussion.

Kate Hunt
Design For Good Director, AIGA West Michigan & Principle of She Does Design

By Kate Hunt
Published November 11, 2014