College for Creative Studies at the Heart of Detroit’s Design Culture
By James Martinez
Located in midtown Detroit, the College for Creative Studies (CCS) is a relatively small school that makes a big impact on the design world. CCS strives to provide students with the tools needed for successful careers in the dynamic and growing creative industries. The college is a major supplier of talent to numerous industries, such as transportation, film and animation, advertising and communications, consumer electronics, athletic apparel, and many more.
The Detroiter sat down with CCS President Rick Rogers to talk all things design.
(Editor’s note: This interview was edited for length and clarity).
Why is Detroit such a great place for design?
Because of its history. It’s not just its automotive history, but its whole history of making things, and manufacturing and developing products going back to iron stoves and bicycles and railroad cars. It’s so rich in that history. Creativity and making are deeply intertwined. Today, the things we make aren’t only physical. As a society, we make a lot of different kinds of things. The making of new things, whether they are physical or virtual, is what creativity is.
What are some misconceptions about design today?
Most people don’t understand that artists figure very prominently in the development of automobiles. We call them designers, but they are really artists with a lot of technical background. But most art forms require some sort of technical background. So whether it is automobiles, appliances, shoes, athletic equipment or consumer electronics, it all requires creativity and artists to give products their identity and look and feel, and now more importantly, kind of determining the way the consumer interacts with them. That all comes out of artistic ability and training.
With the amount of flux and change going on in today’s vehicles, how is the convergence of technology and automotive impacting design?
I think it works both ways. I think design is impacting the way cars are looking and technology is impacting the way design has to do its job. There are features that now have to be incorporated into vehicles that never had to before. If there are going to be autonomous vehicles, that’s going to completely change the vocabulary of the exterior and interior of the vehicle. Until we get to that point there is still going to be huge changes because of the amount of digital technology that is being integrated into vehicles. There’s the challenge of figuring out how the driver interacts with those technologies, whether it is touch screens or virtual displays.
How is that impacting how you’re preparing students?
The opportunity and need for design is greater than ever. There’s interaction design that’s becoming one of the critical components of the development of interiors. People may typically think of the design of the interior (of automobiles) as the physical interior components and that’s still important. But there’s all those controls, how you operate the car, that’s what interaction is and designers now have to work on that very thoughtfully and intensively. We actually created a new MFA program in interaction design because there’s a demand for those kinds of designers that is huge, and yet the availability of them is very low. Schools like CCS are having to respond to those needs.
There’s such a rapid pace of change in technology and consumer demands. How is that impacting how CCS works with automakers?
One of the main ways we work with automakers is through sponsored research projects. The automakers will propose a design problem that they want students to work on. These projects are usually very future oriented and either looking at markets or demographic segments or kinds of technology. The companies don’t come to work with us to get an answer to an immediate problem. They are very capable of doing that. They come to us to think about the longer term strategic needs. That’s how we understand from them what their concerns and priorities for the future are, and what their expectations for the kinds of people that will graduate from the college that they will hire.
A congratulations is in order. LinkedIn recently named CCS the No. 3 design school in the nation.
(LinkedIn) came up with some algorithm or set of criteria for the best set of companies to work for. On the basis of the companies the graduates worked for, they ranked the schools and we came up number three in the country because our graduates work for really great companies. We have a 94 percent job placement rate last year for our graduates. We found the LinkedIn rating system to be a real validation of the claims we make for the college. This is a professional college, everybody here is an artist, but every one of our students is planning to use their artistic skills in gainful employment or in productive work. Some will be freelancers or soloists, like painters or sculptors, but the vast majority will go to work for companies.
How do you think the perception of Detroit is now?
We have always been able to attract people from elsewhere, but to be candid, it’s always been difficult. Some people in the past would not consider coming to Detroit. We’re not having that problem anymore. Detroit has become this huge draw for prospective faculty. … The perception of Detroit has completely changed in the circles that CCS is part of. People want to come here. There are creative people and creative businesses from other parts of the country and Europe who are looking for office space here because there is this kind of creative energy that people don’t find in a lot of other places. It’s just a wonderful statement about the change that’s happening in Detroit.
James Martinez is the editor of the Detroiter.