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A Creative Craft

The Michigan Design Council shines spotlight on state’s industrial design talent.

By Jeff DeBoer

Page 40

Jeff DeBoer, vice president and principal at Sundberg-Ferar, works with students as part of the Michigan Design Council's outreach efforts.

Jeff DeBoer, vice president and principal at Sundberg-Ferar, works with students as part of the Michigan Design Council’s outreach efforts.

In 2014, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) asked Sundberg-Ferar, a Detroit-based industrial design consultancy, to define a plan to grow the industrial design profession in Michigan. The result was the announcement of the Michigan Design Council (MDC) at the 2015 North American International Auto Show. The council is made up of design thought-leaders from across the state, representing major industries, academic institutions and professional organizations.

The MDC is considered to be the only statewide organization of its kind in the country. Its mission is to establish Michigan as the premier destination for industrial designers, to nurture young talent through active engagement with students and education professionals, to help Michigan-based businesses prosper, and to encourage businesses to relocate to Michigan because of its robust, creative talent pool.

For those new to the term “industrial design,” it’s the profession that brings art and technology together in products that aesthetically and functionally enhance our lives. Michigan industrial designers lead the world in transportation design – automotive, mass transit, and personal mobility products – and thousands more products that Michigan’s industrial designers have given the world.

The impact that industrial design has on Michigan’s economy cannot be overstated. With more than 4,000 strong, Michigan has a higher concentration of industrial designers than any other state in the nation. Estimates show that every industrial designer creates eight additional jobs. Industrial designers are high-income earners; Michigan industrial designers earn, on average, $70,000 a year, more than $10,000 above the national average. The highest concentration of industrial designers in Michigan can be found in west Michigan and metro Detroit. In fact, Detroit has emerged as a global epicenter for what’s new in design.

Think of Detroit as the Florence of the Italian Renaissance, where anything can be designed and built to improve the lives of millions around the world. Events like the Detroit Design Festival are attracting global media attention, and designers are relocating to the Motor City, attracted by the spirit of design exploration and by being a place where they can afford to live and work, especially compared to other cities like New York and London.

The MDC is working hard to make sure the world understands the scale and depth of Michigan’s creative talent, and knows the career and business opportunities linked to Detroit’s resurgence. Its keystone initiative for 2016 will be the Michigan Design Prize, officially announced at the 2016 NAIAS. The goal is to celebrate and create global awareness of the exceptional Michigan industrial design talent.

The Michigan Design Prize will be a competition open to Michigan residents. Participants will tackle a single design challenge determined each year by the MDC. Design Prize entries will be showcased around the state, and winners will be exhibited at the Detroit Design Festival and other statewide events.

The Michigan Design Prize will also be used to engage with K-12 educators who want to teach design thinking and creative problem-solving in their curricula (i.e., STEAM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math]). Creative thinking will be the most sought-after skill for our youth as they move into the workplace based on interviews with leading CEOs and respected business journals. MDC members are coaching instructors and school administrators on ways to introduce students to skills inherent to the industrial design profession.

It will take a sustained effort to maintain Michigan’s status as the place where great products are designed. As it matures, the MDC will be asking corporations, foundations, professional organizations and individuals to step forward and participate in the “industrial design talent” mission. The more who participate, the more this important state resource will help build a better Michigan for everyone.

Jeff DeBoer, Vice President-Principal, Sundberg-Ferar, Inc.; Genesis™ Innovation Strategy