As much as West Michigan Design Week celebrates the vibrant design community of our region, the annual event is also proof that the strength of that community largely stems from its ability to look outside of itself for ideas and inspiration.
“This year, we really focused on bringing in people who continually push the boundaries of what a designer is supposed to be,” said Ken Krayer, interim director of Design West Michigan and a KCAD professor and who was part of Design Week’s organizational team.
Design West Michigan sponsored the week’s keynote speaker, Hugh Herr, a pioneer in the field of biomechatronics who works at the renowned MIT Media Lab. This year’s lineup also featured prolific industrial design guru Tucker Viemeister, WIRED Design Director Claudia de Almedia, and MakeTools founder Liz Sanders.
Herr kicked things off on the opening night of Design Week with a captivating presentation of the work he and his colleagues at the MIT Media Lab are doing to develop state-of-the-art bionic technology and merge it with the human body. A double amputee as a result of a climbing accident, Herr now dedicates himself to developing smart prostheses that can replicate – and even exceed – the capabilities of biological limbs.
In addition to showcasing his crowning achievement, the BiOM– an incredible ankle-foot prosthesis powered by biomimetic design that he wears himself – Herr also spoke about the transdisciplinary nature of the MIT Media Lab. Converging different disciplines, he said, is key to future success in not only biomechatronics, but every field.
“So many of the biggest problems in the world exist between conventional disciplinary silos,” he said in his talk. “I believe strongly that we need to educate young people to think across different disciplines; that’s absolutely critical and I think it’s a property of a highly innovative society.”
The next night, Viemeister, who’s been called “industrial design’s elder wonderkind” by ID magazine, led the audience on a winding, detour-filled journey through his 36 years on the cutting edge of industrial design
“I was thrilled to speak to a standing room crowd of keen design aficionados and KCAD students,” he said after his talk. “We are entering a new era of design and Grand Rapids feels like a place eager to take advantage.”
The following evening, graphic designers were out in full force for the AIGA West Michigan-sponsored talk by de Almedia. Originally from Brazil, the award-winning art director, design instructor, and self-proclaimed “type-nerd” talked about lessons learned on the path to what she called her “dream job” at WIRED.
“Something that’s important for students to figure out is how you can create a space for yourself where you can express your own ideas without threatening the voice of your project, your publication, or your art director,” she said.
Fittingly, Sanders wrapped up Design Week with a talk that focuses on where design has been, where it is, and where it’s headed next. Drawing on her work with MakeTools, a company she founded that explores new spaces in emerging design landscapes, Sanders talked about how design has evolved from being driven by the demands of clients to being driven by designers’ own explorations of how the design process can help meet needs and solve challenges of any scale.
“Now we have interdisciplinary teams working at many different levels of scale, not just products and services, but all the way up to the level of wicked problems,” she said. “Designers and design researchers are being asked to explore what to design, not just how to design it. More and more, we’re being asked to make sense of the future and give shape to it.”