BY SPARKLY STELLAFLY
PHOTOGRAPHY IAN ANDERSON
The Cook Auditorium at the Grand Rapids Art Museum was filled with a little over a hundred guests on Friday night who were interested in hearing what some of the city’s most innovative and entrepreneurial creative had to say about design. This was the third annual interview/lecture event hosted by Design/Educate/Connect (DEC), a nonprofit started in 2010 by Benjamin Edgar, Josh Beebe, and Evan Daniels.
The evening’s format was a 1-1 interview, with each interviewee given the opportunity to choose their interviewer for a 12-minute conversation. First up was Cliff Wegener of Mighty in the Midwest, a mobile and web design firm located above Hopcat, who was interviewed by his close friend and mentor, Tom Crimp. Wegener had three keys to long-term success for technology design firms such as his: realize that process and technology are constantly changing; trust what you know works; and experiment with new technology, using what works for you. He described Grand Rapids as inspiring and a hotbed for technology and design, and he loves that his peers are right in his neighborhood.
Jill DeVries was interviewed by her good friend Marissa Kulha. As she talked about her passion for capturing beauty through her camera lens, it was easy to see how much she truly loves what she does. Growing up she had thoughts of being an architect and had a great love of “beautiful spaces and good design.” DeVries told the audience that in her opinion, good design is “knowing what is necessary and what is not,” and she applies that philosophy to her portraits. To her, beauty is everywhere. It is “not about the camera, it’s about the vision.”
Shoe designer Tyler Way’s career began in his freshman dorm room with a Sharpie marker. Way was interviewed by Adrienne Rehm, his girlfriend of 4 ½ years. In their lighthearted and completely endearing interview, the audience learned that Tyler got his big break by “trespassing” his way into several Detroit Pistons games by using his ID badge from his internship the previous summer. He got the attention of Tayshaun Prince, who had Way design a pair of shoes for him, and his business skyrocketed from there. After years of creating custom footwear, Way is now designing shoes for Sebago, a brand under the Wolverine Worldwide umbrella, and volunteers his time as Creative Director for Fashion Has Heart, which pairs wounded veterans with artists to create custom t-shirts.
Derek Coppess, Founder and Managing Director of 616 Development, was interviewed by Monica Clark, Director of Community Development at 616 Development. Coppess’ father was a high school drafting teacher, and he learned a lot from his father about design. He is not an architect, not an interior designer, but his experience with design comes in the form of relationships with people. He is most inspired by the human emotions that go into their projects and designing their communities. He also designs the team—616 Development is always evaluating their “tribe” and when they determine there is a gap, they make sure to fill the gap with the right person.
Then came Laura Caprara, founder of Stellafly Social Media, interviewed by Eric Kuhn of Site:Lab. Caprara graduated from Calvin College and then drove to Oregon to begin a job as a Graphic Designer, which turned into a job teaching an “old school art director” how to integrate technology into his work. She returned to Grand Rapids and eventually launched the Grand Rapids Social Diary in 2009—she would send photographers to document events around town, post the photos on Facebook, and guests at the event would tag themselves. This idea took off, and in 2010 she saw an opportunity to monetize her business and began charging for event coverage. In 2011, the business was rebranded as Stellafly in an effort to expand the efforts outside of Grand Rapids and even outside the state. Today, Stellafly does the day-to-day online messaging for organizations such as Grand Rapids Public Schools and TEDx Grand Rapids. They are also covering events that range from art openings to concerts to black tie galas.
The evening ended with Christian Saylor, Creative Director and Joe Johnston, Director of User Experience and Director of R & D for Universal Mind, interviewing each other. When asked what inspires him, Johnston answered that he loves “watching people interact with things.” He grew up on a farm so when he could, he would go to the mall and watch people do just that—interact with things. Saylor is inspired by storytelling. He told of car rides with his father who would tell him and his siblings captivating stories, and talked about the walks he takes with his wife, where they discuss the books they are reading and his favorite question to ask her is, “What’s the story?” Saylor and Johnston like to look at their projects through the lens of a great story, looking at who they are designing for and what the end product will be, based on their story.
Grand Rapids is overflowing with creativity and design, and the interviewees at tonight’s Design/Educate/Connect event were an incredible representation of this city’s talent, and it truly showed the wide variety of ways that design can be viewed. What is your definition of “design?”
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