This weekend is the Michigan International Auto Show and ithas it all — from practical to grandiose and even downright exotic; if you love cars — or just pretty/shiny things — you will be in heaven at the #grautoshow16!
Car manufacturers from around the world bring their finest traveling displays with new vehicles – including sedans, vans, SUV’s, trucks, hybrids and sports cars to Grand Rapids. Not only is the Auto Show a great place to shop and compare options for every day vehicles, it is also the first opportunity for West Michigan residents to see many of the most recently released or “soon to be released” models!
On Wednesday, we had the unique opportunity of getting a sneak preview of this weekend’s show at the MichiganInternational Auto Show Charity Spectacular benefiting Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. The event supported more than 20 different programs at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. During the event, guests explored hundreds of new vehicles on display while enjoying a delicious strolling dinner and a live Wolverine WorldwideFashion Show.
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?”
Wendy Wassink works in a building with a huge sparkly sign out front that reads “WOW.”
It suits her.
She lives on Red Bull and once wore a giant papier-mache cardinal head. She uses the phrase “out the wazoo” in her professional bio. She’s wearing bright yellow pointy-toed high heels (outrageous shoes are her thing) that add three inches to her height and walks effortlessly in them, despite a recent knee injury that had her sprawled face down on her son’s soccer field.
The moms were invited to join the game. Naturally, she was in. Wet grass is slippery.
Wassink is the cofounder of Kantorwassink, a Grand Rapids advertising agency with a list of heavy-hitting clients and international awards, well, out the wazoo.
She and longtime best friend and ad partner Dave Kantor started the business six years ago after successful and stressful careers in the top ad firms up and down Chicago’s Michigan Avenue.
There’s no doubt you’ve seen her stuff.
She was behind such memorable campaigns as Did Somebody Say McDonald’s?, Never Miss a Genuine Opportunity for Miller Genuine Draftand the breakthrough campaign that reinvigorated Cadillac, launched the Cadillac Escalade into rap-video superstardom and left Wassink, as she likes to say, “incredibly sick and tired of Led Zeppelin.”
Effervescent and witty, Wassink has been creative since she was a kid growing up in Des Moines.
Her dad was an electrical engineer who loved to tinker. Her mom was a stay at home super mom who led everything from the PTA to Girl Scouts.
Dad was always welding something. Mom was a craft queen. Wendy soaked it all in.
As a kid she played on a softball team called the Cardinals. When they entered a float in a hometown parade, Wendy’s mom crafted 13 red papier-mache cardinal heads for the girls to wear.
“It was quite a spectacle,” Wassink recalls with a grin.
She loves spectacle.
In third grade she entered a coloring contest sponsored by Peter Pan peanut butter. Grand Prize was a family trip to Disney World.
Young Wendy went for the wow. She made copies of the page then set to work embellishing her entries with bits of tissue paper and foam. She entered five times.
“When they called my parents to tell them I won, they said I would have won first, second, third, fourth and fifth place,” she says with a laugh.
While other fourth graders saw ads and wanted stuff, Wendy was fascinated by the logos. She loved to write. She went on to major in journalism at the University of Iowa.
Part art, part writing, advertising captivates her.
“It’s conceptual, it’s strategic,” she says. “It’s like solving a puzzle, solving a big problem with creativity.
“Advertising is a funny thing,” she muses, at her glossy red conference table. “Everybody watches ads, they like a good one, but everybody thinks, ‘I can do that.’
“It’s not just about having a wacky idea,” she says. “It has to be a creative idea that moves people to do something.
“People hear our name and say, ‘Oh, that’s the crazy creative shop,’” she says. She smiles. “They don’t realize how deviously deep our work is.”
They did the ad campaign for Ferris State University — simple black lettered statements on a bright yellow background.
“Our graduation gowns come with the sleeves rolled up,” one Ferris billboard boasts. “Where are you going?” asks the side of a Ferris-festooned city bus.
“Those ads are deceptively simple, but they’ve been wickedly effective,” Wassink says. “Enrollment is way up. It’s broken through the clutter. It’s strong, it’s vibrant, it’s bold. It’s about what the university is doing for you.
“What moves us the most is if it’s really, really smart,” she says. “We can make anything look good or sound funny. These ads are changing peoples’ perception of what Ferris is.”
“We think way too much and way too deeply about every single word,” she says. “We use our street smarts, our intelligence and our guts.”
She and Dave were high fliers in Chicago. But it was wearing on them.
“I’m wildly, insanely passionate about what I do,” Wassink says. “I’m kind of weirdly obsessed by it.
“But the corporate politics…” She sighs. “It lost its luster for me. I no longer had the passion for doing what I loved.”
She had been living in Grand Rapids for 14 years with her husband, Mark, an attorney. She commuted to Chicago. She and Dave had clients in Detroit.
They were drained.
“We needed to get closer to rolling up our sleeves and getting creative again,” she says.
So they had this crazy idea. They’d open up their own shop in Grand Rapids. Big city talent at Midwest prices.
Kantorwassink was named one of the 2011 “Michigan 50 Companies to Watch” by the Edward Lowe Foundation and listed on Inc. Magazine’s “5000 Fastest Growing Companies” last year.
“I have the passion back,” Wassink says happily. “I no longer get to fly first class to Europe to do glamorous shoots, but I love it again.”
What inspires all this creativity? Nacho cheese Doritos? Yoga?
At the mention of yoga, Wassink laughs her head off.
“I’m not a yoga kind of person,” she says. “I’m the original ADHD. I’m a caffeine camel. I’m always chewing gum.
“The hardest thing is turning it off,” she says. “I’m inspired by everything. I have ideas about everything.”
Wassink works a lot. Lately, she’s been putting in 80-hour weeks. But she knows how to play.
She and Mark have two sons, Henry, 10, and Theo, 7. They all love sports events and travel and eating. They have a small studio condo in Chicago and love exploring the city.
“My kids can hail cabs and eat sushi,” she says.
Henry inherited his mom’s creativity, recently winning his school’s version of ArtPrizeby creating a “psycho snow boarding bunny” out of recycled materials. (Much of it was made out of empty Red Bull cans.)
Wassink helped him hot glue it all together.
Theo, born with some developmental delays, recently made a 10-foot paper alligator with mom’s crafty help.
Theo has changed her, Wassink says.
“He wakes up with a smile on his face every day,” she says. “I have to show you a picture.”
She leaps up and clickety clacks away in her bright yellow high heels, returning with a photo of the brown-eyed cutie.
“For the first year of his life, I was scared,” she says, gazing at his photo. “I was used to solving problems, taking control of situations. This wasn’t anything I could control.
“I learned a lot about myself,” she says. “I learned what’s important. Theo is slow to do things and that’s so good for me.” She smiles. “It’s the opposite of me.
“I’ve never been one to sweat the small stuff anyway,” Wassink says, “but it’s a good reminder. He helps me see what’s great in life, because he loves everything. He’s here to help me pace myself a little, to delight in things.”
She delights in her work.
“This is our craft,” she says. “We have to love what we make. Be proud of what we make. It’s art, more than profession.”
Being a good role model feeds her, too, she says.
“I have a lot of young women working for me,” Wassink says. “I like showing them that women can be successful and speak their mind and be fun without giving up their femininity.”
Ads make some people reach for the TV remote mute button. Wassink talks of their greater power.
“We have the power to help companies be better,” she says. “The stronger we can make Ferris, the stronger West Michigan is. There’s power in that.”
She strolls past examples tacked to the walls of campaigns for children’s hospitals and arts organizations.
“What can we do to help them?” she asks. “There’s powerful good in what we do.”