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Coming Unstuck

Posted September 14, 2011 in Classes & PresentationsEvents

How many of us scramble to get our Powerpoint slides in order before a major presentation—especially one on how design can help jump-start the economy?

Not Ralph Caplan.

Ralph Caplan Design West Michigan

Caplan is the founding editor of I.D. Magazine, author of several books, past director of the International Design Conference in Aspen and the 2010 recipient of the National Design Award from the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.

Caplan was in Grand Rapids on Thursday, Sept. 8, to present “Coming Unstuck: Thinking about Design in a Stalled Economy.”

The event was a collaboration of Design West Michigan and Kendall College of Art and Design, which plans this as the inaugural event of the Kendall International Design Colloquium.

And he had only two slides. “I don’t have any visuals,” he said apologetically. “I don’t even have any actuals. But designers don’t need slides—they can see it in their heads. It’s the clients who need the slides.”

But of his three slides, one was of a sheet of postage stamps, commemorating Pioneers of American Industrial Design. And he raised an interesting question: “Who designed the stamps?”

“Everything is designed,” he explained. And while thinking about design is difficult, not thinking about it is disastrous. And non-designers are beginning to realize that everything is designed. Quoting Julie Lasky,editor of Change Observer magazine, “Things don’t just fall from the sky.”

Design helped jump-start the economy after the Great Depression. That’s when Industrial Design really took off, as objects became sleeker, with rounded shapes and horizontal lines, a marked change from the fussy designs of the 1920’s.

But design cannot move the economy, said Caplan. But it can make it movable. And design integrity is essential to corporate integrity. “It’s a no-brainer,” he said. “And of course it’s good for business—so is good accounting, good engineering, and good management.”

Design West Michigan Audience

Caplan also reminded the audience of 250+ designers that, “What you design is never yours alone. Design is a collaborative effort, especially between designer and user. “It’s a heady experience when we see a message that we didn’t know could be expressed, or a product we didn’t know we needed.” Such is the power of design.

~Pamela Patton


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