Design and Collaboration in West Michigan

Kendall students examine and exhibit local design, manufacturing, and marketing

On the fourth floor of what used to be the Grand Rapids Historic Federal Building, Kendall College of Art and Design has made a home for its Collaborative Design program. Here we are able to study, collaborate, and create in an inspiring environment.

A unique feature of this study space is a student lounge area where we can exhibit a variety of works focused on collaborative design efforts. One current exhibit tells the story of a Grand Haven company, Light Corp and their Voyage task light. The product was produced by a West Michigan company, and designed by West Michigan native, Tom Newhouse. Through studying the exhibit our fellow students, as well as those of us who organized it,  are able to understand how design and collaboration come together in the real world. Focused on the design process the show includes everything from the design brief, to the manufacturing process, to the finished product and packaging.

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Courtesy Light Corporation © All Rights Reserved

Courtesy Light Corporation © All Rights Reserved

The first steps we took in organizing the show were to gather information and artifacts from all the involved parties. We met with Tom Newhouse, an established industrial designer, at his home studio in Grand Rapids. He has been designing lighting and furniture for over 30 years and spent time working at Herman Miller. Tom approaches design using his “Four Corners Philosophy,” which focuses in on equal parts aesthetics, sustainability, ergonomics, and economy. From Newhouse we began to collect the building blocks for the exhibit such as his early sketches and his first wooden model. After hearing the designer’s side of the design story, we realized how much collaboration it took to go from early concepts to the finished product. At one point in the design process Newhouse and Light Corp engineer Mark Meyer worked closely together to create the aesthetically pleasing and functional head for the light; they figured it out, after many iterations.

With this solid foundation we went on to meet with the Light Corp team in Grand Haven. Here we saw the engineering, manufacturing, and marketing side of the story. Light Corp is a specialty lighting company that focuses on the design and manufacture of efficient workspace and industrial lighting. Many of their products are created in West Michigan. After touring the production facility and seeing where the Voyage lights are put together, we asked for the lamp’s technical renderings and parts. With artifacts from all the different sides of the story in place, we were ready to start piecing together our exhibit.

Courtesy Carly Gussert

Courtesy Carly Gussert

As we finalized the exhibit, we were amazed to see how much of the process took place right here in West Michigan. Tom Newhouse did all the design work from his home studio in Grand Rapids. Light Corp took care of the engineering and marketing in Grand Haven. The Voyage lamp is made of parts from 15 different West Michigan companies.

With all of these resources readily available, West Michigan is fast approaching the explosion of a good design culture.

As sophomores involved in the Collaborative Design program, we were no strangers to the design process. But working on this project helped us gain a true understanding of how complex those processes can be when design is on a commercial scale.

Designing this exhibit was a great experience for us to learn, as well as to teach other students, about collaboration and design in West Michigan. This is just one of many exciting things happening here at Kendall College of Art and Design, the Grand Rapids area, and in our region of the state.

Courtesy Tom Newhouse

Project Team

Creative directors: Gayle DeBruyn, Collaborative Design Program chair, KCAD; and John Berry, executive director, Design West Michigan

Art director: Justin Beitzel

Graphic designer: Leah Cannaert

Copywriter: Karin Lannon

Light Corp: Lynne Bosgraaf, Mark Meyer, Justin Moorehead

Tom Newhouse: Thomas J. Newhouse Design

Video Courtesy Light Corporation © All Rights Reserved

Justin Beitzel is studying industrial design with a minor in collaborative design at Kendall College of Art and Design where Leah Cannaert studies graphic design and collaborative design.

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