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The State of Design in West Michigan (Part 1)

The first West Michigan Design Week is to begin May 5 and Lifestyle Editor Tommy Allen presents the first of a two-part series that takes a look at a few new creative projects in various stages of their development.
For many in the creative or entrepreneurial fields - two areas not dissimilar, in my view - what we end up enacting from the paintbrush to the business plan is often the sum of our parts, an orchestration of our definitions, and often something fresh, heart-stopping, and wonderful.

For artists, there are many possible methods to get the work from an idea to a gallery wall. From my perspective, the best paths have always been those where the artist develops a sense of control based on both the starting point as well as the vision of what's ahead.

With the first West Michigan Design Week about to begin May 5, today's editorial is the first in a two-part series that takes a look at a few new creative projects in various stages of their development. Each project has ignited my imagination with its power. Each one has an element of power within, helping me understand the answer to my question: What is the design aesthetic of West Michigan?  

Two gentlemen in our city who are not afraid to jump in with both (well, four) feet are Brant Raterink and Scott Naylor of the newly formed MANUFACTURE. Their business is a new, full-spectrum experiential firm devoted to bridging the gap between the ideas and the actual spaces where a firm's story can be manifested via designs created for the physical world.

Raterink, who earned not one but two degrees in business and interior design from two area colleges says, "Every business has a story they hope to tell and we have learned that design can help them bring to life this message." (Naylor was not available for our interview.)

This would be an ordinary speech if Raterink was just talking about the design we know from the singular experience we often associate with the production of "the thing" the client desires. The duo's vision is much bigger and more fluid. The mission of MANUFACTURE: is to elevate our relation to the physical space in a new experiential manner that is designed just for your firm. MANUFACTURE: seeks to enact your brand as a story within a physical space, whether it's a storefront or a temporary place popped up in time. MANUFACTURE: seeks to create something remarkable for you and your audience to experience.

"There's something about embodying a story in a space or object that suddenly makes it tangible for people. It allows them to connect with, engage and in a way take ownership because of their new understanding," says Raterink. "Well designed spaces tell stories, stories of the owner's reason for being in business, stories of the products being sold."

Even the choice of the name "MANUFACTURE:" with a colon was a deliberate act so the brand would be portable to other places around the world. This mission of exporting design from our region based on a collaborative model is something we understand well here.

MANUFACTURE: has served TEDxGrandRapids, ArtPrize, and Five Star – a real estate firm where Raterink, after listening to the story of the firm and their needs, created an innovative, smart, modern "pop-in" space.

The pop-in spaces, scattered around the city, enable Five Star's agents to host a client within a relaxed atmosphere that is more home-like than a stuffy business conference room, with tables and high stools but also comfy areas to discuss details on a project.

The design by Raterink produces an oasis-like calm for all parties engaging in this sometimes stress-filled transactional matter. The space simply removes all the other distractions one often encounters within restaurants or coffee shops, where loud baristas or unexpected interruptions from an old college friend could derail the client's attention (and possibly the agent's ability to close the deal).

As MAUNFACTURE: seeks to tell a firm's story via design, its business model has the potential to combine design thinking with an entrepreneurial spirit and contribute to a new movement in our region. By envisioning, designing, and manufacturing what a client needs, they are setting a new standard for others to consider, whether launching a new brick and mortar storefront or hosting a temporary branded event.  

MANUFACTURE: Grand Rapids has already played a role in the upcoming launch of the contemporary furniture manufacturer Globe Vise & Truck's newest element, about to hit the road and take our legacy of design with them. Globe Vise & Truck's product line reveals visually their influence from our city's past as they revisit vintage manufacturing practices and early plans (many from the early pencil drawings captured in sketchbooks long filed away on shelves).

Globe - a very popular Grand Rapids manufacturer started by immigrant brothers in 1905 – evolved over the years before finally transferring to Ted Velie in 2012. Seeking to move beyond the mere imitation and rapid reproduction of vintage designs, Velie, along with master woodworker Scott Laraway, will take another leap with the launch of new product lines via the soon-to-be-christened Globe Vise & Truck Truck.

The truck will be a new-era designer showroom, carrying this locally handmade brand to cities and towns via the highway on a newly spun mobile platform. To Globe and to MANUFACTURE:, this truck, with its nod to our past, is another way in a digital world that our local designs can begin to break out, thus ensuring that good design can come to you where you live and work.

"I have learned that good design connects people, things and ideas and pushes causes and community forward," says Raterink. (Here is a link to Globe's re-launch covered in Rapid Growth previously in 2012.)

Next week, we will dive into how two businesses committed to Design with a Big D are shaking up our community and our world, including A.K. Rikk's being named by the international fashion publication MR Magazine as one of the 10 Most Influential Stores in Menswear

The Future Needs All of Us.

Tommy Allen
Lifestyle Editor

BONUS: This week's nod to good design has inspired Tommy to feature four brand new events that are making their debut in our region. All of these are sure to be a hit in the years to come - G-Sync Events: Let’s Do This!

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