Creating community and pride within the design scene in West Michigan

The COVID-19 pandemic left an evident impact on the industry and the networking opportunities available for the design community. Even dealing with the decrease of networking events and opportunities to make connections, there are still key figures and groups working to change the impact left by the pandemic.

Christy Ennis-Kloote has been at the core of almost every user experience (UX) design project in Grand Rapids and made connections beyond the city, including the Kalamazoo design scene. The UX Director at Argenta Park and consultant at Latticework says the UX discipline was still maturing when she came into the field 20 years ago.
Photo by Tommy Allen
“The gap I saw was a need for advocacy and education, especially in the Midwest, to elevate the understanding of what good UX means,” Ennis-Kloote says. “So, it was out of a need I saw and an opportunity to push and learn more myself.”

Ennis-Kloote adds that she is proud of the legacy she has made in building up the community and creating local support. The ripple effect has been even more leaders and experts in the field being built up at the same time. The impact has meant job growth, new roles, new opportunities for education and experiences designed locally while seen internationally.
Photo by Tommy Allen
Ennis-Kloote is open about past platforms not being effective in reaching future designers. She is personally reaching out to people beyond Meetup and Facebook and attempting to reach others through such diverse social media platforms as Discord or Slack. Ennis-Kloote also wishes to see growth and more inclusiveness in the evolution of the craft, especially locally where she feels the needs, in comparison to the broader conversations in the industry, require bonds over a deeper love for the craft to push one another.

“The skills needed in UX are still evolving and new ways to experience services and products continue to evolve,” she says. “I appreciate the professional national organizations that can influence broader conversation. Our local needs however are unique. We right now are in dire need of the next generation to design and craft the network they want for their future.”

The American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) West Michigan chapter, one of the most well-known design resources, created a lot of buzz within the national organization but has also been affected by the pandemic.

Pre-COVID, No Agenda was initially founded to gauge interest and viability in an active AIGA chapter for the area, says Sara Klele, organizer of No Agenda, an event for the design community to network and socialize. AIGA WM was eventually founded in 2009 but became inactive, like many community organizations, because of the pandemic.
Photo by Tommy AllenKlele explains that this absence of design community events was heavily felt, so after meeting with some of her design friends this past spring, she was ready to create more of those missed networking moments.
Photo by Tommy Allen
Photo by Tommy Allen“The ‘No Agenda’ event name is familiar to a lot of people because of its history here, so it made sense to use that title again,” says Klele about the event appropriately named for not having an agenda and targeted at those interested in the design scene to simply just socialize with like-minded individuals. As she further explains, networking is a term that is not always viewed as favorable and organic.

After the first No Agenda meetup on June 1 at Speciation Cellars on Wealthy Street in Grand Rapids, Klele knew the turnout of designers, photographers, writers and friends was one that could not be ignored. Hopeful about re-establishing the design community built over the past decade, she says the overall response from attendees was how great it was to have an in-person design community event. “I think we're all really craving community.”
Photo by Tommy Allen
Photo by Tommy AllenKlele, who recently retired from the AIGA West Michigan board after seven years in various event and programming roles, adds that the board is currently open and waiting for new leaders to guide the design community into the post-pandemic world.

“Events naturally create new connections, whether that be new friends or potential business partners. And especially now, with remote work being the norm, we all need to get out and meet new people or reconnect with old colleagues and friends.”

From furniture to shoes, from arts to education to even policy creation, design is everywhere you look. Designed in Michigan, a new story series coming out of West Michigan, is devoted to sharing the expansive role design plays in Michigan's past, present and future. It is made possible through the support of Kendall College of Art and Design and Landscape Forms.

My Bio:
Shanika P. Carter is an author, freelance writer, editor, and adjunct communications instructor. She is also the Principal Consultant of The Write Flow & Vibe, LLC (, offering writing, editing, and content development services to a variety of clientele, including fellow authors and businesses. Shanika is the author of the book To Lead or Not to Lead, which was released in 2019.

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