Detroit's roots in design and creativity run deep. Yes, automobiles, but also architecture, advertising, food, drinks, fashion and beyond. Detroit's impact across design isn't limited to just the 139 square miles of the city, but extends around the entire world.
In December 2015, the Director-General of UNESCO added Detroit to the UNESCO Creative Cities Network. With this distinction, Detroit joins a network of 116 member cities in 54 countries that include Berlin, Bilbao, Buenos Aires, Singapore, Beijing, and others. What is even more special is that Detroit is the United States' first
UNESCO City of Design. (More information about UNESCO and Creative Cities Network can be found here
With support from Mayor Mike Duggan and various community members, the Detroit Creative Corridor Center (DC3) applied for the UNESCO designation on behalf of the city during the summer of 2015. Successfully receiving this designation reinforces DC3's commitment and organizational focus on supporting growth in Detroit's design industries. To support the application, a short film was created to introduce some of Detroit's design fields and begin the conversation of "what makes Detroit a city of design?" (Watch the film, which was directed by Emmy award-winning local filmmaker Stephen McGee, below.)
What makes Detroit a city of design?
Detroit design and industry made the world mobile, fundamentally changing the way we move, work, and live. There is not a city in the developed world that has not been influenced by the products of Detroit design. As the cradle of American modernism, Detroit has a rich legacy as a global center of design, including such greats as Eames, Knoll, Bertoia, Diffrient, Rapson, Weese, Saarinen, Libeskind, Yamasaki, Kahn, Dow, Earle, Mead, and scores of other accomplished design specialists. But design remains a significant driver of our regional and state economies and an important piece of our cultural fabric today.
Our region is home to the highest concentration and quantity of commercial and industrial designers in the U.S. Michigan's design industries represent over 13 different fields of specialty. Over half of Michigan's design workforce, totaling approximately 10,000 individuals, is located in metropolitan Detroit.
Our region is home to globally renowned educational institutions, including College for Creative Studies, Cranbrook Academy of Art, University of Michigan's Taubman School of Architecture and Penny Stamps School of Art and Design, University of Detroit Mercy College of Architecture, and Lawrence Technological University.
Research and Innovation:
Separate from the auto industry, other globally significant brands such as General Electric, Herman Miller, Carhartt, Warrior Sports, Steelcase, Newell Rubbermaid, Whirlpool, Delta Faucets/American Standard (MASCO), and Haworth have located major design research centers in southeast Michigan.
Design is ubiquitous throughout our region's economy. A few examples:
- CAN Art Handworks, a metalworks studio focused on historic preservation that uses reclaimed materials to develop new ideas and inventions
- Cyberoptix Tie Lab, a unique textile design and printing business operating in Eastern Market
- Rossetti, a global architecture firm specializing in sports and entertainment design
- Mobel Link, sustainably-produced modern furniture made in Detroit's Russell Industrial Center since 1988
- Skidmore Studios, a boutique creative firm that helps entertainment brands connect to millennials
- Sundberg Ferar, one of the country's oldest product design firms
Detroit's design industry is promoting grassroots change as well. This includes community pillars like Pewabic Pottery to newcomers like Grace in Action's Radical Productions, a youth-run technology collective that provides website and app design services and a youth training program. Community-driven design is improving our city's landscape with projects like the Lincoln Street Art Park and others. Makerspaces like Talking Dolls Community Makerspace and OmniCorp Detroit are bringing residents together to tinker and innovate.
What does design mean for the future of our city?
The UNESCO designation recognizes that Detroit is a place that embraces design as a driver for sustainable development. However, the designation itself is just one tool to implement a larger strategy. All of us together, not just DC3, must work together to use the tool over the 10 years of the designation. Being part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network will allow Detroit and its region to participate in a global exchange of ideas focused on using design to address development challenges in industrial cities.
But for what purpose?
The power of this designation is in its ability to unify our community around design as a driver of Detroit's development. It also will serve as a catalyst for conversations about design in and around the city, allowing for the impact of design to reach a greater audience and make Detroit an even more vibrant place.
Our vision is that through meaningful collaborations, discussions, and partnerships, we can build a long-term vision for what this means and how to achieve it. Every person, neighborhood, business and organization in Detroit has a role to play in this ambitious endeavor.
Detroit City of Design cannot simply be a moniker or a logo. It must be an attitude backed up by collective action. In order to jumpstart the conversation and get a better understanding of how best to approach this momentous task, we invite you to reflect on what Detroit City of Design should stand for over the next 10 years here
. Answers to this question will be compiled into a word cloud and shared in the coming weeks.
Olga Stella is the new executive director of the Detroit Creative Corridor Center (DC3). Ellie Schneider has been DC3's associate director for the past three years. DC3 was launched in 2010 by Business Leaders of Michigan and College for Creative Studies. Over the last five years, it has developed and executed a strategy to establish Detroit as a global center of design through business support, attraction efforts, and events including Drinks x Design and the Detroit Design Festival.