The Rapidian

D/E/C showcases local creative entrepreneurs

On Friday night, the GRAM hosted Design/Educate/Connect, a series of interviews with business owners.
Cliff Wegner and Tom Crimp

Cliff Wegner and Tom Crimp /Samantha Macy/Fifteen-Seventeen

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Tyler Way and Adrienne Rehm

Tyler Way and Adrienne Rehm /Samantha Macy/Fifteen-Seventeen

Jill DeVries and Marissa Kulha

Jill DeVries and Marissa Kulha /Samantha Macy/Fifteen-Seventeen

Design/Educate/Connect partners with the GRAM to showcase local entrepreneurs who bridge the gap between design and business. On March 22, the third annual D/E/C event featured seven business owners.

One characteristic of D/E/C is the fact that the interviewees are interviewed by people who they know well- often colleagues, friends, or partners)\. The organizers decided to do this because they wanted to get past basic questions and gain a unique insight to their motivations and business goals.

The first interview was with Cliff Wegner, interviewed by Tom Crimp. Wegner is the owner of Mighty in the Midwest, a web and mobile development company. One topic the interview touched on was mobile-first design.

"We don't do any work nowadays that isn't responsive, and that isn't built for varying devices," says Wegner. "That mobile adherence is in all the work that we do." Mobile-first is a priority for Mighty in the Midwest because "it's not necessarily mobile-first, it's future-first." They went on to discuss the future of social media and Grand Rapids as a hotbed for tech businesses.

The second interviewee was Jill DeVries, a local photographer, interviewed by Marissa Kulha. DeVries became interested in photography around the time when she was finishing high school and beginning college, and has been doing photography full time for three years. Many photographers avoid wedding photography, but weddings make up a majority of DeVries' work.

"For me, they are absolutely my favorite thing," says DeVries. "Part of that is because relationships are the most important part of my life…weddings, if nothing else, are a celebration of that." 

Another topic that came up was Grand Rapids, and what's keeping DeVries in this city when she could be working from anywhere.

"I love traveling, I love every time I get to go somewhere new, but coming home to Grand Rapids is always the best feeling. I love this city," she says. "I think there's just something in the air here, these people who are, everyone is doing something creative."

The third interview was with Tyler Way, interviewed by Adrienne Rehm. Way made a business of customizing shoes, and now works as a shoe designer for Wolverine. For ArtPrize 2012, he was a part of Fashion Has Heart in collaboration with Threadless, which was in the top five venues of ArtPrize. Fashion Has Heart pairs wounded veterans with artists to help veterans tell their stories through t-shirts and military-style boots. Now he's working on another iteration of the project, with five more wounded veterans, looking for five more artists to help.

Next up was Derek Coppess, interviewed by Monica Clark. Coppess is the developer who is working on 616 Lofts. Despite the seeming disconnect between development and design, the two are quite connected.

"From a design standpoint, I feel like we go from a very human start, with the structuring of deals." Coppess says. "Then going to an actual design concept with architects to take a space and start to program what's going to happen there."

"Creation, for me, is what does it. It's what I get in trouble with," says Coppess of what drives him.

That ideal, that focus on creation, is what drives everyone who was at D/E/C.

The penultimate interview was with Laura Caprara, interviewed by Eric Kuhn. Caprara was trained as a graphic designer, worked at an ad agency for several years, then freelanced as a graphic designer. When Facebook rolled around, she became interested in it, and started a social media and public relations company, Stellafly. With Stellafly, and it's precursor Grand Rapids Social Diary, Caprara has become a major player in the world of marketing and PR in Grand Rapids.

The final interview deviated from the earlier ones, in that both subjects were interviewing each other. Christian Saylor and Joe Johnson, both from Universal Mind, a user experience design firm, discussed how they each became interested in user experience design.

"I loved to watch people kind of interact with things. I was really intrigued by how they interacted with each other and also with digital things," says Johnson. For him, design is about empathy and making people feel a certain way. Saylor, on the other hand, was attracted by the storytelling aspect of design, inspired by the stories his father told him when he was young. With the rest of the team at Universal Mind, they make projects like One Second Epic and Horseplay, bridging play with design and storytelling to make winning products.

D/E/C errs on the business side of the connection between it and design, and helps to foster a community of people who are designing, educating and connecting within our community.

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