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Student Collaborations

Collaborative Design Career Exploration and Studio Crawl: A Reflection

Collaborative Design student Jordan Murphy reflects on the first ever Career Exploration and Studio Hop. Students were invited to take the Friday to listen, watch, and dance through different design ideas, careers, and projects. Below you can read Murphy’s thoughts and highlights from the event.



To kick off our Career Exploration day and Studio Crawl, Derek Call joined us at KCAD to give a keynote presentation about his creative career. Call began his career as a volunteer at Sundance Film Festival where he made a connection that tacked his name onto 13 years worth of experience in the entertainment and special event industry. Call’s official title with his work for the Super Bowl is a Cast Coordinator and has held that position for 14 Super Bowl halftime shows. Call is responsible for coordinating the cast, crew, and performers during the rehearsals. He works with many people who need to be trained and every last detail is planned and repeatedly rehearsed– performers, fans, and crew members who, without perfect timing, could make or break the show. Call walked us through his 2019 event which featured Maroon 5, pointing out that the lighting changed with their setlist– each time, to create a new “mood” for the audience. The details are the most important part of this production, and rehearsals are key to pulling it off– especially in the case of Lady Gaga, who’s 2017 Super Bowl performance had Call raving. Call shared that a retired football trainer was brought in to coach Lady Gaga into how to catch a football. But in classic Gaga fashion, she showed up to rehearsals one day with a 5 pound crystalized football. Details had to be reconsidered in order to pull it off, but Call’s production exceeded expectations as it all worked out. Despite the energetic and nature of his work in the entertainment and special event industry, it is evident that he makes it a priority to have fun while working. Locally, Call is known as the Director of Operations & Productions at ArtPrize. In the end, Call compared his experiences with the Super Bowl and ArtPrize in terms of participation, event size, and curation methods. After Call’s exciting keynote, we moved towards our first Studio Crawl spot, Reagan Marketing.



Our first stop on our Studio Crawl was at Reagan Marketing, a beautiful building that has been their home for 8 years sits at 912 Wealthy St. SE. The building’s history is known by their employees, celebrated, and showcased after renovation. With floor to ceiling windows and an open floor plan, the architecture is a reflection the past,and what once used to be a drive-thru window has been restored. The glazed brick and flooring featured in their business is original to the building, and thoughtfully memorialized in their common area. Our tour through Reagan Marketing’s space introduced us to the different environments that await us as we move into more professional career opportunities. The open concept office features desks that offer privacy without being isolating, with a detail of “peep holes” for easy access to conversation– though, it’s been said that it isn’t uncommon for questions to be shouted across the room to make things easier. The space is comfortable and welcoming, with a lush garden in the back of the building. The integration of architectural landscape and interior design makes the workspace more inviting and comfortable. Reagan Marketing offers services such as graphic design, content marketing, event planning, and advertising.


Our next Studio Crawl stop brought us to ThoughtFull, a design consulting agency at 975 Cherry St. SE. The workspace that Collaborative Design alumni Connor Irwin and Ian Culver (2017) share with Tom DeVries is clean and crisp. Aside from a cozy lounge and a couple of desks, the space is easy to move around in. The building lets in a lot of natural light, surely encouraging thinking and promoting inspiration, and the style in which they work is obvious from the layout. Their workspace is lined with boards housing research and plans for current clients, and highlights past projects like Product Innovation for PepsiCo and World Vision. Our experience at ThoughFull took us through their process of diving deep to find more information and solutions, often times, clients expect their solutions to arise from little to no information. ThoughtFull has a refreshing approach to their design process. They know that branching out, investigating competitors, accepting the idea that no idea is too crazy, and investigating trends is crucial to finding a design solution. Currently, ThoughtFull is in collaboration with Air New Zealand for a complete redesign– including Customer and Inflight Experience. ThoughtFull is working to design a row of seats that can transform into a couch– and be the first ones to do it.



The final stop on our Studio Crawl brought us to The Understanding Group, a business management consultant group in an office space at 822 Cherry St SE. The Understanding Group specializes in creating a better user experience through information architecture. T.U.G. brings order to complex digital places– ones that are useful, scalable, and delightful. We met with Dan Klyn, Travis LaFleur, and Grant Carmichael– who are three of a multidisciplinary team of highly skilled information architects, researchers, and strategists who are passionate about the power of information architecture as a lens for problem solving. At this visit, a lot of us learned about what information architecture means, how they work with their clients, and how it is important to the design world. The Understanding Group works with a range of clients. Herman Miller approached T.U.G. to improve navigation issues and user experience for their website expansion. Working in organizing information for clients in a way that users can understand, we were introduced to an aspect of design that can be overlooked by students when it comes to UX design. The atmosphere was fun and inviting, Grant, Dan, and Travis provided a fun and light visit that made a great end to our Studio Tour.



Our day wrapped up with Soul Club back at KCAD. Andrew Christopoulos, Mike Saunders, and Josh Breuer lead a conversation about their history as DJ’s– as well as provided information about the history of the Grand Rapids music scene. Soul Club takes classic tracks from the 70’s and 80’s and remixes them. The different generations that attended enjoyed the iconic music with current attributes.

After a long Studio Crawl, it was fun to end the day with dancing and delicious food! You can catch Soul Club at their events on every first Sunday of the month, find out more at

Designing in a Different Country: Nicaragua Summer Study Away

In this guest blog, Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) Collaborative Design student Elizabeth Bush recounts her experience working alongside faculty and students from KCAD and Grand Valley State University this summer to help students and faculty from the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua learn how to design and implement solutions to pressing challenges.

While most college students spend the first month of their summer break road-tripping, working, or just binging on Netflix, I, along with a group of students, professors, and interested community members from both Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) and Grand Valley State University (GVSU), ventured to Nicaragua to explore how the power of design extends beyond cultural and geographic boundaries.

There, we partnered with professors and students from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Nicaragua, (UNAN), to better understand environmental and social issues that occur in the country and help drive solutions to those issues.

This trip was condensed into a tight timeframe of three weeks. Before we departed, I prepared myself for what would be, in my mind, a “normal” trip—some exploring of the land (hiking, swimming, etc.), some relaxation, and lots of getting to know my peers in the class. However, it was much more of a learning experience than that.

While there were many things we could have focused on during our time in Nicaragua, we narrowed down our learning and exploration to three main topics: rising temperatures (I used to think Michigan summers were brutal, but these temperatures were like nothing I’d ever felt before), water contamination and conservation (we were advised to not eat street food or drink any water not from bottles to avoid becoming sick), and toxic and compact soil. All three issues pertain to environmental and community impacts that Nicaragua experiences year after year.

On top of that, while staying with host families, we did not have air conditioning and rarely did we have running water for a shower, two things that feel like blessings after a long, hot day. Before embarking on the trip, I had envisioned witnessing these problems, but didn’t realize how much we’d encounter them personally. After a while, it became natural to empathize with Nicaraguans and the problems that their environment creates for them.

When we were not focused on learning, researching, and designing solutions to problems, we were playing. We hiked, kayaked, swam, tasted, talked, and explored the beautiful environment that Nicaragua offers. We traveled around the country to many cities to sample different types of cultures, environments, and living situations. One of the most enriching parts of this experience was being able to talk with peers in Nicaragua. We specifically got to know our translators, college students from UNAN, remarkably well. Making connections in Nicaragua with students, professors, and community members are some of the best things I could have brought home from my experience.

The last week of the trip was spent in Esteli, one of Nicaragua’s fastest growing and progressive cities, where we held a design workshop titled “XIII Taller Iniciativa Global de Innovacion Aplicada” or, in English, the “XIII Workshop Global Initiative for Applied Innovation.” Here, our group from KCAD and GVSU led 150 students and professors from all of UNAN’s different locations in practicing the full design process, from researching and comprehending the problem all the way to sketching, prototyping, and presenting ideas.

Not one UNAN participant was alike; everyone brought different education levels, income levels, backgrounds, experiences, and interests to the table. This made for diverse conversations and ideas, which in turn made the whole experience that much more engaging. However, with a diversified group came predictable problems that most teams encountered. There was some head-butting when it came to solution ideation, with some members hyperfocusing on a specific solution and ignoring other’s suggestions. Yet when creative minds set aside their differences, genuinely great ideas can result from it.

User-centered design was at the forefront of the design process during the workshop. As workshop facilitators, we encouraged groups to remember their target audience’s education levels, main speaking language, and age. Designing and marketing for a target market is key, especially when trying to sell products that are brand new to a market.

Nicaraguans, just like other people all over the world, seem to be set in their ways. Traditions are passed down from generation to generation with little desire to change. With these challenges, participants of the workshop managed to tailor their designs to counteract these difficulties.

In the end, workshop participants did a stellar job of using limited resources, narrow and occasionally stubborn user groups, and combined group efforts to create and present their ideas and products. It was inspiring to watch peers imagine and make their ideas reality. It was even more inspiring to watch them motivate each other.

Boxing up and bringing home this entire Nicaraguan experience was a challenge all its own. The ideas of splitting work and play equally (and learning from both), creating with a diverse group of people despite major design constraints, and always thinking about the target audience during the entire design process will transfer directly into my work here at KCAD.

Not only did I make connections with students and professors in Nicaragua that I now consider dear friends, but I also experienced and learned about problems that we do not regularly encounter in the United States.Designing in, and for, a different country is only learned by being there and experiencing the issues first hand. I encourage any student interested in design, travel, and truly “thinking outside the box” to attend this, or any study away opportunity, in the future.

Adventures at UNTITLED.

On a cold and dark November morning, as the snow lay crisp and shiny, we pulled our fully loaded truck out of a parking lot in Grand Rapids and started off on a journey to warmer destinations. We were heading south to Miami Beach, but we weren’t making this 22-hour drive to work on our tans down by the ocean or bask in the neon nightlife; we had work to do, and serious work at that.

For the next five days, my fellow Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) student Eric Schroeder and I were given the opportunity to work with the Grand Rapids-based nonprofit art organization SiTE:LAB to install artist Julie Schenkelberg’s massive piece, titled “Lumerian Shift,” at this year’s UNTITLED. Art Fair, the biggest contemporary art fair in North America.

We arrived in South Beach with the truck ready to be unloaded. Julie, SiTE:LAB founder/curator Paul Amenta and builder/handyman Bob Rogers were there to greet us, and we were all escorted to our ocean-side tent by Miami Beach police officers. As we began to empty the truck, we quickly filled our part of the exhibition space with Julie’s materials, drawing attention to what would be the biggest installation at UNTITLED.

The physical installation was rather efficient, and the first two days flew by successfully. This is the true magic of working with a collaborative group like SiTE:LAB; stuff just gets done when a bunch of people contribute their own talents and insights. For example, the piece was mostly pre-engineered at SiTE:LAB’s current headquarters on Rumsey St. in Grand Rapids by one of SiTE:LAB’s master builders, Tom Simmons. Because of this preparatory logistical planning, we went down with (just about) every detail and item we needed to assemble Julie’s piece smoothly.

Because “Lumerian Shift” was so enormous – the work curated by Paul is often at a scale incomparable to most – UNTITLED officials had allowed us to begin two days early (in fact, the UNTITLED curator we worked with continually encouraged us to “go bigger,” something that made us all happy). It was a bit comical to see people’s reactions as this 25-foot tower of beautifully aligned rubble was more or less completed by the time other galleries came in to hang their paintings and position their sculptures just right. In the end, we actually finished helping Julie earlier than anticipated. At that point, she needed to take over and go into detailed perfection, but Paul kept us busy by connecting us with the Chicago-based Carrie Secrist Gallery, and Eric and I headed to their area to help Brooklyn-based artist Danielle Tegeder with her installation.

OK, so turkey sandwiches and gas station food in a hotel for Thanksgiving dinner was different, but I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. The experience was incredible, especially for a student such as myself who aspires to do similar work in the future. I couldn’t be more thankful to KCAD for their support of SiTE:LAB and helping make connections for students in the world of art and design beyond the classroom, and of course to the entire SiTE:LAB crew for being such an amazing group of highly-talented, smart and creative individuals. Not only was this trip an extremely beneficial learning experience that provided me with new insights into the art world, it also provided possibilities for professional networking that I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else, and in warm, sunny Florida no less – how can you beat that?

To me, our experience in Miami strongly showcases the importance of student volunteering, and demonstrates how those opportunities can open up doors rarely imaginable otherwise as an undergrad student. As a collaborative designer, I find it critically important to blur the lines between art and design, especially as I find myself taking quite the cross-disciplinary approach to a creative career.

Do I plan to become a fine artist someday? Maybe. Do I plan to work with/for nonprofits, collaborate with individuals of different backgrounds, travel, build stuff, engineer things and work my butt off until I’m drained? Absolutely. And it’s experiences like this that makes me feel as if I’m heading in the right direction.

Oh, and the great feedback we received from Julie didn’t hurt either. Here’s what she had to say when we touched base with her after UNTITLED:

“Eric and Ian’s involvement was instrumental in assembling the installation. They were present to offer their skills of organization, design and understanding of the artistic process. It was important to stay organized in a limited amount of space and time to assemble the installation. They efficiently arranged and pre-staged materials that were constructed on-site into the sculpture. Their sensitivity to being present and ready to help while watching me make a decision was effectively smooth for the whole process.”

-Julie Schenkelberg