TEDxGrandRapids is a side project I’ve immersed myself into the past couple of years. It has been rewarding to work alongside such incredible design minds all passionately devoting their time and talents to ideas worth sharing. I posted a more detailed reflection on the efforts of our team at the TEDxGR site.

Photo by: Ryan Pavlovich www.ryanpphoto.com

I accepted my first job out of school way back in 1991. When I drove into downtown Grand Rapids for the first time, I tried to get a lay of the land, find the key intersections, where the hotspots were and what life was like downtown. GR was much more of a sleepy town back then and to be honest a major letdown to me as an impatient, early 20-something too allergic to live anywhere other than at the heart of a pulsing city. I distinctly remember seeing the Junior Achievement building on the corner of Fulton and Division during that drive and marveling at all it could be but simply wasn’t…yet.

I didn’t realize the potential of GR at that time but rather quickly I saw the things that were already in motion, first it was the people I was fortunate to meet, the creative minds I got to work with and share many cherished conversations. Then it was the little nooks, Kava House, San Chez, Vinyl Solution, Founders (the mere existence of the Reptile House was a remarkable relief to me at the time) and events like Festival of the Arts. Then came the big changes, the new UICA(s), the new GRAM, the Ecliptic, the downtown growing into a burgeoning hub and the people I’ve known for years coming into their own as artists, designers and business owners. GR has blossomed.

And there still, stands the JA Building. Adorned briefly with the beautiful installation ‘Project Propagate’ by Sally England and Nick Stockton during the inaugural ArtPrize, and a note of what is to come. When Paul Amenta mentioned that the JA was a possibility for the next SiTE:LAB, I realized that the site was going to become something I couldn’t even have imagined back on my first drive into GR all those years ago. As Paul said, “25,000 sq. feet of heaven!”

I was proud to be a collaborator for the first SiTE:LAB back in October and I am geeked to again work with Paul, Tom, Eric, Terry and all the artists, designers and volunteers who will help transform this icon into unique site-specific Art exhibition space over the next few months.

Join us for SiTE:LAB Praxis and Art.Downtown April 15th to become part of what’s in store for the old JA.

The White Stripes have just announced the end of their run as a band. And with a little sadness, I reflect upon the muse of Jack and Meg and their effect on my journey as a designer. “Little Room” off of the album White Blood Cells is a deliciously simple song – just 50 seconds of drums and vocals – that pretty much sums up the truth of the creative struggle and the stakes of finding a flow.

When I was digging into Omnigraffle on the iPad last year, this song is what I flowed out, which you can view here:

Little Room song diagram

Little Room

Creation, building something, can take on it’s own momentum and complexity will inevitably weigh in. This song is a reminder to not let the process take you, remember the purpose, the goals, the soul of what drove you (or the team or the project) in the first place.

The White Stripes are Artists but they also had the deft sensibilities of a Designer. Every song, every album cover, is a story and a study in reductive elegance. It’s fitting that their second album name is De Stijl. Red. Black. White. “…a backyard with nothing in it, except a stick, a dog and box with something in it”. The White Stripes show time and again that a simple palette and a deceptively banal scene can hang intrigue on its bones and invite a deeper gaze. While rocking out.

Find the story and magnify in the purest form possible what matters. That is my inspiration from The White Stripes and the challenge for all designers.

“I guess you have to have a problem if you want to invent a contraption…”

“Effect and Cause”
The White Stripes

Grand Rapids is ready

Grand Rapids is ready

There is only one more day to nominate Grand Rapids as a potential site for a test launch of Google Fiber which would offer speeds 100x typical broadband. What I see when I look at what Google Fiber can bring to Grand Rapids is a big opportunity. This was further reinforced in my mind after I was invited to join the steering committee for this effort and witnessed tireless dedication and enthusiasm from a diverse cross-section of the community, something I’ve seen again and again in this town.

If you also see this as a huge opportunity, I encourage you to nominate Grand Rapids by 7pm Friday 3/26. Also, be sure to check out goog616.com and the Facebook page of GoogleFiber4GrandRapids for more information.

If you aren’t so sure yet, here is my take on it that I hope you will take into consideration…

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ArtPrize Logo
Activesite photo

I am proud to announce that ThinkXD is a member of the ACTIVESITE collaborative, whose ACTIVESITE | artspace entry, will be entered into the premiere ArtPrize competition. What makes ArtPrize unique is not only that it has the largest award of it’s kind but that the competition will be voted on by the public. Artprize will be a city-wide exhibition of art from around the world taking place in Grand Rapids, MI starting September 23rd through October 10th 2009.

To find out more about ACTIVESITE | artspace go to:

Planning is underway with a diverse band of artisans conjuring up (and already prototyping) an intriguing blend of experiences…


Activesite Emerge, the recent announcement of Artprize and a social-media triggered Chalk Flood are just a few of the art-related events that had Grand Rapids electric with activity the past few weeks. Each are experiences designed to engage the public directly and raise awareness of what resources are available in their own community. Each in a way are stories about sustainability. One in particular, Activesite, I think embodies this directly.

Emerge was the fifth event by Activesite, a project that transforms a space, either a forgotten architectural gem, or one in-progress of being developed, into a unique sculpture exhibition celebrating Fine Arts student work, local products, talent and architecture.

I was completely enamored with the intent of Activesite. By fusing art with a space, artwork is created for the context of a particular space, which starts to distance the experience from viewing a collection of random works in a more traditional gallery setting. With this intent as a centerpiece, the event itself goes further by presenting local talent, products and cuisine in a lively club atmosphere with live-mixed soundscapes, sushi, Founders brews, Boxed Water and even a mad contraption that made custom t-shirts. This free event drew 1500 people and filled the night with four floors of art, exploration and conversation.

Those in attendance were enjoying the experience, but more importantly were plugged into the artists, spaces, businesses and thinking going on in our community. This exposure, along with the organization itself becoming a magnet of community and business support over the past two years, shows a path to sustainability. Emerge is the fifth event and the founders, Paul Amenta, Todd Ernst and Eric Kuhn, through their shared vision have attracted local talent and supporters that have allowed each event to build upon the previous ones and offer distinct experiences to the public.

Many of the pieces within the exhibition followed the same spirit, perhaps because as Paul Amenta, Creative Director, put it to me that, “Students are challenged to engage the space”. And the subjects of growth, rebirth and cycles are definitely embodied at the current site, the historic and largely empty Flat Iron Building, one of the oldest in Grand Rapids.

One installation, Circular System III (Oasis in a Desert) A Method for Alternative Urban Agriculture by Ashley Lieber of the University of Michigan, demonstrated a working sustainable system. Visually striking in the space under a massive grow light, the piece is an inflatable pool filled with lake water and fish, an electric pump that draws the nutrient-rich water up to a hanging series of two-liter bottles each holding substrate and growing edible greens. The piece is truly a living infographic, breaking down the constituent elements and showing the processes simply and effectively. The clarity of the piece engages viewers in a compelling conversation about urban food production and construction of manageable ecosystems.


Circular System III (Oasis in a Desert) A Method for Alternative Urban Agriculture by Ashley Lieber

Urban development isn’t about always wiping away the old and building all anew. The vision of Activesite reminds us to look into our community and challenges us to reconsider our impressions and habits of dismissing the old and looking outward for talent, inspiration and commerce. Activesite, through the event itself and the art within, shows sustainability in action.

Can Interaction Designers save the world? Some might think, “That is a tall order”, or “They’re the wrong group for the job”. Some might say, “What is Interaction Design?”

This year’s IXDA conference, Interaction ’09 in Vancouver, became not just the venue for such a question, it was a ground-zero event that helped me connect some of the dots scattered around in my head. Yes, there were the great discussions on research and methodologies and flow diagrams and wireframes that I craved. But the big take away for me over the 5 days and 6 amazing keynotes was the direct linking of how our way of life is changing fundamentally and that the experience designer is in an ideal position to help people transition with the changes ahead. Read Full Article →

If you are interested in exploring ways the design and development disciplines can work together to create meaningful interfaces and successful user experiences, then you may be interested in an upcoming presentation here in Grand Rapids…

XP West Michigan will welcome Dr. Robert Biddle, a professor of computer science and psychology at Carleton University and an international expert on HCI, for “Agile Software Development and UI Design: A Match Made in Heaven?”

When: Tuesday, March 25, 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Where: Work Play Space, 941 Wealthy Street SE, Grand Rapids

The press release with details is after the jump and more Information can be found at http://xpwestmichigan.org/

This event is free and open to the public. If you are interested in attending, please RSVP with Carl Erickson (erickson [at] atomicobject [dot] com) who can also answer any questions you may have about the event.

Also, if you know of others who would be interested in this presentation, please pass along this invitation.

I hope to see you there!


Grant Carmichael

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