Saturday, October 3, 2015

Local Arts: Mayor Ness and Duluth Designers Share Their Passions

Thursday evening the Duluth Art Institute kicked off a new series of events called Design Duluth with an outstanding, well-attended program hosted by Cirrus Design. Over the next several months six topics will be discussed featuring various aspects of design in Duluth. If the first event is any indication, Design Duluth promises to shed new light on a facet of life many people take for granted, from the shape of our homes to the packaging on the libations we consume.

More than 100 people indicated by RSVP that they intended to be there. It's likely that the presence of Mayor Don Ness as the opening speaker contributed to the strong turnout. Or maybe folks were drawn by the opportunity to be on the Cirrus premises and get a closer look at all those cool planes. In either case, the two hours was well worth the time investment.

DAI Director Annie Dugan
Annie Dugan opened the meeting by thanking the five presenters, and then launched into a brief summation of Dieter Rams' 10 Principles of Good Design:
Makes products Understandable
Thought through to the last detail
Environmentally Friendly
and involves as little design as possible.
(i.e. Less is More)

Annie then introduced the theme the presenters would chew on: How can we Measure up?: Defeating Duluth’s Inferiority Complex.

Mayor Ness, who had to trot off to a book signing at Fitgers, addressed the topic first. He began by stating that every community has its narrative. We are not only consumers of narrative but have the capacity to design our narratives as well. The mayor proceeded to outline Duluth's story, from being one of the most distressed cities of its size in the country (1980) to the revitalized community it is today, embracing its natural beauty and other assets. Though many people have envied Fargo's economic growth there's plenty going on here, and reasons why a company like Maurice's would invest in building a headquarters here. The energy behind Homegrown Music Fest, mountain bike trails, an entrepreneurial spirit, creativity expressed in the arts and craft breweries, and the vitality created simply by being in the presence of this Great Lake... all are evidences of a renewed positive momentum here.

The next speakers were David Shumate and Alex Alequin of Cirrus Design. Shumate began by providing an overview of the company. In addition to the headquarters here Cirrus has five facilities and 900 employees. They've produced over 6000 aircraft since the Klappmeier's inauspicious beginning as a kit plane builder in 1984. At this he introduced Mr. Alequin, whose personal narrative went like this.

Alequin studied industrial design and went to Detroit to design cars. He became especially passionate about interiors, and the transition to designing interiors was not that great of a leap. But when he got here it something became immediately apparent. Showing a slide of a small fleet of early Cirrus planes, it was noted that they were all identical and they were all white.

Henry Ford produced cars in the same manner when he first started. You could have any color you wanted, as long as it was black. The reason for this color was black paint dried faster, so he could assemble more cars more quickly.

Bringing the automobile aesthetic to Cirrus resulted in a whole new realm of possibilities with regard to extreme customer service. The designers would begin a dialogue with the plane buyer to find out where their passions lie. "What's your story?" The results were personal and incredible. It's my hope to share a few of these stories here at a future time. Essentially, every story leads to design possibilities for tomorrow.

Dave Shumate came to Duluth to work on the new jet Cirrus has designed. Shumate showed photos of the process of designing, from concept drawings to full scale 3-D clay model to CAD renderings. The process was insightful, and looked like fun.

A Alequin, Mayor Ness, D Shumate, D Salmela, A Dugan and M Laverdure  
Michael Laverdure spoke next. Laverdure is one of less than 100 Native America architects in this country. He is with the firm dsgw, an architectural firm specializing in health care, casino and commercial architecture. The team has a history of working with First Nations, and as a Native American he has developed an approach that involves earning trust through listening. Mr. Laverdure outlined the process they use when working with tribes and clients. This process involves hearing their story so that the building is a reflection of who they are.

The echoes in each story were quite apparent. Successes were achieved by listening to the customer's story and using the firms design skills to implement a vision that came from within the customer, not imposed on the customer.

David Salmela made the final presentation. Mr. Salmela is an award-winning, internationally renowned architect who 25 years ago chose Duluth as his home. Being Scandinavian he humorously described one of the traits that permeates the Scandinavian/Finnish ethic: Outperform everyone but don't tell anyone.

He went on to share that real success is neither about the architect nor the client, but both working together. It is a cooperative experience that often involves city planners as well as the craftspersons and others who do the actual work.

Like Michael Laverdure and the gentlemen from Cirrus, he shared many of the projects he's completed over the course of his career. A prolonged question and answer period followed, and it became apparent that the presentations deeply stimulated this audience.

* * * *
What is Duluth's identity? For a list of upcoming Design Duluth meetings, check out the latter part of Thursday's blog. The second installment will be November 19 at HTK Marketing with the theme being Iconoclast: Breaking the Lift Bridge Icon-Hold.

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