Evolving design trends are always at the forefront of our minds. When Design Core Detroit announced the Detroit Month of Design theme – Year of Transformation – we couldn’t help but wonder what other creatives in the city were up to.

According to Design Core, Detroit Month of Design is a citywide celebration of creativity that gathers designers and the greater community to celebrate Detroit’s role as a national and global design capital.

To join in the celebration, Creative Coordinator Lily Stotz connected with local Detroit designers to share their thoughts on the future of design and creating work that resonates locally.

To explore topics like creative mindfulness, inclusive design and how creatives can better support the needs of their local communities, Lily looked to pillars in the Detroit design community, each honorees of Crain’s Detroit 2020 Notable Women in Design: Melinda “MeMe” Anderson of Studio M Detroit and Meaghan Barry and Lilian Crum of Unsold Studio.

Click on their names below to explore their full Q&As:

Melinda Anderson | Meaghan Barry and Lilian Crum

Meaghan Barry and Lilian Crum of Unsold Studio

Meaghan Barry and Lilian Crum of Unsold Studio

LS: How did you get started in your design career in Detroit?

We both moved to Michigan to attend Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills in 2010. We met as studio mates there, and we learned we worked really well together through that experience. Shortly after graduating, we were hanging out casually, talking about how we were worried about taking on freelancing jobs alone and how we also missed collaborating together. The “ah-ha” moment happened then, and we launched Unsold Studio in 2013 with an empty website (we felt like it was disingenuous to put up work we hadn’t done as a team), but a lot of heart.

Shortly after in 2014, we connected with Design Core Detroit (then it was known as DC3) and were selected to participate in their Creative Ventures Residency. There we learned how to run a business -– write proposals, interface with clients, do our taxes, all that jazz they don’t teach you in design school. That experience prepared us to take on clients, and their network helped connect us to some of our first Detroit-based clients.

LS: What are the greatest challenges creative communicators must stay mindful about when producing work in this day and age?

The biggest challenge is to remember design is collaborative. When you’re always on a deadline and rushing to the next thing, it can be tempting to work in a vacuum in your studio and pump out design after design. However, part of the design process has to include engaging with the people who will be impacted by your design. Inviting people into the design process sometimes feels like it derails your ideas, especially if they are critical of what you present. Remember to build in time for inclusive practices because, at the end of the day, your work will be better for it.

LS: What new trends have you seen in the design world that are moving toward solutions to these challenges?

Inclusive design practices are definitely being taught and talked about! Books like Mismatch by Kat Holmes are a great example of how we are moving toward a better design future.

LS: As two people who are embedded in the Detroit design community, where do you most see creatives falling short on obligations to serve local needs?

Sometimes the needs our communities have do not lend themselves to “sexy” design projects, and it can be easy for designers to put their talent toward “fun” or big-budget projects. (We’re guilty of this.)

For example, would you prefer to wade through a lot of data and information related to the eviction crisis and feel alllll the hard feelings while doing so, or create a brand for the cool new coffee shop on the corner? Don’t get us wrong, local businesses matter, but it’s a good reminder that graphic design is so much more than selling products or services. Design can help solve problems facing our local communities through raising awareness, educating, motivating and more. Taking on jobs that might not seem exciting at the outset often becomes the most rewarding at the end of the day.

LS: How does Detroit inspire you?

We’ve always said Detroit is a city with small-town vibes, so you get the best of both worlds. We both grew up in small towns and then lived in big cities before coming to Michigan. In those huge cities, it was easy to get lost in the shuffle and it often felt like we didn’t have a ton of agency.

In Detroit, we don’t feel that way. Instead, it feels like the community is willing to help one another make things happen. Someone in the Detroit network always seems to know someone who knows someone who will collaborate with you on your big idea. You don’t get that camaraderie and generosity everywhere, and for us, that’s inspiring.

Melinda “MeMe” Anderson of Studio M Detroit

Melinda “MeMe” Anderson of Studio M Detroit

LS: How did you get started in your design career in Detroit? 

I have a degree in architecture from the University of Michigan. Once I graduated, I lived in Berlin for a year to break into the architecture field there and then did a set-design apprenticeship in Palermo. With knowledge and experience gained abroad, I came back to apply my skills to Detroit while working for Sims Design Group (formerly Sims Varner) as an intern architect. As we mostly focused on aviation architecture, I was laid off after 9/11 happened. Being laid off was quite serendipitous, as that led me into volunteering for events like Detroit Synergy and Bravo Bravo at the Detroit Opera House. This is truly where I learned event production hands-on. I also worked as a designer/salesperson at an event rental company. I later then became the creative director of the Detroit Month of Design and the VIP experience designer for the Movement Festival.

LS: What are the greatest challenges creative communicators must stay mindful about when producing work in this day and age?

Currently, the events industry is in a challenging space due to COVID-19. I think creative communicators must first stay mindful and abide by COVID-19 protocols. Events can still be done safely during this time. The second thing is as some might still be leery of coming out, it is important to relay that events will be safe and a one-of-a-kind experience. Event experiences have to be really special and executed flawlessly to get attention these days.

LS: What new trends have you seen in the design world that are moving toward solutions to these challenges?

I’m seeing more outdoor events that provide safe solutions and unique experiences as a big trend. A big pivot during COVID-19 has been to produce engaging design installations that are inspired by Detroit culture. They also provide joy and uplift spirits as seen in HOUR Detroit. I am sure you’ve heard of the Monroe St. Midway by Bedrock in downtown Detroit. The Monroe St. Midway was a huge hit for the community, and it was a great solution for these challenging times.

LS: As someone that is embedded in the Detroit design community, where do you most see creatives falling short on obligations to serving local needs?

I don’t really see that happening as most creatives here are resilient and will work hard to meet whatever project they have. There is a strong network of creatives in Detroit and unlike other cities, creatives here work more collaboratively. So, if I cannot meet a challenge or have access to equipment, I can tap into the network here to get things done.

Most creatives just need more access to safe and affordable work studios. Creatives also need greater access to materials and equipment. The closing of Tech Shop was hard for the creative community, but Carhart’s tool lending system has been a great addition for creatives.

LS: How does Detroit inspire you?

I am really inspired by our resilience and the amazing art and design community. These past years have been tough on the creative community but somehow we are slowly bouncing back. I see big things in the future for Detroit. We would not have gotten an international designation such as the UNESCO City of Design if the committee had not recognized the skills of the creative community in Detroit. There is so much hope and promise here for creatives.

Lily Stotz is Creative Coordinator at Franco. Connect with her on LinkedIn