How Western Michigan Quietly Became A Graphic Design Hotspot

As graphic design hubs go, we tend to think of big cities like New York or countries like Germany. But Western Michigan? Not really. However, a new digital archive is giving the region the spotlight it deserves.

“West Michigan was a hub of graphic design activity because of the paper industry, the educational programs at Western Michigan University and now Ferris State University, and also the corporations here that supported design and realized what effect it could have on business,” Barbara Loveland, cofounder of the Graphic Design Archive of West Michigan, tells Co.Design. [Graphic design] raised itself to a level of excellence because of the demand.”

Linda Powell, Designers Poster. [Image: © 1981 Herman Miller, Inc.]

A couple years ago, Loveland–a retired graphic designer and professor–was cleaning out her basement when she came across boxes filled with ephemera from her tenures at Herman Miller and Western Michigan University. Rather than chuck the posters, ads, books, and other material in the trash, Loveland thought about donating the work. But when she spoke to Linda Powell, a close friend and colleague, the two got thinking. Many designers around their age were downsizing and paring back their belongings, potentially throwing away history in the process. Why not archive the work and find a way for it to live on eternally and become an educational tool?

Enter the Graphic Design Archives of West Michigan, an online museum dedicated to preserving work from designers, firms, and clients based in the region. The site, which has about 400 entries and is growing, is  categorized by project type–like environmental communications, identity systems, packaging, posters, and so on–along with individual designers, design studios, clients, and decade. Loveland and Powell are creating original scans and photographs of the work, much of which has never been digitized before. (The physical objects are housed at the Western Michigan University Archives and…

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