Design Week to spotlight growing R.I. industry

EPIC STORIES: Seth Goldenberg, CEO of Jamestown-based Epic Decade, will present at Design Week RI. “A lot of what our work is about is being more transparent and showing business leaders how design thinking works,” he said. / COURTESY EPIC DECADE
EPIC STORIES: Seth Goldenberg, CEO of Jamestown-based Epic Decade, will present at Design Week RI. “A lot of what our work is about is being more transparent and showing business leaders how design thinking works,” he said. / COURTESY EPIC DECADE

Rhode Island is home to an estimated 2,000 individual designers and firms ranging in focus from graphic arts to industrial design, and as such, the ideal place to host the state’s first design week, says Lisa Carnevale, co-founder of DesignxRI.

The organization is in the process of obtaining nonprofit status and launching its first major event, dubbed Design Week RI: a Sept. 17-27 celebration of the design industry in its many incarnations – graphics, industrial, architectural, landscape, Web design and more, she said.

“We’re working to coalesce the design talent and raise awareness of good design resources we have in Rhode Island, pull together designers, create a critical mass and tell the outside world about the talent that’s here,” said Carnevale, also a principal with Myranda Group, a Providence-based communications firm.

An outgrowth of Make It Happen Rhode Island, DesignxRI formed in March 2013 with a $45,000 grant from the Rhode Island Foundation, but wasn’t able to pull the Design Week RI concept together until this year, Carnevale said. Differently styled design weeks are popular across the U.S., particularly in large cities, including New York City, Boston, San Francisco and Kansas City, she said.

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DesignxRI is also developing a Web-based database of designers, she added.

“People [would] tell me they need a designer but they couldn’t find one in Rhode Island, so they hired one out of Boston,” Carnevale explained, citing the need for this type of gathering. “They didn’t even know where to go to look – that happens all the time.”

Actually 11 days in length, Design Week RI overlaps on one end with the Business Innovation Factory’s 10th anniversary summit on Sept. 17-18 at the Trinity Repertory Company, and on the other with the 2014 American Institute of Architects New England Regional Conference, hosted at the Providence Biltmore Hotel by the AIA’s Rhode Island chapter from Sept. 26-28.

Centralized in the capital with events throughout the state, Design Week RI will include a reception on Sept. 22 and a “4×4 Speaker Series” showcasing local design talent from Sept. 22-25 at Aurora Providence on Westminster Street, Carnevale added.

One of the speakers at Design Week RI will be Seth Goldenberg, founder and CEO of Epic Decade, a Jamestown-based global design firm. Goldenberg plans to launch a training program at the event that would teach business leaders “design thinking” methodology.

“A lot of what our work is about is being more transparent and showing business leaders how design thinking works and helping them practice it themselves,” he said.

Key partners in Design Week RI are the city of Providence and Rhode Island School of Design.

“This is a key event for pushing the design industry forward in terms of economic development and cultural awareness about the value of these businesses in our city and state,” said Lynne McCormack, director of the city’s Department of Art, Culture and Tourism within the economic-development division.

As a first-time event, Design Week RI has the potential to raise awareness and enable practitioners and professionals to make connections, McCormack said.

“I think it’s going to really galvanize the community in a way that’s important,” she said.

“Design-based businesses all have their own industry networks, but this is going to be the first time all of these businesses will be brought together to share best practices and networking.”

“One of the things we particularly like about the event is, it spotlights creativity and it engages a diverse audience in discussions about different facets of design,” said Bethany Costello, RISD’s associate director for community relations.

The festivities will include panel discussions; a marathon version of a meeting for networking called a “clambake”; evenings in which design studios in and beyond Providence, including the towns of Warren and Pawtucket, are opened to the public; an as-yet unannounced keynote speaker hosted by RISD; and a Design Hall of Fame, for which DesignxRI was seeking nominations through Aug. 8, Carnevale said.

Hoping to attract 1,000 participants across the state, she is working with 17 volunteers and stakeholders and expects expenses to total about $70,000. Raising sponsorships and in-kind donations should cover most of that cost, she said.

Through RISD and in its own right, Rhode Island has continued to evolve as a magnet for designers, Carnevale said, an identity that is documented in a recent report called “Creative Industries in Rhode Island” compiled by the Rhode Island Citizens for the Arts.

The report shows the sector gained 770 jobs and 460 new businesses between 2011 and 2012, based on information culled from Dunn & Bradstreet registered businesses.

“There’s a lot of design and designers in Rhode Island,” Carnevale said, “but there’s no real organization for all of design, so to be able to find a designer in Rhode Island is hard. They’re kind of all siloed.”

From RISD to Johnson & Wales University, which is developing its graphic arts and digital media offerings, to Roger Williams University, whose school of architecture is growing, Rhode Island has a broad community of designers to tap into, Carnevale said.

“There are more people graduating with design degrees, so design has become more noticeable as a resource for a lot of industry sectors,” she said. “In Rhode Island, the history of design is in manufacturing. Providence has the second-most industrial designers after Detroit. It’s always been here. It’s just starting to reveal itself more as other industries and sectors start to value it more.” •

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