Design Core Detroit is licensing a design competition for commercial businesses from the city of Montreal to recognize “inclusive design” that’s created spaces that are welcoming to all in Detroit.
“It’s about the kinds of signals that say a place is welcoming to people of all different backgrounds,” said Executive Director Olga Stella.
That could mean taking physical ability into consideration, with a building or place designed to accommodate people in wheelchairs or others with strollers.
It might be exterior cues that make all people feel welcome or a menu or store displays are written in a way everyone can understand and that aren’t intimidating because of the font or language being used.
“A lot of those things are sometimes a little unconscious,” Stella said. “What we’re hoping to list out are projects that really stand out.”
Inclusive design takes into consideration the spectrum of human diversity and the individual experiences of each person to create places or things with broader social impact. It’s rooted in a belief that inclusive design practices can shape systems, processes, places and products to generate sustainable and equitable results that benefit all.
The concept is the focus of Design Core Detroit’s action plan released in April and part of its larger strategy of positioning design industries to advance inclusive economic growth in Detroit.
The new contest, “Commerce Design: Detroit”, is among the first efforts to come from the action plan. It’s aimed at raising awareness of and access to professional design services for neighborhood small businesses, while also lifting up the impact of commercial design projects on the communities in which these businesses reside.
Developed over 20 years ago in Montreal — another UNESCO City of Design — the competition is now licensed in more than a dozen cities around the world. It will recognize projects, submitted jointly by the business owner and design team, that have been completed in the city of Detroit, Highland Park or Hamtramck within the past five years.
The goal is to show others what inclusive design looks like, said Olga Stella, executive director of Design Core Detroit, a joint initiative of the College for Creative Studies and Business Leaders for Michigan.
The competition will highlight tangible examples of the environments businesses can create for everyone when they work with a designer to look at façade, interiors, signage and store layout to create places “that are not only beautiful and within the budget… but welcoming to a wide variety of people,” Stella said.
For example, during a trip to Montreal to benchmark some of the businesses that had won awards through the competition there, the Design Core Detroit team visited a bakery.
It wanted to be a neighborhood bakery and not a gentrifying force, Stella said. It didn’t have a lot of resources but wanted to communicate its essence of making really good, quality baked items and a very welcoming space.
Its design incorporated that by using basic plywood, finished-dusted with paint to make surfaces look like work tables in a kitchen, an opening to allow customers to watch bakers working, repurposed chairs and tables from a local thrift store and hand-lettered signs that were easy to read.
“They were simple touches. They wanted to say this is really good, high-quality food, but for everybody in our community,” Stella said.
Entries for Commerce Design: Detroit are due by June 30. AIA Detroit and Design Core Detroit are hosting a workshop/information session on the contest on Friday morning.
Ten winning projects will be announced at an Oct. 25 awards ceremony at the Garden Theater in Detroit.
A People’s Choice vote will be opened at that time to allow the public to select their favorite from among the projects, and all 10 winning businesses will be featured in a Design Crawl Open House leading up to Small Business Saturday in November.
Design Core has tapped AIA Detroit to manage the competition, which is supported by a $50,000 grant from Bank of America and a $25,000 grant from the Hudson-Webber Foundation.
Hudson-Webber’s grant is supporting Design Core Detroit’s bid to bring good design forward and allow communities to have input, said President Melanca Clark.
“It’s interesting because a lot of the design can signal gentrification,” she said.
“When people see new and modern design that appears in neighborhoods … because it’s new, sometimes people read that as, ‘It’s for new residents.'”
The city, neighborhood leaders and nonprofit leaders are taking seriously the potential anxiety around all the development happening in Detroit, considering who is doing it and who it’s for, Clark said.
And Design Core Detroit is right in the center of that conversation, she said.