That’s a familiar, if grammatically questionable, tagline, brought to us by Apple, the company that reminded the world that good design can help set you apart from the rest of the pack. Apple takes advantage of that fact everywhere they can: product design, packaging, retail space, advertising. Everything is executed to stand apart and be truly different, designed that way from the ground up.
Around here, we have a little bit of a problem thinking differently.
We’ve lived through generations of suburban sprawl and seem to be having a harder time fighting that outward-bound inertia than other US cities. The generic same-ness that sprawl enables - and encourages - has become a part of our way of life. New construction housing developments consist of Model A, Model B, or Model A all constructed in a similar faux neo-traditional "style." New commercial construction leans toward strip malls and generic glass boxes. All of those beautifully designed Apple stores are in malls and the Urban Outfitters is in the suburbs. Everywhere you look you see the same fake tan, low-slung jeans and tawny lowlights. I’m talking about you too, fellas.
I’ll be honest; I don’t think much will happen to change this for SE Michigan as a whole. Sorry Auburn Hills. But the City of Detroit (among select other spots in the region) has an opportunity to become something really exceptional, a place unlike anyplace else in looks, lifestyle and culture, simply by thinking differently.
The Detroit region has an amazingly rich design heritage. Great architecture was a Detroit tradition, from the skyscrapers of the 1920’s to the mid-century gems by Mies van der Rohe and Minoru Yamasaki. Cranbrook is a legendary institution world-wide and essentially the birthplace of mid-century modern furniture design. The automotive industry is one of the largest employers of industrial designers.
It is somewhat troubling, then, that quality of design is not really part of the conversation here. Why not? Well, lack of education for starters. A difficult development environment. A shortage of visionary leadership, both corporate and civic. A population and media that embrace a nostalgic notion of what Detroit should be instead of a future vision. A culture that rewards reaching for the lowest star.
The loss of our educated population to other big cities combined with the unsurpassed (in my lifetime) interest in living and working in downtown Detroit proves that people are looking for a different kind of experience. As we move forward, Detroit can capitalize on its incredible existing assets, but it also has the potential to create something different from every other major American city.
The opportunity is there, but is the will? Design needs to be a "Top 5" discussion point instead of a "Top 20" if Detroit is going to become anything other than a slightly more architecturally interesting version of the suburbs. In this week of blogging, I’m going to take a look at how I think design can save Detroit.