Making Things Happen — IDSA in Detroit

Modified: June 08, 2017 | Story by Michelle Fusco | Photos by Industrial Designers Society of America

Detroit — a UNESCO City of Design — the perfect canvas for IDSA’s “Making Things Happen” 2016 International Conference

Industrial designers create products and systems that optimize function, value and appearance—with the overarching goal to improve people’s lives. In 2016, IDSA (Industrial Designers Society of America) chose to host its international conference in Detroit.

“Detroit has gone through a redesign of its own and we thought it was a fitting time to bring our group to this great city,” said Katie Fleger, IDSA’s Senior Manager of Conferences.

Michigan has the highest concentration of commercial and industrial designers in the country.

Headquarters Hotel a Good Fit

She noted that housing the conference at the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center—global headquarters for General Motors, was a draw. Attendees appreciated the hotel’s spectacular views of the city skyline, Detroit River and Canada. Access to the Detroit People Mover offered convenient connection to downtown restaurants and attractions. And the hotel’s 100,000 square feet of meeting space easily accommodated the group’s needs. A GMRENCEN app provides easy navigation of the building.

Detroit Supports Conference Content with Subject Matter Experts

IDSA didn’t have to look far to craft a conference program filled with dynamic keynote speakers–most hailing from Detroit. They included the design director for Shinola leather goods, and design leaders from Ford Motor Company and Fiat Chrysler (FCA US). The 2016 conference was also chaired by Sooshin Choi, the provost and vice president for academic affairs and a professor at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies.

The WOW factor: The Henry Ford

The biggest “wow factor” was hosting the group’s IDEA (International Design Excellence Awards) ceremony at Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, part of The Henry Ford, one of Michigan’s top attractions.

The Henry Ford

Opening Party at The Henry Ford. Image courtesy of

“It was a great bonus to have our IDEA ceremony and gala at the museum, which had hosted the judging of these awards for a number of years,” said Fleger. The museum even featured a selection of IDEA winners in a public exhibit during the conference.

“I was amazed by all of the history under one roof,” said Sudha Kamath, IDSA’s Manager of Communications. “It was a beautiful venue that had our attendees fully immersed in design. It was also very convenient to hold the public ceremony and private gala at the same place; that doesn’t always happen.”

Attendees browsed exhibits on manufacturing, aviation, automobiles and furniture design, among others. The IDEA gala was staged beneath the Douglas DC-3 airplane, which ranks with the Model T Ford as one of the great engineering designs of the twentieth century.

Opening Party within Driving America at The Henry Ford. Courtesy of

“People sometimes think we’re a car museum, but we’re so much more. It’s a very broad collection of the American experience,” said Marc Greuther, chief curator for the museum. “To me, it is gratifying when a company can put on an event here and find themselves or their industry represented in some facet of an exhibit or artifact. We’re not all things to all people, but we are many things to a great many people. Plus, it’s a lot of fun!”

“The Henry Ford’s five unique venues, with options for groups of 100 to 5,000, allow meeting planners to host unforgettable events that have guests talking for years to come,” said Emily Shannon, Corporate Event Manager for The Henry Ford.

Sold-out Offsite Tours

Enthusiasm for the destination was evident by the sold out offsite tours–the most popular of any to date, according to conference organizers. Attendees were given the chance to learn about the automotive design process at the design centers of FCA US and Ford Motor Company. Shopping excursions to the flagship store for Shinola–maker of popular handcrafted watches, bicycles, leather goods and journals–were also at capacity.

 It’s a New Day in Detroit

      “The revitalization going on in Detroit was quite relevant for our conference. It fit perfectly with our theme of ‘Making Things Happen’,” said Kamath.

“And the support of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau was fantastic. Any time we needed something, our convention services manager (Brian Walker) was only a phone call or an email away. He even took the time to come onsite to make sure things were going smoothly.

“The overall resounding impression I heard from almost all out-of-town attendees is the confidence that Detroit—essentially the grassroots of Detroit’s commerce—radiates. The ordinary people walking on the streets, a barista working a cafe or someone starting a jewelry kiosk–all are upbeat and have an uncanny optimism diffused everywhere,” said Jeevak Badve, IDSA Central District Vice President in 2016 and VP Strategic Growth, Sundberg-Ferar, an industrial design firm based in metro Detroit. “I personally think the earlier preconceived identity of Detroit is now being challenged and changed from within, and that’s the most unique and compelling element. It’s not necessarily heavily orchestrated or managed by any institution. On the contrary, the growth is happening all over in downtown and also in the suburbs, in good micro-levels and in assorted categories of industry and communities. And ordinary people are sensing that, both local and tourists. Detroit is a great city. I love Detroit. It’s my kind of city.”

To learn how Detroit can help design your next convention, conference or event, Contact Sales Today.

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Mentioned Attractions And Venues

  1. 1
    The Henry Ford
    20900 Oakwood Blvd., Dearborn, MI 48124
  2. 2
    Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center
    400 GM Renaissance Center, Detroit, MI 48243
  3. 3
    441 W. Canfield St., Detroit, MI 48201
  4. 4
    College for Creative Studies
    201 E. Kirby St., Detroit, MI 48202
  5. 5
    Ford Motor Co.
    1 American Drive, Dearborn, MI 48121
  6. 6
    General Motors
    Mail Code 482-B38-C96, 200 GM Renaissance Center, Detroit, MI 48265