around. Chances are, a product you've seen or used, a commercial or ad
campaign that you've seen, or a car that you've driven has been designed
by a CCS alumnus. Ranked second in the nation for its design programs,
and attracting an international student body, the College for Creative Studies is
an incubator for design leaders and innovators in a broad range of
industries including advertising, automotive, education, film, and
From working in big, national and international companies such as Mars Advertising, Honda, Nike, Polaris, Disney-Pixar, Industrial Light and Magic,
and, of course, Detroit's Big Three, to opening their own design
companies, studios and agencies, there is no question that CCS
graduates are designing the way we live, work, play, and in some cases,
Case in point, earlier this month Auto Week reported
that Ralph Gilles (CSS '92), at just 38, became the head of
Chrysler's design operations, after Trevor Creed, senior vice president
of design retired. Gilles' body of work has included design work on the
Dodge Charger and Viper, overseeing design of Chrysler's MY2008
minivans, and he leads the company’s Mopar Underground, a group of automotive design enthusiasts that create concepts for SEMA.
Their influence is transparent (and translucent)
Meanwhile, in Dearborn, Chris Nordin, who owns and runs Furnace Design Studio
with his wife Michelle Plucinsky calls CCS a "hub for the creative
industry." Both Nordin and Plucinsky are CCS alumni and opened the
studio in 1991, the same year that they graduated from the
school. CSS gave them the foundation and tools to translate their
creative work into a lucrative glass blowing career and lead to the Glass Academy,
which they founded 13 years later. The Glass Academy is one
of the only state-certified proprietary trade schools for the glass
Always evolving, Nordin and Plucinsky are working to create a joint program with Henry Ford Community College.
The program is designed to provide high school students and others
interested in glass-work with a two-year associate's degree. This
will provide them with both the foundational tools and
portfolio to get accepted into four-year accredited design and creative
programs such as CSS.
The Nordins are well-known in the
Detroit area, not just for Furnace, but also for the work that
brothers, and fellow CSS alumni, Erik and Israel do at their company,
the Detroit Design Center.
While many schools boast impressive lists of successful alumni who
rarely return, CCS' alumni often stay in the Metro Detroit area and
remain involved with their alma mater, which Chris says is one of the
"Having strong alumni bonds and people
working in the creative industry is part of what makes CCS a hub for
the local creative community, which is very small in Detroit," says
Success by design
Another CCS alumnus-entrepreneur is Doug Struble, who owns Designs of Future Worlds, LLC
in Taylor, Mich. Struble, who graduated in 2005 with a degree in
animation, provides a variety of services including web design,
advertising campaigns, digital work, photography, film work and other
graphic design creative work for private clients and some pretty
impressive companies. Among his bigger clients are Magic Windows, Mr. Roof and Yazaki Automotive—names you probably know, but probably never realized involved a CCS alumnus.
it comes to advertising, Struble likes to pair aesthetics with
function, and his background in both animation and graphic design
allows him to do this successfully. Struble works closely with cable
companies such as Comcast and WOW and ad agencies such as Via Media,
the advertising/sales arm of WOW. Struble says the difference between
his CCS training and other production companies is that "most
people in production [work] went through trade school to learn the
technical stuff, but CCS also gives you a strong fine arts background,
so [students] learn color, composition, and the other fine arts
fundamentals in addition to the technical work."
Struble started his career in graphic design while working for Acuform
when he was still a CCS student. Thinking that he would go West to work
for one of the major production companies, he instead chose to stay in
Michigan, which offered him the ability to not only go off on his own,
but to reinvest in his community.
"The impact on the local creative community is huge," Struble says of his alma matter. "There's no other art school that offers the same level of academic excellence, access to industry leaders and hands-on experience outside of the Coasts."
and second-year students take fundamental courses, but they also get to
work hands-on right away with the liberal arts classes that include
writing and art history and theory.
"When I was a student,
between my fundamental classes which taught composition, orientation
and layout [for example] along with 2-D graphic design, I was able to
get my first job with a design company," he says.
Creative Studies also attracts big talent with real life industry
experience in their fields to the faculty. Such faculty members include
an adjunct faculty member in the Industrial Design department.
Wilkonski has been at CCS for eight years and has witnessed the
transition of CCS becoming an accredited institution—one that since
receiving accreditation, has been propelled to one of the top tier
design schools in the nation (second to Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif.).
An expanding vision
Always looking forward, beginning in 2009, CCS will offer two MFA programs
— one each in design and transportation design, and will include a
business component not unlike many MBA programs. Brian Fitzpatrick (now
retired) attracted and hired some of the top people
in the industry to expand on CCS' reputation and to place students in
other industries beyond advertising and studio/fine arts work. One such
example is Stephen Bogoniewski, Associate Professor and Chair of the
Entertainment Arts Department, who over the past seven years has worked
on major motion pictures.
With CCS faculty "making sure that [students] have the skills to
enter the market to succeed," as Wilkonski says, CCS is bound to edge
the Art Center out of its top spot. "If you start to scratch the
surface, you realize a lot of companies hire CCS alumni, and not just
in the automotive/transportation industry, but in the supporting
industries as well on both the global and local levels," he continues.
Such companies include Hyundai, the Detroit Three, Sony, Proctor and
Gamble, and GTN,
a local post-production company that does local and national
advertising as well as the major Hollywood and Indy motion picture
industries for both design and post-production work.
Hollywood's interest in Michigan due to the recent tax incentive
legislation, these skills become paramount in crafting a film-savvy
CCS is also looking forward to emerging markets and
now offers programs in computer gaming, which itself is a field that,
like the automotive/transportation sector,
is driving other industries—for example, the medical field and military
(think joystick technology and computer simulation)
faculty are deeply connected to and continue to work in their
respective industries, they are on top of trends and momentum and can
help shape the direction of students’ paths by being responsive to
And it’s working. Each year companies visit
CCS before the end of the semester to look at portfolios and select
interns. Often, those interns end up working for the same local
companies after graduation. A few even end up working for them
before officially receiving that piece of parchment.
passion and commitment to CCS students extends well beyond their four
years at the school—as faculty members offer the kind of mentorship
that cannot occur in a lecture hall, studio or from books alone. An
example is the friendship that Wilkonski and Struble established long
after Struble was one of Wilkonski's students. In fact, the two have
collaborated on professional projects. And as Chris Nordin asserted,
the commitment of CCS alumni to the school is equally as strong. As
Wilkonski commented, there is no doubt that "the people influencing
design today are the people who graduated from CCS."
Erika-Marie Geiss is a work-at-home 'mompreneur.' She runs Red Pencil Editing Services and is the editor-in-chief and publisher of theWAHMmagazine. Her previous article for Metromode was Oakwood's Expanding Cultural Mission.
Furnace Hot Glass designs
Chris Nordin, co owner of Furnace Design Studio
Doug Struble, who owns Designs of Future Worlds, LLC
Offices and studios of Designs of Future Worlds, LLC
in Taylor, Mich.
CCS student studying Digital Advertising
CCS animation class