Cover Story | Ten To Watch

Joye Whitney – Program Manager, DESIGNxRI

Watch Her Design Opportunities for Local Talent


DESIGNxRI is a nonprofit industry advocacy group that defines “design” broadly, encompassing everything from graphic and fashion design to product design, landscaping, architecture, urban planning, wood- and metalworking, advanced manufacturing, and even designing processes. As Program Manager for DESIGNxRI, Joye Whitney (herself a floral designer) is purposefully creating a big tent under which a wide variety of local entrepreneurs can gather and get to work. That concentration of talent is something she sees as a huge asset for the city, a potential “export” in the form of creativity and intellectual capital that’s in demand around the world. Her role is to help activate that through events, resources, networking, and now direct investment.

When you advocate for the design community, who or what are we talking about?
Design is present across all disciplines of industry and work. In a broad context, it’s about solving design challenges or problems to find desirable solutions for customers. Design thinking is used as a strategy for innovation and involves imagination, vision, logic, intuition, and reasoning skills to help explore a variety of possible design outcomes.

DESIGNxRI advocates for the design community by bringing attention to the talent, work, and design businesses that exist within our state. We want RI to be known as a hub for high quality design and a place where other businesses and designers aspire to be.

How can we better leverage the robust design community as an economic engine?
Design is one of the fastest growing sectors both locally and nationally and the need for good design is in demand. Rhode Island’s concentration of high quality design talent is exceptional. As the design sector continues to grow, Providence can “export” this talent. Rhode Island has all the assets and all of the critical components for becoming a national leader in design. It’s what companies need now and will need into the future. DxRI would like to see RI designers embedded into that larger, national landscape.

You helped organize the second annual DESIGN WEEK RI last September, which included 34 events statewide and over 1,100 attendees. What can come out of that?
We’re excited that DESIGN WEEK RI experienced such growth in its second year through programming and attendance. What’s even more encouraging is that we’re seeing more Rhode Island designers leverage and share resources and expertise with each other. We’ve seen an increase in the number of designers creating profiles on our statewide design directory so they can be easily identified and contacted. We’re hopeful that attendees of DESIGN WEEK are learning about businesses they may never have known about in the past and begin to engage them for services.

Your new initiative goes beyond just showcasing local designers. Tell us about that.
The Providence Design Catalyst is a new collaboration between the City of Providence, RISD, DESIGNxRI, and Social Enterprise Greenhouse to help build and develop design businesses. It is a grant program for Providence-based design businesses using federal funds available for creative sector economic growth. It’s a six-month program with a cohort of 12-20 grantees who will catalyze ideas, with support of a mentor, educational workshops, and professional development that aims to expand their businesses. Grantees are required to be working and living in Providence and can be new ventures or existing businesses. The goal of the funding is to help a diverse set of designers and design driven businesses overcome growth challenges, and help them reach critical milestones. It will ultimately contribute to the economic vitality of Providence. We anticipate great results from this pilot program and hope it will lead to more funding for the design sector in the future.

Is design about more than just aesthetics and economics?
Design and designers solve problems. The potential for our state to utilize this skill base to affect positive and important impact is real. Rhode Island designers have helped global brands reinvent themselves and solved crisis issues in small communities. They’ve worked with manufacturers to find business efficiencies and health care companies to create positive customer experiences. They’ve created products, buildings, and spaces that put our state on the map. This work creates economic, business, social, and cultural impact that affects our city, state, and country in tremendous ways. And the potential is infinite.

What’s next?
DESIGNxRI is involved in many conversations and programs around applied design practice. One example in particular is the Real Jobs RI grant (a program through the State Department of Labor and Training) that DxRI was awarded just this month (January 2016). DxRI is one of 26 grantees implementing workforce development strategies and programs that will offer professional learning and growth opportunities to a cohort of employees to strengthen their skills on the job. There will be three phases of learning: exploratory design opportunities for high school students; fellowship opportunities within RI businesses for recent college graduates; and advancing mid-level career opportunities with a professional development program. Designing innovative programs that help build professional experiences is one way in which DxRI is contributing to the workforce within our state.


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