Our Story

It may be the water; it may be the trees. It may be the convergence of the two that led to outstanding graphic design work in West Michigan, the midst of the Midwest.

Certainly forests with adjacent rivers proved hospitable for both the paper and furniture industries. Beyond that, a little bit of magic may have allowed companies like Upjohn, Herman Miller, and French Paper to emerge as regional and national leaders. They were willing to cede to the vision of designers—of products and printed matter.

In the succeeding decades, INFLUENTIAL MICHIGAN INDUSTRIES INVESTED IN FORWARD-THINKING GRAPHIC DESIGN. They were supported by visionary educators at private and public colleges and universities, and by paper companies leading in paper engineering and production. Printers with a bent toward quality produced striking and memorable pieces.


The design work included in the Archives represents significant contributions to the evolution of the graphic design discipline:  the work will INTEREST, EXCITE, INSPIRE, INTRIGUE, AND EDUCATE. It has met a need, solved a problem, or sold an idea, product, service, or event. It is likely to have received recognition from national design organizations.

Whenever possible, the Archives includes not only finished products, but also the stories behind and evidence of the design, development, and production.

Periodically, the graphic design advisory committee determines a slate of designers and organizations and invites them to submit work. Submissions are reviewed by design professionals for inclusion.

A phased strategy makes certain that work can be evaluated and accessioned properly and that there’s value to Archives users along the way. While eventually the Archives will encompass the full history of graphic design in West Michigan, it has begun with examples of work from the generation who began as Commercial Artists and became Graphic Designers, currently retiring and liquidating personal archives:  WORK IN PRINT THROUGH THE 80S. A natural break-point, the 1980s were the time when designer-friendly computers and design software changed the process and the possibilities for design.


Design students, educators, researchers, and practitioners are the primary beneficiaries of the resource offered by the West Michigan Graphic Design Archives. The contents and services of the Archives are valuable to anyone who would like to:

Learn about graphic design as practiced by leaders in the discipline.

Be inspired by some of the best, most memorable, most effective, or most audacious examples of graphic design in our region.

Inspire others by helping to spread the word about the design contributions made by individuals and companies in our communities.

Understand how design has helped successful businesses to achieve their goals.

Appreciate the leaders who influenced the world of graphic design—from right here in West Michigan.

The Archives is housed at the Zhang Legacy Collections Center at Western Michigan University.