Gordon Stannis

As co-founder and Director of Design and Strategy at Twisthink (TT), Gordon Stannis uses what he learned as a student at the College for Creative Studies to partner with clients in achieving commercial success through innovation. Twisthink’s role is to conceive of strategies, products and services that surpass those of their clients’ competitors.

“At TT, we thrive on competition,” said Stannis. “As a team, we foster friendly competition in all sorts of fun, simple ways via company sponsored mountain bike rides, 5 and 15K races, hockey games, but always with a healthy spirit. As evidence of this trait, we have a Red Wings jersey hanging in our lobby, four paddleboards suspended from the rafters, a half dozen mountain bikes in the foyer and two kayaks ‘comfortably’ hanging above a conference space. We love sport, play, competition and even call our round, centralized meeting space ‘center court.’ Through this approach, we strengthen the spirit of TEAM that is so important to us. 

“We love to work hard, move fast and enjoy partnering with our clients to explore new territory. We also consider ourselves professional bridge builders (to new market opportunities) and mountain guides (to take clients on a journey that’s new to them). The words ‘team,’ ‘bridgebuilder’ and ‘guide’ (leadership) have great meaning within our firm.”

Twisthink is based in Holland, Michigan, on the shore of Lake Michigan two hours from Chicago. The firm of 25+ was honored as one of the Companies To Watch in Michigan by the Edward Lowe Foundation, has generated over 100 patents for its diverse global clients and is the recipient of Red Dot, Spark, IDEA and other international Design Awards in recognition of thought excellence. Members of the firm have spoken on the topic of design and innovation locally, regionally and internationally. 

“As a firm, Twisthink cannot simply focus on satisfying only a client’s present needs; that’s never good enough,” Stannis explained. “The team must predict and design for future realities as well.  That expectation is inherent.

“Fundamentally, industrial designers live in futures—various futures. Some live in the near term future, some way out and some in between. But fundamentally, our minds are innately fixated on some (alternate) time horizon – not today. CCS helped teach me the ability to, and value of, connecting the following dots: To see and understand emerging patterns in the way we live (and aspire to live), to have a realistic understanding of technology trends and capabilities, to understand business obstacles and how to scale them, the ability to see markets and anticipate emerging unmet needs and to generate attractive and useful solutions and to do all of this collaboratively—with a great team. Because nothing gets done without a great team!”

Twisthink combines the art of technology with the science of design to meet their clients' diverse, challenging and ever changing needs. In fact they went so far as to officially trademark the phrase “the science of Design – the art of Technology” nearly 10 years ago. The firm is tasked with a broad range of projects from simple, stand alone products within a discrete portfolio to complex digital ecosystems conceived, designed and engineered from the ground up. The later often contain leading edge technologies and brand new techniques derived from hundreds of hours of literal research and development (R&D) at TT. 

“That’s what makes TT so special,” said Stannis. “We literally do R&D AND ID. Lots of firms naively parrot the same claim without fully realizing what they are truly saying. Or in that case…not so truly. We do. We have a staff of 20 engineers, some with dual degrees, most of them EEs. That’s very unique, and powerful for our clients.” 

Members of Twisthink’s unique team (they humbly call themselves BTP: Best Team on the Planet!) collaborate with companies serving the home, transportation, workplace, healthcare, consumer electronics, sport and other markets.

"Our team can literally design each and every touchpoint in the UX (User Experience) of a product – big or small,” said Stannis  “It’s often quite hard work, but it’s exciting! We’re good at it, and we enjoy it.”

One of the most important lessons that Heidi Barlow has learned as an artist is the importance of networking--getting to know other artists/designers who live and work in the "creative" community. And Detroit is the perfect place to start.

"It takes a very dedicated person to pursue a degree in fine arts and make it work," said Barlow, who works as a special events assistant at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD). "I see a lot of people that I graduated with not putting themselves out there and networking or going to art shows. I made the mistake of not doing that enough during my time in school. There is no excuse to not know what is going on in the city. There is an opening practically every weekend! To be a good artist is to know what is going on in your community. So my advice is to get out there!"

Barlow has also learned that "business and entrepreneurial skills" as well as confidence can take you a long way in the art world.

"I think it's really important to have the drive and passion to be in this field," she said. "You should always be learning about a vast array of art and design. Immerse yourself in research.. I also can’t stress enough how important it is for you to surround yourself with the right people. If you are surrounded by anyone that is not motivating you to be your best and reach your full potential, get rid of them. Be confident. Do whatever it takes to be confident. It all comes down to you. You are the only person that has the ability to get yourself exactly where you want to be. As long as you are willing to work hard, you can achieve your goals."

While an artist herself, Barlow also works as a special events assistant at MOCAD. She first started working at the museum as an intern in May 2013 and was hired shortly after to assist with facility rental and to help organize special events (both internal and external).  

"It's been interesting so far," she said. "I've really enjoyed helping plan fundraisers and other events for the Museum over the past year… Right now, we're getting ready for an exhibition opening on February 7 for James Lee Byars that will be great. I also had an opportunity to peek at our program guide for the upcoming spring. There are a lot of programs and events scheduled that I'm excited to see."

Through her position at MOCAD, Barlow has established some valuable connections within the local art community. But most of her insight stems from creating her own artwork.

"I create what I like to see," explained Barlow. "It's usually really colorful and stereotypically 'feminine.'  I use pink a lot. I've been painting and doing sculptures, and I have been combining that into installation work. I usually have the end result in the back of my mind, how the work will look in a space and in conjunction to other works and how they could play off of each other. I tend to work on multiple pieces at a time; I can't just focus on one work. Most of the works that I create during a certain time period are intended to be viewed together.  

"Showing more of my work is a goal of mine this year. I'm currently collaborating with a very good friend of mine for an art installation in Toronto, Canada, this June. I can’t give out many details as nothing has been completely finalized, and it is still in early stages. But if everything goes according to plan, it will be great. It will be similar to the show that she and I did together in August. I really enjoying collaborating with other creative people right now. I think having the ability to work with other artists is important."

In addition to Barlow's short-term goal of showing more work this year, the artist has also established long-term goals that she is currently working toward. She plans to earn an MFA and eventually acquire her own art space.

"Within the next five years, I plan to go to graduate school and earn my MFA," said Barlow. "I've been researching graduate schools since 2011, and I have a list of places I want to visit to start the next phase of planning for it. Another of my long-term goals is to eventually open my own art space--perhaps a studio or gallery space. There is a building in Detroit I've had my eye on for years now. If I have the opportunity to purchase it in the next five years, I will."

To check out more of Barlow's work, visit www.heidibarlow.com. Beyond her personal website, Barlow maintains a blog centered around research/documentation of the color pink. She started the blog a few years ago as part of her senior thesis and has continued it as part of her art practice www.pink-research.tumblr.com.

  • Graduation Year: 1987
  • Employer: Twisthink design “technology” strategy (Holland, MI)
  • Title: Director of Design & Strategy

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