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Guest Editorial by David Stairs

To pick up a copy of the Detroit Free Press any day the story’s the same: doom and gloom. I mean, it’s getting scary out here in Michigan. The state’s bleeding population. Plant closings and work slow-downs have become a fact of life. A brother-in-law of mine, skilled mechanic, went to work for an entire year and sat reading novels. He was under contract, but with Delphi in receivership there was no work to do.

Against all likelihood, Jenifer Granholm sought and achieved reelection in November of last year. But even with progressive, liberal leadership at the helm, it’s impossible to reverse the decades-long decline of smokestack industries. My friend Wes Janz comes up to Michael Moore’s hometown, Flint, MI, to document the work of the Genesee Land Bank, whose main occupation is tearing down abandoned houses and trying to sell empty lots for $1.

In this atmosphere the Michigan DMV has been presiding over distribution of newly designed vehicular license plates. The old design has, for over forty years, said Great Lake State, or just Great Lakes. When we were kids going on family trips, my brothers and I could always recognize the welcoming blue and white plates with their distinctive slogan. As the state in the lower 48 with the longest coastline (over 3000 miles) blue seemed very appropriate. The new default plates (custom plates are available, too; see example) are white with blue lettering, and the clever slogan has been replaced by the state URL.

Michigan State Plates, Then and Now

Michiganians are grumbling about the added expense of purchasing new plates, to the tune of millions of dollars, when there is a 7% unemployment rate in the state. Supposedly, the new plates were intended to be easier to see at night, but some have complained that they are such a high gloss white that all one can see in the headlamps is a bright rectangle. I suppose it’ll be up to the State Police traffic records division to settle the argument. Possibly, as one conspiracy theory proposed, the new plates are a high-tech aid to police radar surveillance. I don’t know.

I do know that I miss the character of the old blue plates and their situating slogan. But then, who ever said that character counted for anything?

David Stairs coordinates the graphic design program at Central Michigan University. He is the founding editor of Design-Altruism-Project, and the executive director of Designers Without Borders. He chose the default plate.

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PUBLISHED ON Oct.10.2007 BY Speak Up
Andrew’s comment is:

You're right... living in Michigan can be a little scary sometimes.

I'm from Rochester Hills and even here the impact is obvious, manifesting itself in monthly closures of all the local businesses native to the downtown area. Places are closing, giving up and moving elsewhere and the tenure of some of the newest start-ups don't last much longer than 6 months, a year if you're lucky. The economic decline has sort of run-a-muck spreading like wild fire. It's really obvious.

I think the only silver lining of being a designer in Michigan is that our jobs are still very much an important asset. And maybe i'm all wrong... I don't know but it seems to me that despite all the negative side-effects, designers are those least likely to be having trouble with their jobs. I see no signs of work slowing down for us. What do you think?

On Oct.11.2007 at 12:25 AM
April’s comment is:

I've lived in Michigan my whole life and it seems over the past few years the ecomomy is gradually getting worse and worse. The state is losing money and people are losing their jobs forcing some "Michiganders" to seach for a new job an new life in other states. I've noticed this firsthand. My dad is a machinist that works at a company that does in part work for the "Big 3". His hours were dramatically cut from working 50-60 hours a week to maybe working 40 hours at times. My cousin was layed off from Ford, My uncle lost his job. When is it going to end, and who is doing something about it? So instead of worrying about how visible Michigan plates are maybe we could show more interest in things that are more important to the success of Michigans economy.

As a student about to graduate in a year, this fear of not getting a job is heavily lingering over me. I'd like to think that by graduating with a degree in Graphic Design I'm quaranteed a job. I do agree with comment above, I think that designing jobs here are still an important asset at least i hope so. This decline is slowly effecting each differently and some before others, i think it may be a possiblity that designers could be affected in the future if things don't start to turn around soon.

On Oct.11.2007 at 11:10 AM
Thomas Guzowski’s comment is:


It is true the economy is dwindling down to a statewide Flint fallout. Do not mistake that I understand the ill dillemmas facing the state through eye witnessing of my dad and coworkers who work for the University struggling to keep their jobs as their jobs become privatized.

The revenue received from the plates could reach up to 15 million dollars, which would be returned to the Transportation Fund. Now of course it isn't a fix to the state economic problem, but it certainly is one way to provide funding to a certain state need.

Now I may also fail your class for this next comment, but I like the aesthetics for the new plate. They look clean and contemporary. The change of the slogan to an advertisement is a horrible choice, however. I will give you that.

On Oct.11.2007 at 02:48 PM
darrel’s comment is:

The U.S. REALLY needs a graphicdesign101.gov web site.

What'd the DNA strand for?

On Oct.11.2007 at 04:19 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Michiganians? I thought you were called Michiganders.

On Oct.12.2007 at 08:32 AM
David Stairs’s comment is:

Michiganian is gender neutral.

On Oct.12.2007 at 01:02 PM
Josh Reese’s comment is:

Dave -
Who is the marketing team for Michigan? I thought it was "Great Lakes, Greeeaaaatttt Times", or "Say Yes to Michigan" sung by the Four Tops on skis. "Spectacular Penninsulas"? And can you even read it if you're not right on top of it? Does this make Florida "The Most Spectacular Penninsula"?
Poor MI.

On Oct.16.2007 at 09:15 AM
David Stairs’s comment is:


Michigan needs you. When are you coming home?

On Oct.18.2007 at 10:46 PM
CJ’s comment is:

As a born and raised Michigander, I will sorely miss the blue plates. Driving from Wisconsin to Michigan to visit friends and family, my wife were always overjoyed to see the blue plates or spotting one here in Milwaukee for that matter. I don't think the state realizes how much fondness people have for these. Maybe the blue plates should be a special purchase if the are looking to cash in. And what the point of having Michigan twice on the plate (once in the web address)? What bothers me sometimes about these plates is that they seem to forget that people are putting these on their cars, a source of pride for many. Don't give us some schleppy advertisment to slap on our car, keep it simple.

On Oct.25.2007 at 11:10 AM
O4B’s comment is:

I live in Michigan and my design workload is strong: 95% of my clients are outside of this state.

ps: the new plates are hidious.

On Oct.26.2007 at 02:33 AM