Design Thinkers 2009

At Design Thinkers 2009, a very eclectic audience including myself were asked to consider and reevaluate our impressions of what graphic design is.  We were asked to revisit the steps we take towards being “creative” and “innovative”.

This was — and is — no simple feat.

The first speaker, arguably the most democratic and humble speaker at this conference, was Michael Bierut, a partner of one of my favorite design firms, Pentagram. His chosen topic, “Seven Habits of Lazy Designers,” was perhaps the best way to kick-start the day. His seven ideas were witty and humorous:

  1. Keep It Simple
  2. Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
  3. Don’t Reinvent the wheel, rotate the tires
  4. Do as you’re told
  5. Steal
  6. Once you come up with something, never let it go
  7. Make other people do the work.

It was fantastic. All comedy aside, however, Bierut touched upon, for me at least, what is the art & heart of graphic design: keep it honest, clear and simple. “Don’t let the logic kill the magic.”

The next speaker was Dana Arnett, who examined design from a more reflective standpoint. Simply put, he begged to answer the age-old question, what is graphic design? Are we actually what outsiders claim us to be: “people who make pretty pictures” or something more? Through surprisingly engaging moments of tangential rants, Arnett arrived as his very succinct and articulate conclusion: Graphic design provides a context for people to understand. We make the most abstract, innovative, edgy idea into a language, which can be understood by more than just the design community. The graphic designer takes the entrepreneur and innovator’s insight and applies it to the page.

Another interesting speaker was Sanky, who works at a new media firm in the UK called All of Us. I particularly enjoyed his lecture, because it was rivoting to finally see New Media put in to practice. New Media, a very new and experimental interpretation of design, has been a very interesting beast to watch grow, as it has struggled to find practical application in the “real-world”. Sanky, however, made this achievement seem incredibly simple. In his words “Everyone’s doing the same thing but expecting different results”, an idea which he challenges everyday as a UI designer. Sanky and his team have developed interactive projects for hospitals, phone companies, fundraising events, etc. He’s helped to engage a select crowd in interactive environments, which by default, and little effort, evoke creativity and emotion.

The last notable speaker of the day, was Vannessa Eckstein from a once Toronto-based, now Mexican-based design firm, Blok. In her words, after years of frustration and mundane tedious hours spent at the computer screen, she decided the best thing to do was to “get lost”. She informed her entire firm that they were going to stop looking for work. They were going to let jobs come to them and take the leftover time to engage themselves in their community and culture through graphic design. Out of this year-long stint of “getting lost”, Blok produced some of their most thought-provoking and astounding work to date. They used their spare time to make change and give a voice to small social ventures.

By the end of the day, I had come to a simple conclusion: an entrepreneur and a graphic designer can find a vast amount of common ground — we struggle to find solutions to problems which have not yet been solved, we try to communicate complex ideas to a very large and eclectic demographic, or even to a small esoteric group of individuals, we try to sell and promote new ideas, while simultaneously trying to keep our ideas simple and innovative. Once again, this is no easy feat. Design Thinkers 2009 touched upon these ideas and helped each audience member to question their motives, and goals as a graphic designer, business person, innovator, entrepreneur, student, etc.  Simply put: never stop defining and redefining what you do: new ideas always pull through and out of the old.