Design Week Insights

  • 30.04.2010
  • Design
  • Event
Vancouver Convention Centre

Vancouver Convention Centre

I allowed Design Week to be a bit of a cadavre exquis in my mind. Instead of fighting or embracing ideas brought forth by the various speakers, I simply allowed them to coexist for a moment. This isn’t to say that I don’t have an opinion or that I was equally impressed by all speakers; simply that it all needs to simmer a little longer before the cream can rise to the top.

In the meantime, here are a few of the thoughts that resonated.

Share your knowledge
The notion of open-source, which makes online applications evolve at blinding speeds, should be the norm in all creative fields. Whether in architecture, industrial design or other creative pursuits, sharing best practices can only benefit everyone and accelerate the rate of positive change we are all seeking. Cameron Sinclair, whose achievements with Architecture for Humanity are astounding and inspiring, contends that the reluctance of certain NGOs to share knowledge that could save lives amounts to criminal negligence.

Markers & Makers
We are markers and makers. We know that because of Lascaux and archeology. We know that because of the way brands have evolved, as Debbie Millman uncovered in her gloriously compulsive research project Why we brand. Why we buy. From simple guarantors of quality in the late 1800s to the guarantors of connectedness they are today, brands have evolved as an echo to our societies’ and cultures’ needs.

Inspiration is a moment of surprise
After Marian Bantjes’ usual chiding of “straight-up designers”—a tribe she has gleefully left behind—she moved on to regale us with examples of work she does find exceptional. I found her definition of inspiration to be concise and insightful.

Surprise + Clarity = Delight
Marian’s statement was echoed somewhat by Frank Chimero’s subsequent foray into delight. It was the last presentation I saw and it left me amused and pleased. Through a few well-chosen examples, Chimero demonstrated that clever—and tasteful—details can add to our understanding of applications or products by engaging us on both intellectual and emotional levels. As audiences, we love to figure things out for ourselves; as designers, we should recognize that users are giving us their attention and should be rewarded for it. He used Panic, the Portland-based Mac software development company, as an example of how details lovingly sprinkled in your work can enhance comprehension and overall experience for the user. Another convincing example is the endearing head-shaking Mac log-in window. When you enter the wrong password to log in to your machine, the interface shakes as though good-naturedly nudging you to try again. This is in stark contrast to the shouting of an error message. Delightful indeed.

Embrace the archetypes
Brian Collins of COLLINS: took us on an oddly compelling exploration into the pervasiveness of archetypal figures (innocent, outlaw, explorer, healer, warrior, etc . . .) in society. The brand personalities we create are all related to variations of one or multiple archetypes. Likening Apple’s brand personality to that of a rebel lover gave us all pause. Well, that and drawing a single dot in our dominant hand to symbolize the source of our personal creativity. I told you: oddly compelling.

Court mystery
The most unsettling, and to me meaningful, message to come through Collins’ talk was that the design thinking conversation we’ve been painstakingly trying to—at first initiate and now—prolong, with business leaders has the potential to backfire. We’ve been hell-bent on convincing everyone that we’re not “creative” in the pejorative sense of the word. We are creatives who get business. We are business people with a creative streak and a solid process. This may be true to a certain extent but it has resulted in design thinking being understood as a formula, a series of tried-and-tested steps that can only yield the right results and in the end perhaps don’t require the contributions of a “creative” person at all. So, according to Collins, it may be time to embrace mystery once again and tap into the true creativity we possess and have been desperately trying to quell for fear of our disapproving business counterparts.

It’s a freeing and somewhat soothing thought to imagine that we could be ourselves again, a little awkward and a little arrogant, overly passionate and at times perhaps a bit smug about being able to take part in the magic that is design. For all the discussions in the past few days I don’t think we’re any closer to defining the true value of design and maybe that’s OK. It keeps the mystery alive.

What do you think the value of design is? Should we continue to try to seduce business types by creating formulas to follow or should we nurture the intangible and unknowable side of our creativity? Do we necessarily have to choose?

- – - – -
This recent article in the NY Times explores current methods to measure creativity.

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Comments (9)

Thank you for this lovely snapshot, Isabelle. I, too, have been wondering about bringing back the voodoo and eschewing the constant scrabbling to be defined and understood as “strategic” business people. Over many years of many people trying, we appear to be lowering ourselves to a level we find counterproductive. We can still think as we do and solve problems as we do, but perhaps we need to veil it in the magic and puffs of smoke that the business world imagines us to control and leave it at that.

I think when we were seen as alchemists, we were more respected and better paid.

Casey Hrynkow 30.04.2010 17:33

And to add to your thoughts Casey, when we’re ALL seen as alchemists…. Alas, not all designers operate, deliver or think alike so it’s an uphill climb, when creative, strategic-thinking designers are still referred to as “graphic artists” or “artsy fartsy” types. Hardly what many of us do, as it seems to be a mystery to the mass public. Thank you too for the great insights and sharing Isabelle, as always.

Nancy Wu 30.04.2010 18:15

Thanks for that ladies. I agree very much that we need to embrace the side of our skill set that doesn’t necessarily fit in the design processes we’ve developed but complements them. I should clarify that I firmly believe design has value for business and should concern itself with functionality and results. However, this shouldn’t be equated to denying that one of the components that makes us successful as creatives is one that can’t be quantified or perhaps even taught. It comes with time and with embracing the things that make us passionate personally.

Casey, I love your complementary post, continuing the discussion:

Isabelle 30.04.2010 20:13

Thanks for the recap of Design Week Isabelle,

Gaining insight from others regarding how they think about creativity is always stimulating. I am equally interested in the creative process — the tangible part that can be defined, borrowed and reproduced. It is however, the intangible that occurs within this framework that is at least as important, the most difficult to explain, the most troubling to attach a value to, and the part that requires core talent and ability.

I hope I am wrong but I can’t imagine a time when clients will engage (my) services solely by selling them on the ‘creative magic’.

Great post and discussion.

Steve Zelle 07.05.2010 12:21

Thanks Steve. I agree that the creative magic can’t be the only selling point but I believe denying its existence might be doing us a disservice.

Isabelle 07.05.2010 14:17

Agreed. In selling graphic design, it can feel like we are trying to fit a circle into a square hole to appeal to business. I am always happy to talk about the unpredictable nature of creativity with colleagues, and I still get ‘wowed’ when I experience the magic firsthand, but clients rarely want to hear about it. Am I going about it the wrong way? How do you go about explaining this so it is of value to your clients? How do similar disciplines, such as writers, that have both business goals and creativity, market themselves to their clients?

Steve Zelle 07.05.2010 16:12

[...] recent post by Isabelle Swiderski on the Seven25 blog Design Influence spoke about designers courting the mystery of [...]

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I too like the idea of a lot of these ideas co-existing between the different speakers, especially because they were pretty diverse and all seemed “right” in their own ways. Nice recap!

Davin Greenwell 17.05.2010 14:51

Thanks Davin. I agree. Now that it’s been a few weeks I can definitely spot the speakers that had the most impact on my own thinking but it was a worthwhile experience even for the sheer variety of viewpoints. Ah, broadening one’s horizons . . .

Isabelle 18.05.2010 17:03

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