Design Thinkers 2014, Day 1

 I was honoured when Uppercase Magazine asked if I would like to attend RGD's annual Design Thinkers conference as their correspondent for the second year in a row.  As the Roving Reporter, I was able to soak in 13 incredible presentations by some of the world's most influential designers, typographers and innovators. It was two days full of invaluable insights, and I am excited to share all the notes & wisdom that inspired me.


1) Andrew Deitchmann
CEO & Co-founder, Mother NYC
"A Well-Designed Idea"
  • "have fun and make a living – in that order"
  • importance of convergence – keeping one's mind open
  • leaders need new skillets
  • ideas created by:
    • detectors – through purposeful exploration
    • alchemists – those who follow instincts
  • novelty is NOT sustainable
  • always work with good people
  • big ideas vs. rich ideas (rich is better)
  • "pragmagical"
  • on well-designed ideas:
    • highest common denominator
    • are culturally additive
    • authentic
    • flexible / iterative
    • not intimidated by the big players
  • *Make the complex simple & joyous!

2) Todd Waterbury
Executive Creative Director & Senior VP of Marketing, Target
"Belief to Behaviour"
  • language is what you believe
  • 21st century literacy = coding
  • diversity – best when one field of interest informs the other (and vice versa)
  • "Seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees." -Laurence Belcher
  • use skills to unlock new potential
  • discipline fuels the best creative thinking
  • *de-familiarize the ordinary
  • best ideas & experiences = the inevitable + the unexpected
  • "One sees great things from the valley, only small things from the peak." -G.K. Chesterton
  • best work rooted in empathy, broad thinking & making connections
  • on Brand:
    • belief --> behaviour
    • clarity of beliefs
    • the cumulative experience(s) of the client
    • both powerful & fragile
    • can be built, can be taken down
    • important to monitor changes & adapt
  • on Strategy:
    • comes from sacrifices & hard choices
    • rooted in courage, clarity & conviction
    • ability to say yes to one and no to ten others
  • *Choice is abundant, attention is scarce
  • owned media vs. earned media:
    • owned = topical & temporal
    • earned = presence with purpose
  • *ask yourself "What could it be?"
  • 5 principles at Target "goods doing good":
    • Emotional – open heart, open mind
    • Useful – challenge complexity, simplify the everyday
    • Democratic – intended for everyone
    • Insightful – details just as important as bigger picture
    • Purposeful – for the greater good

3) Sibylle Hagmann
Founder, Kontour type foundry
"Intrinsic Character"
  • interest in post-War Germany / GDR (German Democratic Republic) typography & typographers
  • importance of context – the role environment plays 
  • TypoArt (foundry):
    • influenced by this political / economic system
    • culturally unique context
    • limited materials of socialist system forced creatives to experiment (drawing, painting, calligraphy)
    • had to comply with socialist party
    • managed to preserve (and create) identity / cultural heritage

4) Aaron Draplin
Founder, Draplin Design Co.
"Tall Tales from a Large Man"
  • was told "you're not going to make a living in design"
  • "defy the f*cking odds"
  • interested in "creating things for regular people"
  • still surprised he "got away with it..."
  • "don't forget the power of your mouse finger" to help the community organizations
  • on success Field Notes: "You can do this."
  • design as trade, not trend
  • "quit ripping off Dan Cassaro" – create something NEW!
  • go junking – inspiration waits in a world of "dead things"
  • on worrying: " Get cosmic." – think about the bigger picture and what's really important. At a universal scale, "we have no idea what's going on." Chill out.

5) Erik Spiekermann, Aaron Draplin & Richard Hunt
"The Future of Typography"
  • the best typography happens when craft meets intellect
  • "The only thing I know about the future is that it's ahead of us." - ES
  • typography has to live in different environments
  • "Type is visible language" - ES
  • learn, learn and keep learning
  • anything is possible...
  • in your design, give the same amount of attention to your typography as you do to your images – own every character
  • software is not going to do the work for you
  • priority: make it work (don't make it look cool)
  • if you need help, ASK (before you finish) – know who knows
  • *constraints are useful
  • find magic in mess – use something old to make something new
  • type should be type, lettering should be lettering
  • always think "what's the BEST way to do this?" and then do it!

6) Debbie Millman
President, Design Division, Sterling Brands, Design Matters podcast
"On Rejection, or How the Worst Moments of Your Life Can Turn Out to Be the Best"
  • *get past your fears and work through the discomfort
  • series of rejections, layoffs, setbacks, culminating in a slandering post on the Speak Up forum
  • took lemons and made lemonade - ended up writing for the forum
  • one closed door opens another – opportunity is everywhere
  • every time designers get together, there is opportunity to grow

7) Paula Scher
Partner, Pentagram
"All Design is Social"

*importance of PLAY

Day 2 here.