2 Days of Thinking for Designers – Part II

After a book full of notes from Design Thinkers Day 1, I had my pen and new notebook ready for the second day. We began Day 2 with David Butler from Coca Cola with his talk about Embracing Complexity. There’s a difference between complicated and complex.

  • Complicated means it is difficult to understand; for example a remote control
  • Complex means many different and connected parts

Since the world is more complex than before, we cannot not design and have to design for scale and agility. He then shared some case studies targeting China and Africa, how Coca Cola managed to fulfill the needs specifically to those groups in the market.

Next up was Susan Bradley. It was surprising for me that she started in Disney with minimal animation experience and knowledge and eventually became a Title Designer at Pixar. The world has definitely changed and it is very less likely to get your foot at the door if you do not know what you are doing nowadays, unless you can prove that you have phenomenal talents and endless creativity to serve. Each project she was involved in requires extensive amount of research and attention to every single details. The story is the king that gives people space for imagination and meanings. It speaks differently to different people.

Then, I picked Andy Pratt’s session about Digital Branding. It seemed to be one of the popular talks seeing that it was full house in the room. He made me look really unaccomplished with his work experiences and achievements. He first started with showing cultural and symbolic connections. The Nazi symbol perhaps is one of the best visual propaganda and has eventually become a symbol of hate that suggests a sense of fear or pressure. Then, he pointed out Usain Bolt’s famous hand gesture after he broke the record or Michael Jackson’s moon walk are examples of creating a brand of their own. It’s interesting in today’s world that more brands want to be more human or personable and humans want to become a brand. In the end, what separates your brand from your competition is the features and functions, categorized as follows: Complimentary, Synergetic, and Symbolic .

  • Complimentary: are embodied in the product or service – adds personality
  • Synergetic: create and effect that is larger than the individual elements, for example, Parkodes (QR codes) for Central park interactivity
  • Symbolic: are so integrated, that the brand will fail if this is removed, for example: removing search from Google.

As a final reminder, Andy shared 8 key points about branding and how our designs work with the brand.

  1. It’s still about our users – They are the Judge/Jury
  2. Content is still the king (they don’t care where it comes from, they only care about good user interface or experience
  3. Context is the key to the kingdom: Actions and behaviours will not make sense without understanding context
  4. It’s a fine line between great and gimmick. Don’t throw in everything but only those ones that are special and useful
  5. Function can and should reduce form
  6. Collaboration between designers, UX designers and developers is a must
  7. Not all actions should be owned: they are opportunities and features that will be good for interactive
  8. Branded functionality is part of the larger system

Afterwards, I attended Julia Hoffman from MoMa to talk about her last minute change to her topic, Design Thinking. Honestly, I was disappointed at first as I felt more related to her original topic of “Non-profit + in-house + low budget = creativity”. But soon after, she wowed us with her challenges working as a Creative director and how she overcomes these obstacles while working in-house with strict brand guidelines that need to adhere to. Like certain brands, MoMa uses a set typeface, but she is able to break it down, use it with different materials, play with it to make it more creativity than its original form. Although, she thinks that design thinking consists of Empathy, Creativity and Rationality but at the end of the day, it is the gut feeling that is more important for the designers. She even shared a case study which a project of hers was unsuccessful and eventually she had to just let it go. “If something is not working, kill the project”.

Then, next session was a bit different. I was at Justin Ferrell’s strategic talk about creative confidence and it turned out to be more than just sitting and listening. Everyone in the room was encouraged to play rock, papers and scissors with the one next to you and the winner will play against another winner while the losers will cheer for the winner. At the end, there will only be one winner left and that will be the last man standing. It was quite nerve wrecking  while having over 50 people cheering for you to win against another winner. Somehow I managed to win every round until the final battle. Justin’s point is that in order to create a risk taking culture, designers need to be vulnerable and face all sorts of criticisms and judging. He talked about the difference between conversion and divergent thinking. He shared with us his favourite childhood story, “Very worried Walrus” from Sweet Pickles; you never know what you can accomplish until you give it a try. There are endless possibilities to a problem and we should not just talk about an idea but to quickly prototype it and test it.


To wrap up the last day of Design Thinkers, Stefan Sagmeister showed us the Happy Film and shared his tactics of achieving happiness as a designer and explored the chances to design pieces that induce happiness in the audience. “‘style = fart’ was the headline of a theory that style and stylistic questions are just hot air and meaningless. I discovered that this is simply not true. Through experience I found that if you have content that is worthwhile, the proper expression of that content, in terms of form and style, is actually very important.”

His tactics to make sure his work remains a calling (intrinsically fulfilling) without deteriorating into a job are:

  • Thinking about ideas and content freely – with the deadline far away
  • Traveling to new places
  • Using a wide variety of tools and techniques
  • Working on projects that matter to me
  • Having things come back from the printer done well
  • Designing a project that feels partly brand new and partly familiar
  • Working without interruption on a single project
  • Getting feedback from people who see our work

Now, that marks the end of Design Thinkers of 2012. I look forward to another brilliant insights next year.


2 Days of Thinking for Designers – Part I

It’s the time of the year for Design Thinkers Conference. It always seems to happen at around the same time of year. Last year was my first time attending the conference, it was informative, useful and inspiring. Most speakers talked about their work process, how they started their career or how they merged into the digital world and tips to become better at the field. Find recaps here.

With last year’s in mind, I was already very excited before it actually started and I could not help myself but to compare it with this year’s conference. First thing I noticed from this years is that Design Thinkers have learned their lesson from their last tragic origami giveaway bag and made them more practical instead of having them over the top design-ish. After all, a good design needs to be practical enough for people to use. If nobody uses it, the design is probably bad or just ugly.

Perhaps, it was because of the horrible hurricane Sandy, some speakers were unable to attend at the last minute. I won’t blame them and I greatly appreciated those who still took the effort and made it to the conference for us designers.

We started our day with the talk by Harry Pearce – how ideas found him? by finding rocks, typographic junks in his language such as graffiti on walls or other cultural writings from any part of the world. His ideas may appear by chance, by accident or by way of nonsense. Such nonsense can help liberate your way of thinking. They are everywhere around us, it’s just a matter of connecting with them. He encouraged designers to have an open mind and open to different medias like film etc. to gather bits and pieces into one single image. I actually found a lot of similarity with Harry, ideas come from everywhere for me and I collect images of random license plates. Whenever I pass by one, I snap a photo of it. I am slowly building a library of it too, check it out here and feel free to add to the collection.

Next, up was Tom Eslinger instead of the scheduled Lisa Strausfield due to a last minute emergency. As an creative director for Saatchi & Saatchi, Tom shared his views on design and mobile experiences. He suggested that when designing, we should think about how our design reacts in different environment, how it behaves overtime and how it moves through space. Designers should design everything ‘Mobile First’. Here is some simple rules from Tom:

What does good mobile ideas have in common? – Sharable, Utility, Portable and Personable. Tom shared some examples of work that connect us to brands, communities and the stuff we love, such as Lego® Life of George. How the design “gamified” lego and introduce kids to simple story telling. The interface resembles much like scrapbook, what we are used to see but incorporated with new technologies and are now sharable to friends and portable to anywhere with you.

I attended the talk from Glenn John Arnowitz on Survival Strategies for In-House Creative Department of One (or Two). As the sole designer in my department in-house at where I am working now, I feel that I can definitely benefit from some tips. Some of the tips are to always back up your design decisions with rationale, gain client’s trust by speaking by your skills and experience, reinforce the message of sharing same goals with your team when working together and keep your clients in the loop. A good design brief will also help define criteria, objective, deadlines and deliverables (this is definitely something I got to stress out to my Clients for). After a project is finished, Glenn also suggested to do a post evaluation of lesson learned in this project for the future. When work is given, we should put tasks first then projects into different buckets.

  • Tier 1: Work that requires a lot of time or conceptualizing
  • Tier 2: Work that are production base with some creativity
  • Tier 3: Simple production work or house cleaning

At last, he shared the 3Ps theory with the designers, which is to be Proactive, be Prepared and be Protective.

  • Be Proactive: work remotely to refresh, think ahead of what’s coming down the pipe
  • Be Prepared: Try to cover tasks, or partner with a freelance
  • Be Protective: Growing your own reputation and credibility

After this session, I joined the Think Like a Publisher for Digital Magazine Designs with Stephen Hart. This one unfortunately was a bit of a disappointment for me. It was nothing more than promoting and selling Adobe products to designers, how the program can now manage, measure and monetize and make all in one. However, one thing he did mention that was worth note taking is that, the more (or better) interactivity, the longer the audience is likely to stay. I didn’t realize but it is indeed true, now that I’m thinking about it I should probably add more interactivity on this blog as well.

Mike Kruzeniski inspired us with Things to Make talk. There are too many cheap designs than smart designs out there. Designers are the strategic assest of a company. They should bring themselves closer to the product to gain more direct relationship for a better design. If designers can bring all the design, business aspects, entrepreneurship and social channeling together then they can provide a creative solution.

Chris Hacker from Johnson and Johnson had the most engaging talk of the day for me. He first started with saying “Marketers are from Mercury and Designers are from Pluto” – best quote of the day. He shared his company’s sustainability effort in creating a better world and encouraged all designers to always put the planet in the forefront when designing anything. He then shared a case study of recycling an excessive 200,000 empty lipstick cases into a branded artistic wall panel now installed in the corporate office. The wall also acts as a reminder for the staffs in at J&J to always be environmentally responsible, kids can fill in these cases with their wishes for the planet.

Lastly, to close off the first day, we have Lisa Strausfeld. She shared her expertise in visualizing data and what kind of data visualizations will succeed and fail. The two main purposes for Data visualization is: Exploration (general audience) and Exploration (for experts).

That wrapped up for day 1. Stay tuned for part two for the second day!

Inspiring Design Thinkers

I attended the Design Thinkers Conference for two days straight. I was so enlightened and felt extremely rejuvenated after these informative, mind-blowing sessions from some of the most inspiring speakers.

Here is a summary from some of the speakers from Day 2, they focused on more of their design and work process behind, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

'Inspirations' by Christian Schwartz

Brian Collins & Leland Maschmeyer – talked about giving constant challenges in today’s world, because the future is unknown, nobody can tell what is going to happen so we should always fill our work with fascinations and design the future. The future is up to us to create.

Eric Ryan – an entrepreneur who makes soap (you might have seen them on the racks at Shoppers). His presentation was mainly about his bumpy journey of his start-up company and how its packaging design, ingredients, sustainability changes the industry. He also wrote a book with his partner called The Method: 7 Obsessions that Helped Our Scrappy Start-Up Turn an Industry Upside Down

Deborah Adler – She impressed me with her thesis project. She designed a system for packaging prescription medicine since the old prescription labels are poorly designed. Information is not legible, misleading and hard to decipher for the patients especially for the seniors. They died from taking the wrong medications. She then started experimenting with packaging, information architecture, and focused on creating the right experience to have a positive impact on people’s lives. She brought her design/idea to Target and from there, they developed the ClearRx System (I wish we have that system in Canada).

Next, Bobby Martin Jr. and Jennifer Kinon talked about the Life Cycle of a Brand, mainly concentrated on the history and development process of Girl Scouts. The new logo was adopted and based on the old logo way back in the 70s, using the shape of the clover leaf. “Brand finds iconic imagery from history to create new unique icon”.

After lunch, there was Todd Simmons, who gave insights about storytelling. He thinks that each client story is different and each requires a different approach/design to do the job right. Hence, “One size fits none”. I think his speech particularly makes sense to me, because often in times projects have different purposes and serve a different client, that’s why sometimes I find myself struggling when thinking about what is the best or most appropriate approach for that specific job.

Jessica Hische – She makes me laugh. A very down-to-earth topographer and illustrator. She does lettering and type designs. By the way, for those who don’t know, there’s a difference between lettering and type designs. Lettering is illustrated or hand drawn while type designs are designing fonts. She showcased a lot of her past jobs and book designs, very nice stuffs! She also thinks that type designer and web designers are related, because she does web designs on the side. Actually, she has done a lot of side projects for charity and for fun, such as Daily Drop Caps, Photo lettering, Mom this is how Twitter works, Don’t fear the Internet etc. A quote from her, “Make things you wish existed”. She made me feel really lazy in comparison….There’s also an article on her in the Communication Arts Issue 52.

Also, her word of advice for those who want to become a successful illustrator, “just draw dogs doing human things” – best quote of the day.

Steve Edge – Talked about his movement, Laterialism. It is the foundation of his designs. Lateral = “sideways”, which means a new view or innovative way of thinking and challenging what is normally being accepted. He went on and recommended that, “Dress for a party everyday and the party will come to you”.

Besides, having my Design Thinker origami bag filled with swags broken in the middle of the street, it was a great and very inspirational experience.

A design that fails.

Interactive Studios: Organic

Organic specializes in digital experience, that is everything from websites to mobile apps, to banners. I was really excited to visit their studio as their studio space is quite open and organized.

Their company website unlike some others I’ve visited are on a dark background, which is quite unusual to showcase portfolio work.

Flash Opening


Here are some of the snapshots during the visit:


Upper deck

Large open space

Rock band and Jits

Work area

Meeting room

Interactive Studios: TBWA\Toronto

TBWA\Toronto is one of the largest full services advertising agencies. They are known for campaigns for Absolut, Nissan Juke and Gaterade. They also use the term, Disruption a lot. Here is their process: 1) Convention: a widely accepted belief 2) Disruption: a radical new idea to help reach the vision faster 3) Vision: a projection of the company into the future. A big idea to aspire to.

Here is a video done by Adbuzz to tour around the great agency that is located across from Harbour Front.

TBWA\Toronto Building

Harbour Front View




We are the Pirates, not the Navy!

In TBWA\Toronto, they call themselves, Pirates, because they want to separate themselves from people who follow rules. They don’t want to limit themselves within boundaries. Hence, “We are the Pirates, not the Navy”

Interactive Studios: One Method

I have been to One Method twice already. The first time was just a random encounter when I tour around Liberty Village with my friend during summer. The second time was from the Fall Tour of Interactive Studios. Their Creative Director, Steve Miller told us that One Method is a creative shop of both digital and design, both shares equal amount of importance in their work. Their digital work includes: web, ad, mobile media, social media, digital content, motion design and applications. Their design work involves the traditional print medias, branding, ads, interior design, strategy and curriculum. I got very beneficial tips and advices during Steve’s presentation that day. “You’re only as good as your weakest piece”. Your worst work in your portfolio is always the most memorable one, so all designers should make sure to only include the best work in your portfolio. Another tip he gave was that a resume of a designer needs to stand out and be as creative as possible. It needs to catch the Creative Director’s attention and make an instant impression. The work in your portfolio should reflect you as a designer and the time and effort you spent. After the visit, I actually took the entire week at home concentrating on building my best work for my portfolio and making my creative resume.

Here is a preview of their website. Their website showcase a lot of their digital and interactive works such as motion graphics and videos. Their background image of the website is actually the illustration on one of their walls inside the studio.


Home Page


Here are some snapshots during the visit: I really like their studio, it almost feels like home but more roomy and open. I love the big space and the amount of light inside the studio. One of my favourite interior designs I’ve seen from a studio.


One Method conference room

Private area on your own

Game area

Very open space

Their graffiti wall with all staffs on board. This is the president of One Method

Account Team

Indoor basketball

President's Room

Sitting area

It's funny how every agency has a Jitz table

Open Kitchen


Interactive Studios: Mighty

Mighty to me is an agency focuses heavily on digital media or internet. Their creative process involves the entire team, because they believe good ideas can come from anybody even from the accounting person. They use entertainment, social media, music, websites, interactive displays and software applications to make brands famous. I did not get to tour around their studio as much as the other ones, but it has a big open space area with a large open kitchen. Very spacious and open. Their rooms are also quite opened as well, because they are just one big glass, you can pretty much see what  is inside from the outside. I had the privilege to greet their Creative Director, Jon Toews. He shared that their ideal candidate needs to be very good at one thing and able to do other things as well, and in his words “hungry on other things”. He recommended all designers to keep themselves updated in pop culture and digital online in order to be successful in this industry.

Their website is like a blog, sharing all cool and innovative videos clips or designs that they encounter on a normal basis. They also made a self-promo website called, Make Me Mighty. A cool webpage that generates interesting graphics when you type in your name to make it “mighty” and epic.

Their webpage is more like a blog style

Their Self Promo Site to make your name all Mighty and Epic

The graphics are different every time

Main Lobby Area