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!

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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.