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Future by Design: Type
Branding Pan Am

Future By Design: Telling Stories
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Future By Design: The Future Workplace

Future By Design: Consumer Engagement

Future By Design: Creative Collaboration
RGD Ontario 2013: Design Thinkers Conference Synopsis

Future by Design: Identity Design

Future by Design: Information and Design
McDonald, Cartier & Carl Dair

Future by Design: The Evolving Visual Landscape

RGD Ontario 2012 Design Thinkers Conference Synopsis
Future by Design: The Next Designer
Future by Design: The Evolving Consumer

RGD Ontario 2011 Design Thinkers 2011 Conference Synopsis

Reading Books: Paper and Pixels

RGD Ontario 2010 Design Thinkers 2010 Conference Synopsis

RGD Future By Design Panel Discussion: Type
Posted 10/30/15

The latest RGD Ontario Future by Design event on Sept. 30, 2015 focused on the future of typography. 15 locations across Canada connected to this virtual event. These events are really growing and are very popular. I attended the event from Mozilla’s downtown Toronto office. Lots of young designers were in attendance. Or were they students? It was a young crowd. Paddy Harrington, RGD hosted the event, engaging four speakers appearing from the U.S. and Canada. Laura Worthington is a U.S.-based typeface designer. Ellen Lupton, a well-known name in the design industry, is curator at Cooper-Hewitt and author of many books. Jessica Hische is a lettering artist and illustrator. And Nick Sherman is a designer — and skateboarder — he works at The Font Bureau.

Basic introductions started the event with guests invited to share comments regarding typography, what they do professionally, and other interesting thoughts on design. Ellen Lupton promptly talked about grids, foregoing talk about type. She was very engaging, drawing the connection between type and the use of grid systems as underlying structures to support type. Ellen Lupton is a design teacher; she mentioned very quickly legendary Swiss typographer Emil Ruder’s explorations in modern grid systems to the use of grids on currently popular Web sites like Pinterest. Grids are systems of organizing content with an underlying structure. Historically, they were rational systems; functional and rigid. Today grid use is more expressive, aided by technology, they’ve become dynamic too. She offered samples of work from Icelandic designer Ragnar Freyr and Swiss designers Bureau Collective — with a poster series build on diagonal grids that pushed type and image elements into foreground and background; they were obviously static, being print material- but still, very dynamic. She suggested structure can move in and out, but still be logical, maintaining basic rules. She’s also fond of French design Philippe Apeloig — he was a featured speaker at Design Thinkers 2014. Recalling his work, it was really grid-dominated, yet full of design energy too. In her words: “Using a grid or structure Is not about building a prison, it’s more like treating a playground for your content.” More important than type, is the grid that supports text. It’s not just about the font, but the structure. Grids are changing too, in the world of small-screen portable devices, grids must maximize vertical space. Based on algorithms, they’re responsive, shifting according to search results, adjusting content to varying screen widths.

From Brooklyn, N.Y., Nick Sherman played in bands, loves music and skateboarding. He’s just a kid, and very tech smart — he offered up several sites on his remote presentation. He talked about responsive design — historically they had pre-set sizes, however, in digital type, fonts are based on optical sizes, measured in pixel environments. He developed Superpolator — an amazing document window that extrapolates type design, building master weights from thin to heavy. Too hard to explain, but so cool to watch. He talked about the fluid state of design — small narrow screens as seen on smart phones, or an even smaller Apple Watch screen — are now programmed to adapt on-screen text to more condensed weights. Type is becoming variable, thus, it can be more flexible. “Many elements of Web design are very fluid — the page shape, paragraph, headings etc. can react to the context. But the micro-details of a typeface like weight and width are fixed elements. They are frozen ice cubes in a fluid sea,” he said.

Award-winning type designer and lettering designer Laura Worthington talked about contemporary type design; historically it was intensely labour-intensive, but thanks to open-type software, the possibilities are endless! Designers are in the drivers’ seat now. She talked about her love for typography and hand-lettering. Hand-lettered typography is growing rapidly in response to digital type; it’s tangible, authentic. “The more we interact digitally, the more we have a need for the tangible, the handmade. Hand-lettered typefaces fill that need,” she said. And more people are drawing letterforms — and customers are buying them. In fact, many of those type designers are self-taught. She feels there’s enormous room for growth — a casual user market is emerging. Easy-to-use software and affordable pricing are empowering designers to get creative typographically.'

Lettering artist Jessica Hische shared Laura Worthington’s comments regarding the growth of lettering and type. Web sites like Pinterest are facilitating the growth and popularity and trends in type. With such fantastic growth, she wondered: just how many fonts to de we need? That age-old graphic design question will never be put to rest it seems. She believes the possibilities for type are endless. And she’s right, of course. While trends emerge, standing out in the crowd is essential. How? By creating diverse, strong work. She’s a huge fan of designer Marian Bantjes — who approaches type in a completely new and remarkable way. Her work is so unique it can’t realistically be automated or copied. Type forms created from uncooked pasta noodles? Nobody would likely have her patience to do that! She commented on the popular growth of chalk lettering — it’s everywhere in restaurants and coffee houses. It’s very on-trend now, the challenge is to stand outside of its traditional environments. She encouraged designers to get active in the design community and “have awesome careers in type.”

The Q&A session followed, with inquiries submitted online from attendees, moderated by Paddy Harrington. What’s the place of hand-lettering in the digital context? Nick Sherman talked about making custom-lettering more responsive in Web design. Jessica Hische suggested the internet shouldn’t be strictly text-based. There are great possibilities to be experimental with type online. Laura Worthington suggested that we remember type is a “visual voice” but for practical applications, it must remain readable.
How do they work? Ellen Lupton isn’t really a hands-on designer, but is an educator and prolific writer of design industry related issues. She’s a big fan of Google Docs for collaborative content generation. “To be able to directly engage with content is a liberating thing. Everybody should have the opportunity to directly manipulate content,” she said. Jessica Hische is always thinking about not working in “end environments” — but still experimenting. Laura Worthington writes journals, recording her process, thinking about how she can streamline her workflow, she even logs her mistakes — learning to be more efficient.

A curious question: What do the panelists want to know about the other panelists? Ellen Lupton asked Laura Worthington what are casual users of her fonts using practically: Some of them are using Microsoft Publisher. She actually offers instruction sheets and videos to educate casual users of type. Jessica Hische commented that there is room for cross-platform growth for companies like Adobe — to make the user experience more unified and seamless. Nick Sherman asked Ellen Lupton about the relationship between design and algorithms. She suggested creativity is infinity variable. The end user is capable of customizing their screen, spreading and pinching. Nick Sherman suggested that by moving from different screens — iphone to laptop — that users don’t really notice these changes — they’re seamless.

A question was presented on the idea if scale: how does the concept of scale work in the context of typography? Nick Sherman talked about how to calculate the perceived size of type as you see it in its context. In fact, he showed us a site that he co-authored Size Calculator that determines type size based on distance — highway signage point size for example, or wayfinding signage scaled to pedestrian environments. Ellen Lupton suggested that architectural signage systems are becoming changeable — projected imagery for example — it’s entering a more physical engagement. Galleries are using these typographic devices with changeable content.

What’s most important to being committed to excellence? For Ellen Lupton it’s about the end user. It’s not about being clever, but being responsible to the end user’s needs. Jessica Hische similarly designs for her audience — always thinking about their needs. She suggested “always ask if you’re doing work to the best of your ability.” Laura Worthington thinks about the typefaces she designs and their uses — she pushes the limits of type. Nick Sherman says it helps to have a group of people he knows to share input, keeping them in mind as he designs digitally — they serve as motivation. Jessica Hische spoke of her collaboration with filmmaker Wes Anderson in movie title work. He approached her. Their collaborative efforts have been very successful. He works quickly, and she respects his design sensibility. They share a mutual respect for each other. As a type designer, Laura Worthington respects her relationship with designers — she finds it’s a collaborative situation too — responding to the needs of design professionals.

So, another successful RGD Future by Design event — lots of interesting commentary and insight from designers who love type. Check out my Pinterest page for type-inspired images from the Web. Until next time, designers…
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Branding Pan Am
Posted 10/03/15

Toronto hosted the 2015 Pan Am games. The two-week athletic competition and month-long cultural festival played out over the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Venues stretched far and wide from Milton, to Niagara, to downtown Toronto and out to Oshawa. 7,600 athletes from 41 nations from the Americas participated. High profile events - think Olympics, or World Cup - bring global news media interest and visitors. Host cities make their best efforts to shine, if briefly, on the global stage. Branding plays an essential role in staging these events.

The official Pan Am press release describes the logo as a “vibrant, curved design…inspired by the figurative styles of pre-Columbian aboriginal art forms throughout the Pan Americas. It also draws on ancient sport traditions—specifically the Mezzo-Americans (including Aztec and Mayan cultures), which are linked to the first use of rubber balls in sport as early as 1600 BC.” The theme for Pan Am 2015: United We Play.

The standard by which sporting event iconography are measured must be German designer Otl Aicher's work for the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. Forty years later, they look new and current. Definitely timeless. The Pan Am effort in 2015 for Toronto is decidedly less rigid; no strict compliance to underlying grid systems here, these icons are playful, curvy and bright. With 48 events, each icon demands simple and immediate recognition. The visual language employees very simple shapes depicting athletes in action in semi-transparent bright colours. They look like paper cut-outs you did when you were a kid, excited by that new pad of colour construction paper. The icons were displayed widely as montages, appearing on fencing, banners, signage, vehicles, advertising and in the substantial 154-page program/event guide. They were all over the place. The colour palette was clean, bright and simple. Typography was simple too: Gotham Rounded.

Some quick observations from a design point-of-view:
I'm a huge believer in grid systems. So the icons were a challenge for me, initially I found them to be too lose, unstructured. And too simplistic. I would have prefer a bit more definition in shapes. I like the semi-transparency of colour, but wanted to see more colour in some icons and more control in defining shapes to express the essence of each icon's meaning. A good effort. But more refinement in style please.
On typography: Well, Gotham is the new Helvetica. It's ubiquitous. I use it too. Pan Am communication is trilingual: English, French and Spanish. Gotham was the primary typeface for all three languages. Signage and typography in general were well done, but not exciting. I like using multiple typefaces: I would have preferred to see contrasting type treatments for each language - consistently across all communications. Three languages: three typefaces.
Merchandising: There was a lot of it. Generally well done too. Nice t-shirts and hoodies - some stuff selling out quickly. The mascot figure, Pachi, a porcupine, was cute too. A porcupine? Well, mascots are always challenging. Did you see the London Olympics mascot? The mascot was the result of a children's contest. Enough said about that.
The legacy: Some stunning athletic facilities across the region will inspire and train future Canadian athletes. The athletes' village accelerated the construction of new housing in the new Canary District, east of downtown Toronto. The new TORONTO sign down at Nathan Phillips Square was a huge immediate hit. People flocked to take selfies in front of those big bright letters. Intended to stay put, it's a bright addition to this public space.
Panamania: Was the month-long cultural event that invited artists to participate from the Americas. Nightly concerts were a huge hit at City Hall and Pan Am Park - Exhibition Place.

Note: an online search failed to find a design credit for the logo and identity for Pan Am games.

Take a look at this slide show below of random scenes of the identity for Pan Am 2015. Enjoy.
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Banner signage, Union Station

 

RGD Future By Design Panel Discussion: Telling Stories
Posted 06/01/15

RGD Ontario recently hosted an interesting panel discussion as part of the Future by Design series. Registered guests attended remotely — I watched from George Brown College in downtown Toronto. Tonight’s subject of focus: the future of storytelling.

Appearing from Montreal, new media artist Elizabeth Laferrière offered a case study on a project she designed and directed for the town of St. Laurent, Quebec — part of the larger metropolitan Montreal area. To celebrate the town’s history, she designed a multi-media digital animation projection installation — essentially digital imagery projected on to the facade of an historic building in the town. The project’s goal: bring locals together and learn about local history and inspire the community. The facade of a local church provided the unconventional canvas for the animation. In her words "Technology had to uphold the topic"; technology as a tool for storytelling would be a reoccurring theme during this evenings ongoing presentations and the Q&A session. She focused on content on a given canvas — plunging viewers into abstraction. Employing a visual narrative of large-scale imagery of nature, historically significant sites, archival newspaper reports and modern symbols, she celebrated the town’s local energy. The ongoing event was so successful, locals returned nightly to sit and watch, meeting their neighbours; it inspired them to learn about their history. Technology opened up the possibilities of storytelling. For her, the core of the story had to be upheld, the message had to remain relevant.

From New York City, graphic designer Farah Assir, spoke about her experience designing the The New York Times Now app for the the world’s most well-known newspaper going back to 1851. The paper introduced an online edition in 1996. Today, with mobile apps growing in use, reading habits are changing, thus, new ways of delivering content and presenting it to rushed users is critically important. The result was the NYTNow app, developed by cross-functional teams at the newspaper; the app’s development required a close working relationship between designers and editors to develop something new — but without actually knowing the outcome. They had to challenge the assumptions about how users gather news. App users in fact, want others to know they know — gathering news from the NYTNow app, integrating it into daily life. The app develops asked themselves: how does the app fit into daily life? How people talk about news? So the app was built around how users want to gather information — even at different times of the day. News must be digestible, framed within the context of users busy lives, making it shareable.

Jake Barton, founder of experience design firm Local Projects that specializes in museum and gallery user interfaces. "All work happens through prototyping" he said. "As you do things, you understand them." It’s about about user engagement. Technology can bring in audiences; on-screen engagement creates a landscape of context; thus creating a connection between museum collections and audiences. The museum becomes a platform — the gallery is imagined as a social experience. For Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, visitors become designers themselves. With a smart pen, it becomes a utility for drawing on screens, scanning information and creating desktop wallpaper. The pen enables access and connectivity with the museum’s collection. Regarding the personal experience of of storytelling, he says, "The interactive, personal emotional engagement will always pass the test of time, while technology changes."

Lots of questions followed. Technology as a tool for storytelling became the dominant stream of thought for the evening. On the case of the Cooper Hewitt museum, a viewer wondered if there was resistance among curators to bring technology into the museum. Jake Barton suggested that museum visitors may be challenged by technology trumping the exhibits and artifacts, diminishing their meaning and relevance. He believes we’re in a transitional moment of technology — it’s not replacing authentic art, but is augmenting it. Tech can become an outlet to connect with a collection while respecting scholarship and still engaging the importance of curatorship.

So, how are people using the NYTNow app? Farah Assir says they’re loving it. The app welcomes them in the morning with a news brief. The buy-in for users did not actually require huge changes, but for the New York Times, they had to build trust, in her words "Small wins to move bigger changes."

How do the panelists stay on the technology curve? Jake Barton observed that cool tech tools can be useful, but engagement through great stories is more critical. Don’t rely on software for long term gain. For his work on the 9/ll memorial in New York City, the story remains an ongoing, unfinished experience, and thus, unpredictable. The memorial offers a multi-dimensional, responsive experience, projecting peoples’ stories. He says, "9/11 was a collective witness… the memorial is a collective memory of a visceral experience."

How do you balance user wants and business needs? Farah Assir observed that designers traditionally have a bad reputation for not being interested in cost. For NYTNow, building an audience, builds the brand. Thus, long term users maintain their subscriptions. For Jake Barton, "The argument is a false dichotomy: user needs are business needs. Usability is the key to business success." How do you get people to use your stuff? Like it. Engage it. Inspire them to do something. The challenge for business is to be figure out how to be known for something. Big ideas can be shared across platforms. For Elizabeth Laferrière, technology offers possibility, but content must be engaging — the core of work is to engage people.

How is storytelling changing anyway? Jake Barton suggested that platforms are evolving. People’s expectations are changing too. Experiences are becoming personalized; people are looking for new contextual ways of connecting. Daily life is transitioning to more on-screen time, or mediated reality. He observed that on-screen time doesn’t engage kinesthetic responses — it’s not necessarily a good thing. Wearable technology Google Glass failed to connect with users, however, the category is definitely headed for growth.

How do you get clients sold on cutting-edge ideas? For NYTNow’s Farah Assir, it was about painting a bigger picture of how the app would change. How far it could go, then scale it back. For Jake Barton, the key is having great ideas and bringing clients to you. Generic work won’t deliver great ideas. Take leaps. In his words, "Great ideas are always wanted — they’ll sell, build momentum. Find a core group of receptive clients who seek out remarkable ideas."

Panelists closing thoughts: Farah Assir talked about technology and form: "Figure out what will resonate and how to present the basic mechanics of bringing people in, engaging them." For Elizabeth Laferrière: "The core of storytelling remains, technology is a tool." And Jake Barton: "Work is embedded in connections, technology will amplify that."
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DT 2014: Design Legends, Be Fearless, & Junkin'
Posted 12/04/14

November 6–7, 2014 RGD Ontario Design Thinkers 2014 conference brought the design community together in Toronto for two days of inspiration and motivation. DT moved from the Metro Toronto Convention Centre to The Sony Centre (formerly The Hummingbird Centre) in downtown Toronto. RGD Ontario Executive Director, Hilary Ashworth lead opening greetings and acted as ongoing host for the event.

The opening keynote came from Andrew Deitchman, CEO, Mother, New York on the “well-designed idea.” Mother’s clients include Target, Google and Kate Spade. He suggested experiential moments transition into well-designed ideas. The genesis of an idea comes from detection to alchemy. New ideas come about by following instincts. But they aim for the highest common denominator. And they must be authentic — novelty is unsustainable. Savory is a well-designed idea: a delivery-only restaurant. A business insight was found and a “white space” was created, in the words of Andrew Deitchman. And the idea found traction. It required fine attention to detail in logistics, operations, online ordering and, of course, the need to engineer food for delivery. Their great logo says “Our kitchen. Your table.” For Mother-branded Sir Kensington’s gourmet scooping ketchup, the client found an opening - or white space - where industry leader Heinz was not to be found - the change in food attitude that is leading consumers to make smarter decisions when grocery shopping. Sir Kensington’s ketchup has only four ingredients, unlike mass-produced competitors that are loaded with salt and chemical additives. Andrew Deitchman spoke about ‘big ideas’ versus ‘rich ideas’: rich ideas evolve and refine, the brand has personality. Retail giant Target, another Mother client, is a well-designed idea: people’s desire for better, as he put it. Target regularly collaborates with design industry leaders to design and sell new products for their stores: Missoni, Michael Graves, Todd Oldham, among many partners. Collaboration leads to well-designed ideas.

Speaking of Target, Todd Waterbury is creative director for the retail giant, and was this morning’s second keynote speaker. He spoke about coding, but I think he was extending the meaning beyond the line coding in a markup language, but rather the process of analyzing and facilitating data. He suggested Google is shaping the future through coding bits of language. Code is flexibl: it can be assembled, fixed, changed, you can play with it. He spoke about the emerging growth of 3-D printing; it is actually changing the way we produce and design things. 3-D printing now enables fast prototyping, once a costly challenge to design, it’s now empowering design to move faster to market. Coding and technology present designers with the “audacity to change the conversation about how designer and creator must adapt.” Design looks anew, making no assumptions. Designers are challenged to 'defamiliarize the ordinary', to borrow a thought from Paul Rand. The best-designed solutions and experiences are infused with inevitability and the unexpected. Target designs experiences at scale while remaining close to the customer; big scale but up-close insight can potentially unlock customer loyalty. He believes brand is “the connection between belief and behaviour. You’re judged by what you believe and what you do. Brand is the cumulative experience.” He spoke about strategy, suggesting it’s actually about sacrifice; it requires making hard choices with the courage to say yes to one thing, while saying no to 10 others. Strategy must focus on clarity for the user. On the subject of media — once it was mediated, controlled, but now we have unmediated platforms — choice is abundant. It’s liberating and challenging. Attention is scarce. Media attention must be earned by engaging in an ongoing conversation and bringing value to it. Finally, for Target, he outlined five design principles: Emotional — bringing emotional value to customers, doing good for customers. Useful — by challenging life complexity, make some things easy for customers. Democratic — Embrace design that uncovers a unique idea for everyone. Insightful — be close to the user, focus on details while seeing the bigger picture. Purposeful — Design that informs from an individual need and functions for the greater good.

Concurrent, break-out sessions followed a mid-morning break. This is often a challenging task at DT, so many interesting speakers, choose one. U.K.-based designer and co-founder of Lewis Moberly, Mary Lewis spoke about the principles she applies to design. Her presentation was measured, structured and almost lecture-like. Typically British. Design is tangible — you can take it home, use it daily. Advertising is transient, but design is enduring. What are the keys to successful design? Design must win the eye, the heart and the mind. If you don’t win the eye, the graphics won’t hold on. There are wallpaper brands in abundance, good design zigs while others zag — to borrow a phrase from Marty Neumeier. Winning the heart requires emotional engagement — it wins over functional and rational thought. Brands must talk to their users, speak to them. In her words “Everyone loves a voice. Voice brings heart.” Winning the mind requires design that connects with the brain. Design must always be one step ahead. Consumers already have a brand image in mind; for marketers, their image must be connected with the consumer’s mind too. Win the eye. Win the heart. Win the mind. Three principles she has embraced in her career. She offered case studies to support this belief — heritage brands like Grey Goose, Dunhill, Selfridges to Bailey’s and Haagen Dazs Ice Cream.

DT’s organizers seem to find the most unique people in the industry: from eccentric U.K. designers like Steve Edge and Morag Myerscough to U.S. designer Aaron Draplin. He was a big hit at DT 2014. His presentation: Tall tales from a large man. He’s a big guy too. Bearded, trucker hat, and a big voice to match that was prone to swearing. To start, he wished to clear the air and defy the odds, because in his mind, he should not have been on the stage at DT, believing he didn’t have the credentials, or accolades, he’s just a basic American, growing up. He fired through images of his skateboarding childhood, years spent in Alaska and Oregon, California and Minnesota. Over the years though, he engaged his creative mind and loved drawing. He makes field notes wherever he goes, drawing, sketching, writing. He works digitally, but suggested “Never forget power of your finger.” So, get outside and explore. Go ‘junkin’ as he describes it — go to those places where you connect, places that you love. Inspiration may appear to be random, but it can be refined and even restrained. His advice: get dirty and go cosmic. Just find your thing. He offered a tall tale — or case study — from his design for the U.S.-led stimulus package identity. Being a big Obama fan, he jumped at the opportunity to design it — in only four days! Today, he continues to design posters, his famous ‘field notes’ pads, speaking at TEDX events, and designing tattoos. The audience at DT loved Aaron Draplin.

Rushed over to the next concurrent session: a panel discussion on the future of typography featuring graphic designer Aaron Draplin and typography design legend Erik Spiekermann, and Richard Hunt. The room was packed with delegates leaning on walls and chairs, or sitting on the floor. So, what do delegates need to know about the future of type? For Erik Spiekermann, we’re back to where we started. Given new platforms for viewing information — type is now non-media specific. It must work on multiple screen sizes. He designs for modules, not paper. Designers must get smart about new type applications, knowing what substrates it will be delivered on. For Aaron Draplin, he loves the details, like ligatures, in typography — that excites him. He spoke of the need to compromise — making little moves forward for type. The panel spoke on the growing move to collaboration. Working with others overcomes challenges, reaching a common goal. Eric Spiekermann advised “Work with people who are good at the things you don’t know about. Learn about design technology and know what can and can’t be done - not necessarily how to do it.” On an interesting question about craft — and letterpress in particular — Erik Spiekermann has noticed the merging of technology and hands-on labour. He works in letterpress and feels the need to get away from the computer; it forces him to think about constraints. While technology enables everything to be made possible, printing requires that he get his hands dirty. Staying on the topic of hand-crafted work, a question was asked regarding hand-rendered fonts. Aaron Draplin loves them. He finds hand-rendered letterforms to be a “weird zone of whimsical” they force one to look at how things work. Handwriting isn’t predictable. You have to own every character. Delegates were encouraged to do our own handwriting — not challenged to make a new typeface, but to simply write. Typeface design and handwriting aren’t the same thing of course, and that’s the point. Handwriting is unique and isn’t meant to be reproduced and sold. Both Richard Hunt and Erik Spiekermann stressed the essential need to have good typography skills — respecting the importance of craft in typography. Even developers are responsible for type now, and consequently, sometimes they exhibit poor type skills. For Aaron Draplin, digital communications is mostly about typography. So it has to be good. On the age-old question: Do we need another typeface? Erik Spiekermann finds the question irrelevant. “Do we need another poem? Do we need another song?” he replied. Why should the question of another typeface be proposed? He challenged delegates to draw their own typeface. Make one, draw it, outline it, set it. He suggested that the outcome will likely be a different design than originally planned. He said,“The best typography happens when craft and intellect come together.”

DT’s penultimate keynote on Day One was delivered by Debbie Millman. There are few things she has not done in her career in design: designer at Sterling Brands, author of six books and contributor to many others, blogger, interviewer on Design Matters, educator at The School of Visual Arts. She is President Emeritus of AIGA. Remarkable! She spoke passionately about the worst moments in her professional life and how they turned out to be the best things. Speaking from purely personal experience, she lead delegates through her career story. She was engaging, funny and sincere. Attending SUNY studying journalism and editing the student newspaper she found her interest in design, not editing — she remains a prolific writer. Worked on a couple of magazines, then opened her own business in 1987. She says “To get clients, we cold called. I’m a master cold-caller as a result of that experience. And we were just fearless about asking people for business. And our company really got big within the first couple of years. When I was cold calling, a lot of people weren’t interested, but I never took that as a personal rejection.” On rejection she says: “You just get immune to the rejection. You begin to realize it has nothing to do with you.” Of NYC in the 1980s she says “That’s when all of the great New York designers were in the spotlight. People like, Tibor Kalman, Stephen Doyle, and Bill Drenttel. And Frankfurt Gips Balkind. Of the New York City agency she says “I was enamored with the work that they were doing and I felt that the work that I was doing paled in comparison." She sold her company and ended up being hired by Aubrey Balkind who, upon seeing her portfolio, said that "He would hire me but not as a graphic designer. He said I would be better off in account management, doing new business development.” She left FGB though, ultimately unhappy. She began writing a blog for Armin Vit on SpeakUp at underconsideration.com. She began writing for Print magazine. And then in 2005 began hosting Design Matters. She was invited to join the AIGA and later became president. Her career story is remarkable. While facing challenges, she was fearless in her determination. Always challenging herself to move forward, never sticking her comfort zone. Delegates loved her story and later, stood in a long queue at the SWIPE pop-up shop to get their books signed.

 

Debbie Millman greatly admires Pentagram’s Paula Scher. Bob Hambly, RGD, introduced her as the final keynote speaker. She is in the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame and an AIGA medalist. She believes “all design is social,” the theme of her presentation. She described her participation in the movement to convert an old elevated rail line in New York City to what has become one of the city’s biggest attractions, the High Line. She designed the identity for the project; it’s pure simplicity in design and execution. Through fundraising the project gained momentum and became reality. She spoke of “improving the unacceptable.” From her experience on developing a signage system for a public beach destroyed, and rehabilitated, following Hurricane Sandy to her work as a painter, installing a large-scale mural in a public building — she has worked in the public realm, seeking to improve the visual conditions of our built environment. For a New York retailer, she designed a morphing electronic pixel board — excited by the project because “Part of the thrill is designing things you don’t know how to design.” For the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia she designed a large-scale mural; its central element a raised hand. When seen through the large windows of the centre’s lobby, visitors began raising their own hands, roughly in the same scale as the mural, thus becoming an element in the design. Posting their pictures of their raised hands online, the experience went viral. Of this social interaction she says, it simply can’t be planned. It just happened. All design is social.

Day Two at DT 2014. The first keynote address came from designer Richard Turley. He got the show going with an enthusiastic message, "Typography can change the world, people!" Very amusing. He’s a Brit from Liverpool. He reviewed his career with examples from past experience, in particular from The Guardian newspaper. He met Mark Porter at The Guardian, crediting him as a mentor. It was his apprenticeship at the newspaper where he really learned graphic design. He was part of the paper’s ambitious redesign and he eventually worked on its features magazine, G2. He jumped the Atlantic and worked at Bloomberg Business Week magazine, learning everything about grids, type and layout — those basic elements that contribute to spatial decisions when designing a layout. He clearly loved print design. Yet, in his words, he "bit the hand that fed me" by shaking things up, by being disruptive, producing magazine covers and layouts that challenged conventions in a category not known for ground-breaking design.

Appearing remotely from France, graphic designer Phillippe Apeloig offered a retrospective of his work. He loves poster design. He enjoys playing with visual illusion, less about function, more about playfulness. He loves Impressionist Claude Monet, and so his posters play with light and shadow, transparency and illumination. He employs a visual vocabulary that relates to architecture too. Fond of Futurism, his works are full of the illusion of motion and action. Yet he commented that finding simplicity in design can be hard to find. For a poster featuring an architectural image of steps leading up to a New York City tenement, he made a 3-D model of the steps, photographed it and manipulated type over the image. For An American in Paris poster, he applied letters to a model of the Eiffel Tower; eventually removing the tower itself so that the letterforms assumed the shape of the iconic structure. Then applying semi-transparent colour and motion effects, the graphic emerged as two figures dancing together. It was a lovely image, brilliantly executed. A retrospective of his work was exhibited in 2013.

Graphic design graduates of late 1980s will know the name Joe Duffy. His work filled the pages of Communication Arts design annuals; his work was distinctive and always brilliantly executed. That was the work of Joe Duffy III. He has a son, Joe Duffy IV; the younger Joe Duffy addressed DT 2014, speaking on the history of the communications company his father establish. Both father and son are active members of the company. The younger Joe was easy-going in that American mid-west way that is so engaging. He offered a visual insight into the creative process utilized at their studio. With the right frame of mind, their goal is always to make the design process as simple as possible. Unfortunately sometimes, it’s the client that complicates the process. Before hitting the software tools, Duffy present inspiration boards to the client — setting the design direction before designing anything. Inspiration boards, or mood boards, are essentially visual briefs, filtering design down to its essential elements. The mood boards represent the imagine phase — what you would like to do. By using mood boards, they effectively bypass 20-30 designs, presenting only 2 or 3 design directions. The client is informed, up to speed on Duffy’s design intentions and thus, subjectivity is removed. No unpleasant surprises. Joe Duffy is always paying attention to culture, taking in inspiration. Snapping pictures all the time. Reading Fast Company and the New York Times. For clients, they go out and become immersed in any category, understanding their industry. And always asking a lot of questions. Getting feedback. Understanding the client’s sensibility, the visual filter enables fast editing — even before design has begun. He illustrated their design process with new identity for Mall of America branding. Duffy went to the mall, studied its history, audited past work. In the design phase, they sketched madly, avoiding struggles and fighting with technology. Iiterating rapidly. The mall represents America’s diversity. The rebranded identity employs a ribbon that assumes the shape of a five-pointed star. Applying the star-shaped ribbon to multiple applications, they built a brand language. Ultimately, they handed design maintenance over to the client — with a tool kit of design assets to guide their in-house design studio. It’s a brilliant identity. I’ve always loved it. Finally, Joe Duffy offered these critical steps for effective design: get inspired daily, ask questions, create a process, do homework, justify why, sketch, do work you’re proud of. I’ve loved Joe Duffy’s work for years; it was a great experience to hear about that work from it’s creative source. This was definitely a DT 2014 highlight for me.

U.S. writer Dave Holston spoke about the empathetic designer and why your next great design idea won’t be yours. Interesting thought. To be empathetic is to figuratively walk in someone’s shoes. To get to know what their life is like; to understand their emotions and motivations. We’re social creatures; it’s inherent that we understand each other. So, why should we care about empathy? Because we can’t design without it. It’s the first step in the design process. So, who do we design for? To answer that, we must put design into context — by understanding the problem. Facilitating conversation with clients and collaborators, the design process can be mastered. He illustrated the triangulation of empathy as three overlapping circles consisting of value creation, innovation and experience. Value creation brings people together, into the process. Dialogue builds process. Co-creation creates value. This is important to understand because the world is small now; people are empowered with information and have the ability to raise their voices. For brands, this means users control brands, not the marketers. Dave Holston is Director of Strategic Design Management at The University of Texas, Austin and the author of The Strategic Designer: Tools & Techniques for Managing the Design Process.

Next, a message delivered by Kickstarter founder, Charles Adler. He offered a background story on the creation of the online crowd-sourcing funding site. In the 1990s, art had been industrialized, squeezed. Return-on-investment had dominated creative expression. Industry was handicapped by the mainstream. Yet, on the fringes was rave culture, randomness. Kickstarter began small. Very small. Raising $1500 for a music album recording for Alison Weiss. Kickstarter was doing a work-around the traditional music industry protocols. Artists could do their own thing, sometimes enjoying viral success. It was not about the money — money is a metric — but about people taking heroic acts. On being a designer, he considers himself “a designer without license.” Like his attitude regarding industry traditions, he believes the rules are meant to be broken; he believe they’re temporary. The takeaway from Charles Adler: “Question everything. Get down to the nuts of the problem. Ask why.”

Erik Spiekermann did not disappoint at DT 2014. His career highlights are lengthy: type designer, information architect and founder of MetaDesign and FontShop. He’s amusing, fast-talking, very brash, and opinionated. Type design is easy! Everyone should do it. Draw it first. It can be tedious and boring. His clients always want two weights - he prefers eight weights for flexibility. On the age-old question of how many typefaces do we need, he responds by asking the question: How many books do we need? He has more books than he can put on his bookcases. Who needs so many bicycles? He has about 20. So, there is always need for another typeface. On design thinking process: Always start with content. Design and implement. Always remaining in continuous flow. Always build a style guide for clients. Where is design going? Design is becoming user-centred, not designer-centred. Design is hierarchical. He designs for modules, not for traditional pages. As design emerges on new platforms and screens, nothing is static anymore.

The final address to DT 2014 was the engaging and entertaining Jessica Walsh; partner at Sagmeister & Walsh. Stefan Sagmeister was a keynote speaker at DT 2012. She also teaches at The School of Visual Arts, New York City. She wanted to talk about creative play. So, play by your own rules, she suggested. Put play into your work. By putting more play into work, the response will be greater. What drives us to play? Biologically it’s wasteful, it can even be dangerous. She views play as beneficial. Play is preparation - we can fail at play without consequences. Play shapes the brain. It builds cognitive abilities. Play is a state of mind. Children know how to play; but for adults, we tend to suppress play for more serious endeavours. Play is in a flow state - the optimal state of mind. The right conditions for the state of play: have confidences to fail, take risks, have plenty of time, be persistent at play, and acknowledge the best ideas will take time. She moved on to her career experience, from being a student at RISD to interning at Pentagram. She worked at Print magazine. Then partnered with Stefan Sagmeister. Her advice: be fearless. Be comfortable with the uncomfortable. Integrate play when possible. On their approach to clients, they offer only a single design solution, believing you have to fight for what you believe. It works for Sagmeister & Walsh. Remember: Make your own rules - so you can break them. She offered a brief presentation on her studio’s work showcasing identities and environmental graphics. She encouraged delegates to “Do work that feeds your soul, not your ego.” Do passion projects — or side projects. She embarked on a social experiment with a close friend, documenting 40 days of their dating experience — with the intention of overcoming longtime habits that left them single. The excerpts from the Vimeo videos are very funny. She also collaborated with Stefan Sagmeister on the ambitious The Happy Show: An Exploration of Happiness. A multi-disciplined art installation/exhibit that explores, well, happiness, through graphics, data visualization and social media.

DT 2014 was a great event. Possibly the best one I’ve attended. Personal favourites: back-to-back Debbie Millman and Paula Scher, the younger Joe Duffy, Erik Spiekermann and Jessica Walsh. Brilliant designers, thinkers, and creative leaders.
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RGD Future By Design Panel Discussion: The Future Workplace
Posted 10/02/14

RGD Ontario presented the latest Future By Design panel discussion on The Future Workplace recently. The live-screened event was hosted by Forge Media in Toronto. Karen Oikonen, RGD, moderated the online event, linking several communities from Ontario and even Newfoundland. Guests joined the conversation from Montreal, Vancouver and Michigan. How designers work is understood — we all know the basic applications of the industry. But where designers work has generally received less interest and discussion. The physical spaces of work are changing - open-concept, low walls — or not walls at all, quiet spaces, even bistros in the office. The organization and management of workplaces are changing too; less structure in schedules, workers jumping in for short periods then off to another project. What will the next generation workplace look like?

Caterina Sanders, VP, Habanero Consulting Group, Vancouver believes that emerging workplaces are less structured — workers have more freedom to explore creativity. The freedom to explore is fundamental to achieving great work. Habanero’s business philosophy is closely associated with author Daniel Pink’s book, DRIVE. There are three elements to motivation: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Habanero has enlisted this approach to drive a more fulfilling, engaging workplace. She talked about the self-staffing future; workers choosing their own projects. This new model has worked for Habanero with employees encouraged to take on work based on their strengths and interests. She believes autonomy, mastery and purpose will become increasingly important to the changing workplace dynamic.

Philippe Meunier, Co-Founder, Sid Lee, Montreal, wondered if the future of the workplace should start from the inside, considering the needs and the values of people within organizations who spend so much time together. Their interactions can inform how those working environments function. Milennials (the demographic cohort following Generation X) will change everything. He believes they know more about how they live and work basically live their lives, than the previous generation. What will happen then? Workplaces will be transformed in revolutionary ways workplaces will change, Millennials will build their own spaces. Interestingly, he spoke about ‘me time’ where people find solitary experiences at home, work on in public spaces. ‘We time’ conversely, is dedicated to collective, collaborative situations where networking happens. He believes that shared worldly experiences among co-workers enrich workplace environments. When global organizations bring their workers together, they bring their cross-cultural insights with them.

Gretchen Gscheidle, Director of Insight & Exploration, Herman Miller Inc. spoke about the range of work spaces that form a landscape that is not a typical floor plan — work spaces have migrated, they’re changing. Herman Miller, which pioneered the modern workplace interior design, embraces a methodology called Scenario Planning: long-term outside-in thinking based on probability — not prediction. She talked about ‘swarm-focused working’ — multiple, collective expertise offered to companies where workers move around. Kinetic nodes, or hackable, flexible spaces where workers are encouraged to make changes to their environments. Workers will develop digitally-mediated relationships — building associations through sophisticated digital collaboration. And finally she spoke about the need for interdependence — where complex workplace interactions are developed and nurtured.

Following a quick break, a question-and-answer session followed. I posed the first question regarding the need for privacy in the workplace; open-space environments present challenges to situations that require sensitivity and the need for privacy. Gretchen Gscheidle from Herman Miller acknowledged the need for people to have their own space within the workplace — private spaces that can be reserved for one’s own time. Corporate culture must understand that privacy remains important in the workplace.

Are billable hours and time sheets still necessary? As much as time sheets can be bothersome, yes, they remain essential to the daily work routine. Caterina Sanders proposed the idea of experimenting with larger billing time periods — beyond the standard 15-minute block of time — such as half-day billing blocks that could better serve workflow and project management and billing, of course. Philippe Meunier said the reality is business remains driven by billable hours. He suggested in the future, billing will be value-driven and less about hourly billing.

 

Can social media be a tool in the workplace? Herman Miller’s work force use social media and the impact has been immediate. Their sales force share information, becoming interdependent in their digital networking. Philippe Meunier suggested Facebook's use was once frowned upon in the workplace, but is now an active tool for gathering information. Caterina Sanders suggested large corporation intranets are no longer static; social media are driving change. Employee portals provide digital spaces where people are free to be open, encouraged to communicate.

But are these new models of working realistically adoptable? Caterina Sanders believes the new emerging way of working is relevant to all walks of life. Even engineers are seeking out new ways of working and sharing information. The design community may in fact be on the leading edge of the new emerging workplace.

A question was asked about generational differences: Can the gap between Milennials and Boomers be closed? Milennials are moving into the work force and they will demand the best workplaces, if they don’t find them, they’ll move on to a better environment. Boomers need milennials. They’re asking for change, raising the bar, according to Caterina Sanders. There is a race for talent as Boomers retire, their knowledge is gone. This presents the opportunity for mentoring and knowledge transferring.

Can we still look forward to vacation time in the new workplace environment? Yes, but not the same way we do now. Caterina Sanders suggested, in the right context, workers with autonomy will use vacation and even take sick days in less structured ways. Many workers don’t actually use all the vacation time they’re granted. Gretchen Gscheidle believes people will work for intense periods of time, complete a project, then head for a sunny beach for extended R&R.

What are their thoughts on retrofitting existing spaces? Herman Miller believes actual work spaces can be used as tools — the cubicle paradigm is changing — smaller square footage, lower walls, or even removing them entirely. Philippe Meunier suggested a move to less ‘me’ space, more ‘we’ space. Why not share information at an in-house bistro? Physical spaces must change to keep people happy in their workplaces. Caterina Sanders suggested that more serendipity elevates creativity. It encourages cross-pollination of ideas and collaboration, building an actual sense of community.

These are interesting ideas, for sure, but how to introduce them in an existing, conventional workplace? Before new environments can be introduced into the workplace, the corporate culture must be clearly understood and established. That culture may already exist, the execution may be missing. If so, a champion would be required to take on the mission of changing a working environment. Senior management buy-in is necessary too, it must be top-down — there can be substantial financial commitment to make changes to work environments. The pay-off: when vision is set and implemented, people will follow.

How do they envision collaboration in the future? Philippe Meunier suggested that knowledge sharing is essential, physically bringing people together face-to-face still holds value. He repeated his belief in the strength of cross-cultural experiences as a means for building understanding.

Can all of these changes to workplace environments and attitudes be measured? Quantified? Caterina Sanders concedes that it’s challenging to draw measurable data from a situation like a workplace interior — it just isn’t straightforward. The realm of the workplace is intangible. However, data can be gathered simply by gaining employee feedback. Employee retention could be considered a way of measuring workplace satisfaction.

So, finally, what’s the next Post-it note? The humble little sticky piece of bright paper has been around since the early 1970s. It’s ubiquitous. Gretchen Gscheidle pointed to Microsoft’s IllumiShare which will enable electronic surface sharing for remote collaboration. Imagine a student being tutored by long-distance using a shareable desktop surface with an instructor; or designers sharing three-dimensional models?

Another interesting RGD Future By Design panel discussion, definitely. Up next: the future of the maker movement, coming in December 2014. Maker culture emphasizes learning-through-doing — an extension of the DIY movement — in a social environment of peer-led learning and sharing.
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RGD Future By Design Panel Discussion: Engaging Consumers
Posted 05/12/14

RGD Ontario’s latest Future By Design panel discussion focused on consumer engagement on May 6, 2014. RGD Ontario embarked on a new format tonight: a strictly web-based experience. With two of three guests appearing from the west coast, it made sense to utilize Citrix for the event. No technical difficulties either; so the format worked well. One panelist in pre-show chat joked he felt like he was “in the internet” — talking into his Mac, no audience to see even remotely. Outgoing RGD Ontario president Lionel Gadoury, RGD hosted the event. The panelists were: Michael Tippett, director of new product ideas at social media measuring firm Hootsuite in Vancouver; Sabaa Quao, president and co-founder, newsrooms - a content marketing and social media coverage firm in Toronto; and Nicole Jacek, founder of NJLA, a transdisciplinary design firm in Venice, California.

Michael Tippett in his introduction offered five things he’s learned. When evaluating client needs: We’re in uncharted territory (1) Where we have incomplete information, there are so many unknowns. How do we chart them? (2) What do you need? We need to find the tools to guide us directionally so that we become familiar with our surroundings and know our environment. We must know our markets (3). What kind of growth are you looking for? You need to determine your own unfair advantage. (4) Know your products. And finally, and interestingly, (5) know how it ends. What does the end look like? And what are the odds of it being successful?

Sabaa Quao’s company newsrooms is only 18 months in business. He builds social media for clients. He believes that talk about engagement is overused. He calls it a vanity metric. Companies rush to measure everything. Engagement can be zero, but still be successful; it must be thought about carefully. He said “Real-time data make justified decisions except for when it leads to impulsive decisions that turn out to be mistakes.” He calls it the “hell of measurement” — data-driven messages trump design interests. Data can be pressure. But he also suggested it can sometimes be ignored. He also said “Creativity is the most valuable resource in the world.”

Nicole Jacek’s business is also just young. She formerly work in New York with Stefan Sagmeister. She spoke about the emerging need of designers to create their own content — it’s not about making pretty things anymore. Designers must be engaged with clients. Importantly, there must be strong emotional meaning in that content.

During the Q&A session, Lionel Gadoury inquired about the growth of social networks and the possibility that they may be saturated; is it possible that social media has reached it’s peak? Michael Tippett suggested that social media use is evolving from a solitary activity to a legitimate business case, it’s being contextualized. This is just the tip-of-the-ice burg: this revolution is enabling easy and cheap communication.

So, what’s the future outcome of the electronic social proliferation? How are consumers changing? For Sabaa Quao, there is no retreat, the gates are open. The cost of social media campaigns can be low, and volumes excessive. The challenge for marketers is that consumers are now selective about their choices — consumer markets will expand and contract. Nicole Jacek suggested that technology is leading to new content. Social media can’t be ignored. Michael Tippett talked about the importance of curation — while information is naturally important, it’s important to think creatively about it. “We’re in an era of unprecedented change; we’re taking ‘social’ out of the web and inserting it into real things — smart appliances, smart automobiles.”

What’s the visual roll then, design-wise? Traditionally, designers did not create content, said Nicole Jacek. But now, they must create something useful, it’s a different dynamic. Michael Tippett said design has never been so important. Design-thinking is emerging. Designers are creating their own businesses, they’re becoming entrepreneurs. He also talked about the “utility of data.” Data can be used rhetorically. Data can help make decisions. Numbers are definitely a strong rhetorical tool. There is no escape from measurement. For business, there are two paths: the predictable; and innovation. It requires a force of will, there is tension, pushing and pulling. There is an appropriate time to use data.

Lionel Gadoury inquired about changing design channels. Are the core competencies of brands in need of change? Panelists agreed that brands need to change with the times. Businesses are sitting on more content than they know; content can be build to what clients are commented to do. They need to harness content, package it and re-purpose it. There are appropriate levels of content; listening is critical to successful engagement when business knows what stakeholders are thinking.

On today’s subject of brands and audience experience: is there something brands should be using? Sabaa Quao suggested publications are committed to topics; they deliver credibility. Similarly, Nicole Jacek reminded us that they must be honest and deliver authentic experiences.

So, where is this leading? Where do you look for a future that you can’t see yet? Michael Tippet came back to innovation; this is an exciting space to be in. How do you build something that doesn’t exist yet? By being nibble. Test. And test again. Iterate frequently. He spoke of start-up weekends and design sprints; groups get together and knock out new products and ideas over a working weekend.

An interesting question was proposed on the role of education in design. The panel wasn’t particularly kind to colleges and universities, suggesting current curricula are not meeting the changing demand for creative thinking. In fact, creative thinking is not even being taught. Both Sabaa Quao and Michael Tippett shared the view that creative thinking is the basis for everything. Michael Tippett said “Creative thinking is an operating system. It can keep up with curriculum." Think of problem solving as opportunity for forming ideas.

Final question on the designer’s roll in engagement: Michael Tippett said there is a common misconception that people expect design to look good. This sells design short. Design is a thought process. We’re in a time of super-human capacities. It can be overwhelming — but designers are in positions to offer the best possible solutions. Nicole Jacek agreed, suggesting designers have a huge canvass to work on; the future is bright. Sabaa Quao suggested that sometimes designers just have to step up and be vocal. Take responsibility for their work. He’s hyper-optimistic. “Be as creative as you are professional. Command your platform.”

An interesting conversation. While I enjoyed the web-based convenience - no commuting down to The Gladstone Hotel - I found viewer engagement to be remote, lacking interest in dialogue; questions simply did not appear to be offered by many online viewers. The on-stage dynamics familiar to The Gladstone events with interesting and often spontaneous conversation didn't appear to translate in the remote online experience.
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RGD Future By Design Panel Discussion: Let's Work Together
Posted 02/09/14

RGD Ontario’s latest Future By Design panel discussion focused on creative Collaboration. Design is a collaborative effort; from creative teams in traditional studio environments, to external connections with photographers, technologists, printers and clients — common understanding is essential to successful relationships. Again, this evening’s venue was The Gladstone Hotel. Numerous Ontario satellite locations joined the conversation — and an audience from Newfoundland joined in too.

Hambly & Woolley’s, Bob Hambly, RGD served as host and moderator; he’s also an RGD board member. Panelists were: Jake Lefebure from Washington D.C.-based Design Army, Vanessa Eckstein, RGD from Blok Design, and Emily Oberman from Pentagram New York City. Panelists offered a case study of their work that required the collaborative efforts of designers, clients and many creative contributors. Bob Hambly described in detail his studio’s involvement with creative magazine Wayward Arts printed by one of Canada’s most innovative printers, Flash Reproductions. Their issue of the magazine focused on the nature of bees, their environments and social organization. A lengthy list of contributors to the project included writers, photographers, editors and designers. The effort to put together the magazine was a community effort. Given the reality of limited budget — next-to-no money — contributors to the magazine were given wide creative freedom to explore creativity. The magazine looked great. Bob Hambly offered four key requirements for collaboration: keen interest, availability of time, freedom for contributors to be creative and the need to give them credit for their efforts.

Vanessa Eckstein from Blok Design suggested collaboration is part of her professional philosophy; it simply drives design. She described Blok’s contribution to the branding and launch of the prototype high performance car called VUHL. Collaboration requires a free flow of information; it can be a valuable experience, opening the opportunity for creative exploration, experimentation and testing. When like-minded creativity flows freely, she calls it ‘seductive tension’ — a willingness to embrace diversity, contrary points-of-view and the freedom to speak, a search for alternative answers. She described VUHL as the dream project — a father and his sons, passionate about the sport of auto racing, driven to develop a new high performance vehicle.

Jake Lefebure described Design Army’s longstanding relationship with Neenah Paper. His studio has been designing their paper swatch books for years. Design Army was engaged to design a new swatch book for a 110+ paper product line introduced by Neenah Paper following their acquisition of an Italian paper mill — called The Design Collection. Paper made in Italy. Creative designed in Washington, D.C. And the client and printer in the U.S. midwest. This project was a logistics challenge. It was a collaborative effort to keep the project on-time, on-budget and cost-effective. Swatch books tend to follow set formats for production purposes; but to promote the new paper line, Design Army designed a key ring-bound paper deck richly coloured in bold graphics and imagery.

Similarly, Emily Oberman, now a partner at Pentagram, New York City, described her longstanding relationship with weekend nighttime entertainment standard Saturday Night Live. She has designed their opening credits for years, starting before her Pentagram days when she and her former partner operated their own design firm. The SNL opening credits have changed over the years and she offered an entertaining synopsis of changing visual styles for the opening credits. Being New York City, typically the opening animation is jazzy, upbeat, chaotic and fun. Collaborating with directors, the executive producer and film artists, over the years, the introduction always anticipates great entertainment from head-lining hosts, musical guests and brilliant comedy from the cast.

Following a break, questions and answers were offered from attendees off-site and on-location at The Gladstone. Asked about factors that may create tension in collaborative situations, the panelists offered interesting comments. Vanessa Eckstein talked about good and bad tension; when predetermined ideas are set, tension is created. By embracing opposites, ‘seductive tension’ as she called it, is achieved. Good ideas will survive, while bad ones fail. Emily Oberman suggested tension can be exhilarating. With so many people working on Saturday Night Live collaboration thrives, people ‘bring their A-game’ which produces great work; but it can also be a curse and a joy. Working together isn’t always easy.

How do designers manage clients that don’t know how to work with designers? It’s the ongoing balancing act between clients and creatives. Emily Oberman amusingly suggested, clients can be managed by charming designers! — and with kindness. Given their high profiles, most clients when approaching tonight’s designers, likely already have a level of design awareness. She suggested by keeping communication channels open, dialogue can flow freely. Jake Lefebure, bluntly suggested, that he’s not interested working with clients who lack design knowledge; in his words “I’m not a teacher.” Bob Hambly suggested that clients inaccurately think design comes easily. But when they see the design process and thoughtful consideration that supports creative, they become converts to design.

Any advice for avoiding bad experiences when collaborating? Jake Lefebure suggested that designers must determine their creative and business direction early, to practically pay the bills, but also to avoid future pain. He suggested, designers must pinpoint their skill set first, find focus, and ultimately be happier at work. Vanessa Eckstein finds that working with large corporations is challenging; they want predictable, assured results. Focusing on the results from focus-grouping only produces mediocrity, narrow solutions. Numbers are brought into the design process, pushing out creativity. Bad experiences can come at all levels — according to Emily Oberman — internally, among coworkers, and with clients. But good collaborations seek to avoid conflict all through the project process. Working directly with the decision-makers cuts down on the risk of conflict and misunderstanding. But sometimes, collaborations just don’t work, according to Bob Hambly. One must step away from the project at hand and move one.

What are the pros and cons of working with consistent collaborators, in some cases year after year? For most of the panelists, they are familiar with their clients and collaborators. Emily Oberman reflected on her experience with SNL; the cast of characters often remain the same, yet new people bring new ideas to0 and a new level of excitement —there’s consistency, and change too. Design Army’s relationship with Neenah Paper is deep — while the creative team members may change, Design Army is always there. With three to five projects for Neenah on an annual basis, there are always opportunities for creative exploration.

On a related question regarding the expanded opportunities from collaboration, Bob Hambly suggested that when you introduce clients to the design process, they’re eager to do more. They trust your aesthetics. They can be converted to the power of design.

Communicating with many people can present challenges. How to manage it? Design Army’s Jake Lefebure primarily uses email. The best way to use email — keep the messages short and be descriptive with subject lines to avoid future confusion. For project management, Excel spread sheets suffice. Vanessa Eckstein employs Skype for long-distance communication. For good one-on-one communication, she picks up the telephone. It’s much faster. Emily Oberman picked up on the need for consistent communication protocols: change subject lines frequently to be descriptive, less vague; implement naming conventions for email and just pick up the telephone to talk with people. So much time is spent on emailing, valuable time can be better employed by a phone call. In the early days of a project, she makes initial contacts face-to-face. Visceral connections are meaningful. Bob Hambly cautioned that the tone of emails can be misunderstood. Never forget personal contact: pick up the telephone.

Another informative and entertaining even from RGD Ontario.
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DT 2013: Disney, Drawing and Disruption
Posted 11/20/13

November 6–7, 2013 RGD Ontario Design Thinkers 2013 conference brought the design community together in Toronto for two days of presentations from many U.S. and international visual communicators, business leaders, authors, educators, interactive designers, publication and motion-graphics designers. They inspired, invigorated, challenged and enlightened. RGD Ontario Executive Director, Hilary Ashworth lead opening greetings and acted as ongoing host for the event.

Chris Chapman, Global Creativity & Innovation Director, The Walt Disney Company lead Day One’s first keynote address. And what a great start to DT 2013. Dressed casually in blue jeans, his youthful appearance and passion for creativity provided great inspiration. He spoke about ‘Purpose, Process and Penguins.’ Penguins first: he illustrated his presentation with images of Emperor penguins in Antarctica; male Emperor penguins nestled new-born eggs under their heavy coats for 100+ days, fasting in sub-zero hostile climate. Why? To bring about new life. They’re driven by instinct. Like so many children, as a kid, Chris Chapman watched Disney on television. Storytelling sparked his creative mind into life. Art spoke to him. Walt Disney was an innovator, he was passionate about changing the world. He envisioned a new model environment — which would become EPCOT. Purpose and passion were inside Walt Disney, and he believes these same attributes are inside us. Purpose-driven people help other people — by injecting the human element — it’s reciprocal. Put purpose in your life, you’ll do better. And feel better. True, deep purpose inspires you to do anything to do your best. He challenged delegates to use graphic design as their base, and elevate their purpose. Collaboration with others will elevate you. Collaborate with clients; let them self-express. Invite them into the design process. Walk in their shoes, understand their purpose and humanize it. “Dial up the empathy” he suggested. He concluded with “Find your purpose. Follow your passion.” Indeed.

Dmitri Siegel, VP, e-commerce and Creative Director, Patagonia, similarly spoke about another innovator, Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, originally a distributor of alpine climbing hardware. He innovated the idea of ‘clean climbing’ by developing a reusable piton — or spike, which anchors climbers on rock faces. Reusable, mountain faces would be cleared on once-used spikes that permanently scarred the environment. Today, Patagonia is much more than a maker of rock-climbing hardware; it is an outdoor lifestyle-driven brand. Much of it past and present success has been social media — long before the Internet. Since the 1980s Patagonia has crowd-sourced its catalogue with user experiences from Patagonia loyal customers. Stories are aggregated and posted unfiltered online. They have launched the Common Threads Initiative — customers can actually see Patagonia’s supply chain online, viewing sites where Patagonia products are made. Their mission is to inspire change; and customers are free to see for themselves the working conditions of the people who make the very products they buy. Patagonia offers customers an old clothes buy-back program. Know for long-lasting, durable clothing, Patagonia clothes endure. But when their time is over, old clothes can be returned; they remain something you still need.

Break-out sessions followed. Co-founder, Humantific, Elizabeth Pastor spoke about The Other Design Thinking and visual sensemaking, or in her words, making sense of change. Sensemaking creates lenses to understand the evolving nature of design. Like so much today, complexity is increasing in the mainstream. The Other Design Thinking seeks to look at bigger problems and search out solutions; but those problems are becoming increasingly messy and complicated. Communicating and engaging is more complex too. To overcome these challenges, we must think systematically. Sensemaking shifts focus, framing challenges that engage peoples’ needs. Collaborative efforts bring cross-disciplinary skills and tools together. Across disciplines, common processes untangle complexity. Her upcoming book is The Other Design Thinking: What the heck is it? What does it do? Could be an interesting read; this is high-concept stuff and definitely requires much more study. But it was an interesting introduction to another form of design thinking.

I reviewed David Berman’s book Do Good Design On My Bookcase. He attended DT 2013 — seemingly as part of a book tour, promoting Do Good Design. He was an engaging speaker; although his message was a familiar one, largely drawing details from his book. He asked, how do we make the planet our client? The future of civilization is our design challenge. Others have asked the question, and he did too: Now that we can do anything, what will we do? Designers must be accountable and responsible to environmental and social concerns. Sustainability plays an essential part of design responsibility; it’s about prosperity, planet, people and culture.

Daryl Crooks, Creative Director, Washington, D.C.-based The Atlantic magazine, spoke of print in the digital age. This is a now-longtime concern among designers. He offered refreshing insights on the state of print magazines in the time of tablets. His view: it’s really not that bad. The platforms have changed, but print remains alive. He suggested, maybe it’s just in rehabilitation. The Atlantic is not a newsmagazine; it takes a ‘big ideas’ long-form approach to stories. It’s his duty to take complicated ideas from editors and writers and interpret them on the cover and inside. The Atlantic design direction was renewed a few years ago by Pentagram. Typographer, Christian Schwartz cleaned up the cover’s nameplate. The changes have been subtle, but significant. He’s introduced information graphics into the magazine to mix things up, offering visual variety. Feature articles offer multiple entry points to dive deep into lengthy stories. Cover photography can be challenging; he’s editorialized it, with a bolder approach, with less text on the cover too. Digitall app The Atlantic Weekly, is a curated, condensed form of the full-length print version. Changes in publication design mean creative people must be collaborators; they must become more efficient. Print and online can coexist. He remains optimistic about print; there is something special about the tactile quality of paper, held in your hands. It’s a different kind of feeling. Hurray.

Day One’s afternoon keynotes started with designer, lecturer and typographer Alex Trochut. His philosophy: more is more. His style is vivid, indulgent, rich in detail with calligraphic ornamentation. One definitely sees Art Deco signatures in his letterforms. His influences: his typographer grandfather and Surrealist, Joan Miro. Although, as original as it may seem, he confesses to stealing ideas “that speak to my soul.” Nothing is original. He’s a visual thief, saying “Everything is a remix.” But not simply copying ideas, he transforms them, combines them. Combinations make things different. For U.K.-based design magazine Creative Review, featuring the world’s top-20 logos, he interpreted Francesco Saroglia’s Woolmark logo, morphing its intricate curves into two optically-challenging numerals. He was funny, engaging and his work, definitely memorable — although strangely familiar. Wink. Wink.

Finally, the remarkable Nicholas Felton — or, ‘Feltron’ as he is commonly known professionally. He’s a data designer. He offered a fascinating exploration of his multi-year efforts to record his daily personal experiences in his sought-after personal annual reports. Yes, the Feltron Annual Reports regularly sell out like bestsellers. He aggregates seemingly ordinary data sets and structures them into data visualization exercises: charting the number of MP3 downloads, the streets he walked in Manhattan, the air miles traveled, and on and on. His approach: collect, design, code. The collecting part is about storytelling. He hoards; amassing data from ordinary receipts. He concedes it became addictive. In pre-GPS years, he had to record on maps a trail of his daily commute. Now, with the aid of mobile apps, he aggregates electronically. For 2008’s report he focused on the entire distance traveled in one year, from walking to flying. He’s even tracked his emotional state; inquiring of friends and family to record their observations of his state of mind; then he ranked the data of his daily mood and applied an index to quantify it. The determination: he was of average temperament. Life was swell. Today, he applies larger data sets thanks to his iPhone and his ability to use a random sampling app. He applies spread sheets and parses code, thus increasing his workflow. While he gathers more data today, he actually only uses about one third of it in his annual report. Automating actions means he can standardize data visualization, while also keeping information fresh and rapidly iterating. He concluded “Data will go where it goes.”

DT 2013 Day Two began with a keynote address from Robert Fabricant, VP Creative, Frog Design. On this day, Twitter’s initial public offering was launched on the financial markets. This event offer an entry point to design essence and simplicity. “Twitter speaks to simplicity,” he said. And simplicity of interactivity. Today, we celebrate Twitter’s simple choices; it exemplifies design; its minimalist comfort zone. So, how do we get to the essence in the experiences we design? Mobile communication represents status and connection; it requires design at its most essential element. It is an iterative process. Design is stripped down to its essence: solve problems, build skills, share information, empower users with a sense of agency, or the capacity to take action. Design thinking has expanded the platform for design because businesses want to innovate. The challenge though; follow-through is low. Ideas and projects die. Getting into the marketplace is risky, often with low returns. But success can be found when a sense of urgency is created; when people collaborate. Start-ups are enabled to do this. He offered an example from UNICEF, which set up a mock disaster situation that tested disaster relief teams actions. Running simulations, they were able to test out solutions for disaster situations. The challenge is dynamic up to engage stakeholders. In Africa, frog worked with GE to track water usage in the field, electronic sensors tracked water points of availability. Data, used intelligently, could be tracked and shared. Collaboration. So, design was brought into a problem space, driving solutions, efficiency, transparency and experimentation.

Michael Gough, VP Experience Design, Adobe, spoke about creativity. We’re all creative. Sadly, at a very young age, we get talked out of it. In school we’re taught to think in linear terms. For questioning creatives, creativity is viewed as a liability, it’s too abstract, complicated. Linear thinkers are challenged by this. Designers give form to ideas, thinking not by deduction, but abduction — imagining future possibilities. Fundamental to showing their vision of things to come: drawing. Michael Gough is excited on drawing; it is fundamental to thinking and visualizing. He believes we all have the ability to draw, but we don’t pursue it. In his words, “If you can’t draw, you can’t think.” Drawing makes the difference. Thus the perfect segue to Adobe’s new drawing tools. To launch in 2014, Mighty is Adobe’s new three-sided drawing tool for tablets. He demonstrated other upcoming tools that left the captive audience in rapture.

Up next, CDO, Made Movement, John Kieselhorst. John really entertained, speaking passionately about mission. Made Movement’s mission: the rebirth American manufacturing, creating jobs in America. Definitely ambitious. Laid-back, dressed in a hunter-check flannel shirt, he embodied that easy-going American confidence that seeks to regain pride in U.S.-designed and -made products; but in a radically different approach. This is a new kind of Made in America. If five percent more stuff is made in America, one million jobs could be created. When products are made close to where they’re consumed, good things happen: labour practices are scrutinized, businesses are more ecologically compliant, their carbon footprint is smaller and naturally, jobs are created. Conscientious consumers will support what they believe in — they connect. He spoke of Made’s early days of struggle — no clients, no money and the need to find clients who made stuff in America. Made attracted talented people. Their mission was rock-solid and infectious, it attracted great partners in the company. People were eager to join the Made movement. Made has created great creative for some pretty quirky companies: an hysterical commercial for Scentsicles, Christmas-tree scented spray. And repair.com — the growth of big-box retailers has seen the steady decline in the independently-owned small repair shop operator. It’s a fragmented space. Made’s mission: to repair the repair business. He concluded, missions give you permission to expand, to do things other agencies can’t do. Made’s Website actually enables users to buy products from their client base. Made’s mission is alive and active online — they become invested in their client’s success; they’re in the same business, sharing the same economic imperative. He entertained, made us all laugh, and he inspired.
Noteworthy: repair.com's pilot program is concluded. The Website has closed up shop. 11/20/13

Bruce Nussbaum, professor of innovation and design, Parsons New School for Design. He lectures and writes. His new book is Creative Intelligence: Harnessing the Power to Create, Connect and Inspire. He talked about many things: wants, dreams, strategy, disruptive innovation. He participated in a survey asking people about their needs and wants. Respondents found needs to be easy; wants though, were a higher order. People dreamed of starting their own businesses, serving their nation, gaining education, advancing human rights. Their dreams are powerful. Businesses are using models to capture those higher-order wants. Disruptive innovations came from young entrepreneurs that embody their generation’s culture. They’re dreamers. They’re innovators, employing thinking strategy — design thinking — starting with user needs and experiences. They believe in doing good, designing for social innovation. He spoke of more powerful, foundational concepts of consumer experience, moving to consumer engagement-driven metrics. Consumers are now part of communities. In fact, there’s a community seemingly for everything today. Those experiences are told through meaningful narrative, providing larger more meaningful context. This is part of the concept of creative intelligence. Look for a commentary and review of Creative Intelligence On My Bookcase in coming weeks.

Austin McGhie is President of Sterling Brands. He’s also pitching a book: Brand is a Four-Letter Word. He suggested he wrote a marketing book because he didn’t have the novel in him to write. Very amusing. He’s really put-off by the B-word: Branding. He calls it a lazy word, used to mystify people. If we can avoid its use, we’ll be liberated. For Austin McGhie, brand is definitely not a verb. It’s strictly a noun. Brands are built by connecting with an audience, the stimulus of the marketplace. A brand’s value is what it means to you, more than what is does for you. But how do you built such a brand? Through positioning. By being consistent, shifting when necessary, keeping your brand fresh. By building something different. Admittedly, that’s very hard to do. He suggests most people don’t have what it takes to be different. The pressure of conformity is too great. Silicon Valley start-ups overwhelmingly fail. Only one to two per cent succeed. To succeed, they need marketable ideas. It takes courage to be different; but ultimately it gives you advantage. A differentiated advantage. You must ask how are you different? Turn those traits to your advantage. Your audience must find your brand compelling. Brands are built on what they do, not what they say. Brands need a point-of-view. They must be loved, while accepting that they’ll also be hated. Brands need great missions; they invite participation, even fervor. Apple has it. Nike has it. Their communities identify with their brands. Great strategy inspires great execution in product, service delivery and marketing. He offered this insight on busyness. We’re all busy, right? He said, “We’ve come to believe busy is important. It’s not true. In the real world, the more you do, you’ll be less noticed. Do one or two things to be exceptional. Get noticed once and do it well.” Do less. Focus more.

DT 2013’s penultimate keynote speaker: Morag Myerscough, founder, Studio Myerscough. DT organizers appear to like Brits; in 2011, Steve Edge delighted delegates with is charm and wit. This year, Morag Myerscough effused on stage with charm and delight. It’s a challenge to peg her; she’s a multi-disciplinarian: designer, gallerist, mural painter and even tomato grower. Her advice: Do what you believe in. Clearly, she lives by her philosophy. She offered an overview of projects over the years — and her experience is wide-ranging, going far beyond graphic design. She co-founded Supergroup; “a creative A-team” collective of project-based creative experts. She’s a big believer in community-building She’s collaborated on exhibition design, interior design, product design and graphics. Her work complimented her on-stage energy: bright, cheerful, and wildly out-of-order. She motivates people to do things. Much of her work is for public spaces: healthcare facilities, and reinvigorating old spaces like warehouses. She believes small interventions can bring about change. Her wish for everyone: Love what you do.

DT 2013 concluded with Karin Fong, motion titles designer. Her name is unfamiliar, but her television and feature film creative looked familiar. She was on Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People, 2009.

DT 2013 was awesome. This year's speakers really connected with delegates, inspiring creatives do love what we do. Do less, focus more. And have fun.
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RGD Future By Design Panel Discussion: Identity Design
Posted 09/26/13

The Future of Identity Design was the focus of RGD Ontario’s seventh forum in the ongoing series, Future By Design, on Sept. 24, 2013. The conversation focused on the new realities facing designers of identity and brand design: multi-platforms require dynamic identities that are adaptable, customizable, socially responsive, but are still able build brand authority and remain under control of their owners. It’s a new landscape, some recognizable landmarks remain, but new ones are definitely emerging. It was another young and eager audience packed into The Gladstone Hotel’s ballroom with numerous colleges joining in the conversation by remote online video access.

John Furneaux, RGD, principal, Projector moderated the event. He offered opening comments under the headline “Identity design in the app age.” For many, the entry point for experiencing brands is the logo, whatever the delivery system may be, in print, online or on mobile device. Where brands are experienced is becoming critically important. He observed “It starts at eight pixels,” from cell phone to billboard, brand identities must be scalable. He offered four ideas for new brand identity. They require simplicity: symbols tell stories - strip out the extraneous information. Scalability: again, from eight pixels to 80 feet, identities must be packable, or able to go where users are going too. Identities must be able to morph, they must be able to reflect changing times. And they must be flexible - users want to participate with the brands they love - even to the point of contributing to identities.

Four panelists each offered case studies of identities they created. From Vancouver, Ian Grais, creative director, Rethink, spoke of his studio’s experience with the recent identity update of multi-system cable operator, Shaw. Like so many identity refreshes and updates, this was a case of ‘evolution, not revolution.’ Building on the existing Shaw identity, the old crescent-shaped symbol was modified, evolving into a cable-like pipe - metaphorically drawing on Shaw’s now-bigger data bandwidth pipeline. New custom-designed typography was also part of the identity’s evolution.

Barry Quinn, RGD, creative director, Juniper Park discussed the update of IFEX, a global network of NGOs based in Toronto, which is committed to the promotion and defense of freedom of expression as a human right - focusing on issues like press freedom, censorship and access to information. Juniper Park’s solution: a familiar speech bubble graphic, accompanied by bold-weight sans serif typeface. The logo’s meaning is obvious and well-executed. He said, “The IFEX logo is the voice for everybody, regular people, it is not a logo for designers.” When applied in ads, the logo appears to become an app icon hovering over crowds of demonstrators. Very effective.

Michael Walsh, director of Design & Digital Media, School of Visual Arts presented SVA’s recent identity refresh. VSA’s original logo was designed by George Tscherny in the 1950s. Part of their strategic plan to build on the VSA brand, is to ensure the school is known around the world - so the new design incorporated the letters N,Y,C.

John Pylypczak, creative director, Concrete, discussed the just-launched identity for MEC, formerly Mountain Equipment Co-op. The challenge for Concrete, people were disconnected with the store’s new, diversified product lines; they’re much more than hiking gear. The existing name was long, far too many letters. So, once again, simplicity became a guiding motivator. What was MEC’s brand essence? What could it claim in the marketplace that was unique? It had to be vibrant and aspirational. He presented loads of design options Concrete developed. They played their wild card, eliminating any visual references to mountains. The result: a new logo, simplified, utilitarian and functional. When applied in forms like posters, the logo becomes a canvas, or a utility, for expressing the MEC brand. Knocked-out, the logo becomes a window for imagery. When messaging is applied with their tag line ‘We are all outsiders,’ and photography, the new identity really shines. Since MEC is a cooperative organization, the new logo speaks to the membership, it can be whatever someone believes it to be. The logo becomes a portal for storytelling. The MEC identity launch engaged the online design community with loads of commentary in social media outlets, much of it very negative. John Pylypczak says Concrete wears the criticisms with honour.

The first question regarded the trend in launching new identities online - often with much negative commentary. The classic example, U.S. retailer GAP’s immediate retreat after launching a new logo in 2010. Juniper Park’s Barry Quinn offered another recent example: the new logo for search engine Yahoo. It was literally a thirty-day design experiment in a new identity that resulted in a bland, unremarkable solution that has widely been criticized. He suggested that launching quickly online, clients can mitigate risk, retreat if necessary and ‘duck and roll’ if they feel they can’t commit to a new look. John Pylypczak said MEC was prepared for negative responses to their identity refresh. They’re not offering apologies though. He suggested the best clients are confident clients. For an education institution like VSANYC, the challenge is that so many people - students, faculty and alumni, can claim ownership of their school’s identity. With so many opinions, you can’t keep everyone happy. VSANYC experienced resistance with the addition of ‘NYC’ to their identity; traditional aspects of branding are being challenged and users are engaging in debates about the brands they care for.

A comment came from moderator John Furneaux; he spoke of the emergence of augmented design. There is so much digital content available today, logos are playing smaller rolls, trumped by content itself. Brands must connect with their communities; users want to be participants. He suggested “Content is your colour. It’s not about the Pantone colour.” A good point, but debatable too - given the multitude of platforms for communication, brand standards may just be more important than ever.

On the issue of online social media; does popular opinion factor in decision-making? John Pylypczak, familiar with the blowback experienced with MEC identity update, suggested that listening to concerns was critical in the design process at a pre-design level. Concrete and MEC did their homework and stood by their decisions. MEC is facing retail pressure, their core customer base is relatively small and they naturally take ownership of the Mountain Equipment Co-op name; however, there is much greater potential for the untapped customer who has yet to experience MEC. It was risk worth taking.

So, do brand standards still apply? Barry Quinn from Juniper Park suggested that it’s necessary to build a brand vocabulary. With multiple devices in use, logo specifications may be less necessary. At one time, defined parameters meant greater control, but he believes there is less control required now. Michael Walsh, VSANYC, returned to the idea of adaptability; there is opportunity now to mess around, to be expressive in new ways, yet hold on to the essential fixed elements that identities still require. For identities in the new media age, these days feel like the ‘Wild West.’

Do brand rule books still apply? It would appear so. However, how do you design standards when you can’t see what is approaching in this accelerated age of relentless advances in technology? The task for designers is to find the brand essence and put energy into distilling all of that complexity into a simplified expressive form. Simplicity remains the best design philosophy. Ian Grais from Rethink, suggested that “Things are moving too fast to put the rules down.” However, a logo is nothing without application; and it seems, no matter what, or where it may be applied, the use of a logo does in fact need to be guided by rules.

This evening’s discussion was lively and engaging, notwithstanding technical glitches with remote online conferencing that interrupted communication. However, these efforts to bring participants across Ontario and even to British Columbia together, ensure that many more people can be engaged in important design-related conversations. Future By Design continues to be a great series for RGD Ontario.
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RGD Future By Design Panel Discussion: Big Data
Posted 06/12/13

The Information and Design panel discussion on May 28, 2013, presented by RGD Ontario at The Gladstone Hotel, was the sixth part the RGD’s ongoing series, Future by Design. The conversation focused on the relationship between effective communication and complex data, transforming ‘noise’ into meaningful forms that better inform users.

Wayne McCutcheon, RGD, Entro Communications moderated the discussion from The Gladstone Hotel ballroom. The event was well attended by the usual young and hip crowd with additional long-distance attendance via webcast across Ontario. Resolve Collaborator Services provided web conferencing services, enabling many Ontario colleges and corporate viewers to join in the event. Panelists began with brief presentations of their own work.

David Bradfield, social strategist, SapientNitro, talked about experience design and the importance of storytelling, or ‘storyscaping’. Stories underlay data sets, they emerge from technology-gathering devices, people want to make connections and be inspired and engaged — infusing a brand “into the consumer’s own story, and the consumer into the story.” He suggested “Consumers are more creative than ever… they want to be at the heart of a story.” For Vail Resorts in Colorado, he demonstrated Epic Mix, a digital sharing experience for downhill skiers that enables users to share their pictures, build personal statistics, track their distance and compare their results against professional skiers — it’s about physical and technical connectivity — users share their stories. Experience is driven by data.

Paddy Harrington, RGD, formerly from BMD, now CD for design innovation at Indigo, talked about “The Power of Zoom” and scale as it relates to data. He demonstrated the famous 1977 video short by Charles & Ray Eames "Powers of Ten” produced for IBM that depicts the relative scale of the Universe from one man laying on grass, to the edge of the Universe, then to the subatomic level of quarks. He suggested “Relative scale helps us understand things… Today we have control of connecting and understanding information.”

Stephen Jurisic, CD and partner, John St., comes from an advertising background. He spoke of the requirements for effective data visualization, they must inform, inspire and entertain. He demonstrated a site called The Geography of Hate, produced by Humbolt University, data gathered from Twitter focused on hateful comments or words, were geomapped producing hot and cool spots across the U.S. The results brilliantly demonstrate effective data visualization. Very interesting.

Pentagram partner, Eddie Opara, took a broader approach to the consideration of design and how information can be skewed and biased. Design professionals must look a how design changes people. There are multiple models for constructing design solutions. “So much content can be made engaging” he said. Design can even influence public policy. He worked on a Pentagram project for a geothermal heat pump manual for New York City which employs icon-based graphics to convey complex information.

A lengthy Q&A followed, moderated by Wayne McCutcheon. For Paddy Harrington, information design is a “means to simplify complexity. It visualizes that which wasn’t visible… there’s an inherent responsibility in data visualization.” Eddie Opara returned to idea of manipulation — which began in the days of photography and the early alteration of images to change their meaning. Similarly data can be manipulated to justify anything.

 

And who owns this data? When discussing the use of data, ethics seems to come up quickly. Stephen Jurisic, said data comes from everywhere. “The job of advertisers is becoming increasingly tough… consumers know more than they ever did before.” Consumers are in control today. Brands must be socially responsible as consumers can affect brand performance. David Bradfield said the speed of experience is killing ethical responsibility. There is a self-policing factor at play.

Designers are interpreters of data. Eddie Opara suggested that information should be distilled before visualized, it must be written about. The story inside the data must be brought out, to be a signpost, then visualized.

With so much information accessible to us, how do we keep up? Capture it? Paddy Harrington believes it’s how we interact with data that’s important, “Information can have great power but it’s ineffectual if we don’t act on it, to benefit us.” By leveraging information it betters serves us.

Two panelists offered insights into the use of data in the workplace. For Pentagram, former partner Lisa Strausfeld developed a content management tool that’s been employed in countless design projects for this multidisciplinary company. Eddie Opara wondered though if the tool has just become an archive; have designers become librarians? Is this data just stuff? To keep this information relevant, it must be measured. Does it generate new work for Pentagram? They looked at the analytics to change the user’s mind set to better engage their site as a tool for selling new clients. Formerly from BMD, Paddy Harrington is now VP of design innovation at retailer, Indigo where he must consider information from the retail side. He’s involved in a comprehensive plan to evolve the Indigo brand, working with Bruce Mau to transform the Indigo retail experience as place of culture.

Steven Jurisic, from ad agency John St. suggests that consumer access to information is making the advertiser’s job harder. He appreciates increased consumer knowledge, but he must also be smarter about marketing his client’s products and services — they hold less control over messaging.

David Bradfield, SapientNitro, began an interesting dialogue on ‘big data’ and how it is impacting design. So, what is it? He doesn’t believe anybody really knows how to define big data. For Vail Resorts, Epic Mix, leveraged big data, employing trackable information. “The challenge though, its how to make sense of it and what you do with it.” he said. “Clients have access to this data, but how do you put it into a story that we want to tell?” It presents tremendous opportunities for marketers to tell powerful stories.

People are eager to make their mark, they’re thumb voting online on virtually any question. Voting thumbs up, or thumbs down on countless issues, some important, others less so. But this act alone, provides simple online tracking information that is highly customizable for clients.

Eddie Opara offered advice, when asked by a young attendee about how to get into information design, “Befriend statisticians,” he said. Good advice!
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McDonald, Cartier and Carl Dair
Posted 03/07/13

Command Type presented Dair to be Different, Monday, March 4, 2013, at Swipe Books + Objects, Toronto. Type designer, educator and writer Rod McDonald lead an engaging history of self-taught typographer Carl Dair’s contribution to early Canadian graphic design. The event also marked the re-release, and celebration of Dair’s masterwork, Design with Type. Design with Type, first published in 1952, remains a mainstay of required reading for design school students everywhere. Rod McDonald calls it “A solid, well-written book” that remains relevant today. The popular version known to all design students today, was published later, not until 1967. Dair wrote that as a means of communication, type achieves maximum clarity when it is fully understood by its user; he outlines the fundamental elements of typography and its applications. Critically praised when it was published, Design with Type was acknowledged by the AIGA, as Book of the Year.

Rod McDonald offered a visual history of Dair’s design career. It began with his partnership with Henry Eveleigh in Montreal, launching Canada’s first true graphic design-centred studio; it would be unlike existing advertising agencies. In 1949, Dair-Eveleigh redesigned Canadian Business magazine. In the first new issue, Dair penned an article advocating the role graphic design could play in business; a cause still promoted today. Their work focused on a modern, progressive vision; an ad for their company read “Creative designers and advertising counselors to the graphic arts industry.”

In Toronto, Dair’s interest in typography emerged. Working at Cooper & Beatty, he established type workshops to raise typographic skills of local artists. Among the eager learners: 19 year-old Allan Fleming — he would go on to create one of Canada’s greatest corporate symbols — the CN logo. Dair would influence Allan Fleming in his career; they developed a good friendship. Dair’s interest in instruction would lead to teaching at the Ontario College of Art in the early 1950s.

Rod McDonald concedes it’s hard to fathom the nature of Carl Dair; he held a stern Communist philosophy, yet willingly embraced the seemingly contradictory capitalist interests of the advertising industry, becoming partner in Goodis, Goldberg & Dair. There, he designed a series of booklets for Westvaco Paper Co. Beautifully designed and well written; they were adopted by the Art Institute of Chicago as teaching guides.

Dair’s typographic achievements peaked when he was commissioned to design a new typeface — tentatively in time for Canada’s centennial anniversary — although it had been in development for a decade. In Europe, Dair studied how to cut metal type and hand-punching in a Dutch type foundry in preparation for producing the new typeface. (Hand-punching: cutting letter punches in steel before being punched in a copper matrix.) Cartier would become Canada’s first Latin typeface. It would be a breakthrough design capturing a strong calligraphic sensibility. Rod McDonald would become intimately familiar with Cartier. In 2001, he digitized the typeface, refining the letterforms and expanding weights and styles; originally Dair only designed two weights: roman and italic. McDonald would expand Cartier to include book and bold, and revived previously unreleased Cartier ornaments that featured floral symbols based on provincial emblems. For all of the success upon its release in 1967, Rod McDonald concedes it was a difficult typeface in application: severely limited to just two weights, the too-narrow italics did not even feature sloped capitals, only roman! It would remain unfinished, Dair died shortly after its release. Years later, McDonald would embrace the challenge to prove Cartier could work successfully. He defends Carl Dair today, saying “He was doing the best he could, in the dark.” Cartier is available today from Linotype (now Monotype).

Thanks to Erol Saldanha, among other supporters and organizers, Rod McDonald provided great personal insights into Canada’s first modern design pioneer Carl Dair. It’s time to go read that book again.
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The Evolving Visual Landscape
Posted 02/21/13

Our environment is becoming increasingly commercial and customizable. We’re overwhelmed by advertising on seemingly every surface type from billboards, to buildings, to vehicles and every hand-held digital device. This panel discussion explored the changing nature of communication and advertising in our public spaces. The Evolving Visual Landscape, on January 29, 2013 presented by RGD Ontario at The Gladstone Hotel was the latest conversation in the ongoing Future By Design series.

Wayne McCutcheon, RGD, Entro Communications moderated the discussion from The Gladstone Hotel ballroom. The event was well attended by the usual young and hip crowd with additional long-distance attendance via webcast across Ontario. Panelists began with brief presentations that generally embraced the theme of the user/technology connection. Fjord Madrid managing director Andy Goodman excitedly discussed the human body as the next interface; interactive gestures will enable us to perform tasks based on naturally-occurring systems — for example, opening or closing documents, not by clicking, or scrolling but by staring or blinking with our eyes. Embedded technology right inside our bodies, intelligence will become part of the physical word. Retina scanning will enable us to ‘scan’ people we encounter, profiling them immediately. Consider change-shaping adaptive clothing. Or embedding objects with DNA to build brand loyalty, upsetting the traditional idea of ‘Brand DNA’ into branded DNA; thus interfaces may become intangible, design and science interconnected.

Dave Holland from The Royal Ontario Museum discussed the museum’s embrace of technology to enhance visitor engagement through multi-platform interactive devices. Visitors can engage viewing scope devices in the ROM’s recent Ultimate Dinosaurs exhibit that employed augmented reality; applying digital texture wrapping to skin full-scale dinosaur skeletons. Digital media can personalize content, build visitor communities that engage each users in dialogue and storytelling; making an authentic experience.

JP Lacroix, RGD, from Shikatani Lacroix presented his firms solution to a wayfinding project for Toronto’s iconic St. Lawrence Market — developing a visual language with references to the building’s history. They leveraged metaphors, employing a vernacular based on roadways. Thus, isles become streets, columns act as beacons for wayfinding; creating an environment that is not language-based, but upon icons and symbols.

Andrew McCartney, SVP integration, Tribal DDB Canada spoke of the brand-shifting efforts of advertisers and agencies, willing to take risks and become truly collaborative. Tribal DDB developed the McDonald’s Our Food. Your Questions. campaign in Canada which he showcased in great detail throughout the conversation.

Phillipe Meunier, co-founder, Sid Lee presented a brief portfolio of his studio’s work. Like Andrew McCartney, he spoke of the need create products that break boundaries. Working with Robert Lepage, The Image Mill was an art projection installation that used Quebec City grain silos as projection screens which actually required new technology make the project possible.

On to questions from attendees. moderator, Wayne McCutcheon asked, how is visual communication evolving? How is it changing our experiences?

JP Lacroix believes advertising will disappear: “It’s about engagement — users will control content. We’re all going to be communicators.” Dave Hollands, ROM, believes it’s about experience. For programmers at the ROM, context is built around objects, real things.

What drives new thinking? Andrew McCartney says the good workplaces engage creativity: Tribal DDB’s workspace encourages collaboration. Phillipe Meunier believes relationships become partnerships; different-thinking people are brought together into a multi-disciplinary environment. JP Lacroix believes new thinking is bridged when clients and creatives ask: “What if…? What could be?” Reality is put aside, thus new thinking encourages a vision for what could be.

What’s next for design? JP Lacroix considered the future of retail. Consumers have an affinity with the online experience; physical retail environments must engage consumers, they require an emotional connection. Similarly, Tribal DDB’s Andrew McCartney used the McDonald’s experience of starting with consumers. The ‘Our Food. Your Questions' campaign spoke not to existing consumers, but engaged a new conversation with people who did not associate with the restaurant. Dialogue was established and conversation engaged online and through video. Sid Lee’s Phillipe Meunier believes marketers must trust their customers by inviting intelligent dialogue and by listening to users.

What’s in the future for strategy? Panelists believe marketers must be more daring. And disruptive — it’s not enough to be just a “me too” messenger, but new and creative.

How do panelists choose the right technology for clients? For Shikatani Lacroix it comes back to the brand personality, making sure the client is visible and differentiated in the marketplace. Tribal DDB’s Andrew McCartney believes content and experiences are as important as interface. Phillipe Meunier suggested that technology merely offers users new ‘tricks’ from QR codes, internet, motion graphics etc. He suggested “zig while others zag — there is always another trick or flavour.” JP Lacroix said special engagement works, but sadly there is a cultural challenge to give credit and recognition to bold marketing efforts.

A similar question was asked from the audience: When do you decide to use technological tools while not diminishing the message? Andrew McCartney says “It’s a gut decision. Ask ‘Would you do that?’ Let ideas and insights drive the process. Technology is the tool.” For the ROM’s Dave Hollands, “Obtrusiveness is a challenge — it’s an obstruction to engaging the user.” Is the technological solution working? So many tools — from near-field technology, smart phone experience, etc., Phillipe Meunier acknowledged the challenge of using technology: it can be time-consuming and expensive. We should resist the temptation to put all efforts in one technology.

This was an engaging and compelling conversation which prompted many ideas for consideration. Future By Design is a great ongoing series, growing in interest steadily with more remote screenings involving community colleges across Ontario; the series has also drawn interest from corporations interested in sharing the experience. Definitely looking forward to the next talk.
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DT 2012: Inspiring Deeper Thinking
Posted 11/19/12

November 8–9, 2012 RGD Ontario Design Thinkers 2012 conference brought the design community together in record-breaking attendance — 1500+ delegates — for two days of presentations from many U.S. and international visual communicators, interactive designers, publication designers; they inspired, invigorated, challenged and enlightened. RGD Ontario Executive Director, Hilary Ashworth lead opening greetings and acted as ongoing host for the event.

Harry Pearce was Design Thinkers 2012’s first keynote speaker, he addressed the 'Nature of Ideas.' He is a partner at global creative powerhouse, Pentagram — and he’s a dreamer. Harry Pearce believes ideas find him, unlike conventional thinking that encourages us to search for inspiration. He believes the harder we look, less will be found. He describes his life as a stream of ideas; appearing by chance from many sources ideas are magical and precious moments. Indeed, an ancient carved piece of cut stone found while he was snorkeling (a surefire precious moment) became his talisman, his good fortune design charm found in a stream of creativity. Pure happenstance. He believes we should look at the liberating world of nonsense for inspiration where ideas can be found — and where they are connected. Ideas have their own trajectory, or trip. He illustrated his presentation with idea-inspiring images of building rubble, environmental graphics, signage — all of it “beautifully mad.” He writes dream journals, letting ideas flow on-record. His written thoughts become mantras. He invited designers to “Design from your gut.” Embrace magical ideas. The packed audience loved his inspiring message. DT 2012 off ff to a great start.

Tom Eslinger, Innovation Director, Saatchi & Saatchi, focused on interactive mobile technology, or the “moveable environment” as he called it. Today, design is accessible anywhere. He believes this is the most exciting time to be designing stuff; we’re connecting with brands — and each other — while in a constant state of high-speed movement and consequently data are being captured. Idea sharing is now personal, common and portable. He believes context and insight power the best mobile experiences. The mobile design experience requires flexibility and changeability. He demonstrated mobile apps from Lego and Walt Disney that employ game-like interaction to encourage story sharing and interactivity: imagine a child driving a toy car on a interactive tablet screen acting as a road for the toy vehicle. He believes a product can be changed, shared and thus become social content. His requirements for great mobile experiences: listen to consumer insights, have an idea that is truly mobile, design everything ‘mobile first’, make it personal, portable and potent, and keep it simple.

DT 2012’s concurrent sessions began with Jake and Pum Lefebure from Washington-based Design Army. Their philosophy: Dream big, start small. With no account reps, Jake leads projects, backed up by Pum’s creativity. “Focus on creative, not on cash” is another Design Army maxim. They presented case studies from local Washington clients for hotel branding, real estate and fashion and magazine publishing. Design Army is a big believer in design industry competitions — it’s great advertising, stacks their work against their peers, and it elevates their profile. When they win competitions, they get noticed — and design magazines like Communication Arts, among others, start writing about them! Not bad advice. For every client, Design Army’s founders believe design can elevate their position in the marketplace. Their words of advice: stick with what you know, but strive to stay ahead, stay focused, work with intensity, have confidence in yourself, aim to be the best in your backyard, and dream.

New Zealander Kris Sowersby, is an award winning type designer and founder of Klim Type Foundry. He describes himself as a “typographic magpie” — like the bird, he’s an opportunistic scavenger. He has collaborated with typographic dignitaries: Christian Schwartz, Erik Spiekermann and Pentagram. On klim.com.nz, he says his typefaces “combine historical knowledge with contemporary craftsmanship and finish.” At DT 2012, Kris Sowersby highlighted a couple of his notable creations, providing background on their evolution; Karbon bears references to Eric Gill’s eponymous legendary typeface. He highlighted Founders Grotesque and the unique treatment of the letter C - it is almost entirely enclosed.

Today, social media are becoming commonplace. Several presenters at DT 2012 specialize in these emerging communications areas. Design team leader at Twitter, Mike Kruzeniski believes design is part of the core experience for Twitter users. He applies design thinking methods in his workplace and is challenged to take design from exploration, iteration and prototyping — repeating again and again — into the real environment. Today, design thinking practices can be found in the business world: teams of employees are brainstorming, whiteboarding and going into the field to research. Design thinking is useful tool. He quoted Apple’s Jonathan Ive, “Design is figuring out process.” If we consider something we love — a kitchen utensil or MP3 player for example — ‘quality’ often comes to mind. One must consider the challenges designers overcome to bring that product to the end user — they design for the complete outcome. Design is an iterative obsession, seeking brave, never-seen-before solutions. Business is acknowledging the strategic advantage of design; it’s moving in-house. Interestingly, he spoke of the new accessibility: it is now quite easy to sketch, build, print, prototype, fabricate, code and finance ideas quickly. We can customize things the way we want them to be. Paradoxically he believes those problems we wish to solve are becoming bigger. Problems are becoming so big! Healthcare. Energy use. Environment. Design solutions require perpetual ongoing interaction on a global network scale. Employing the right systems, design can be imbedded in business and entrepreneurship. Thinking big means getting as close to the problem as possible.

Next, Chief Design Officer, at consumer brand powerhouse Johnson & Johnson, Chris Hacker. He picked up the design thinking baton from Twitter’s Mike Kruzeniski. At J&J, his role is to make design a creative competitive advantage. Design in the context of business can make a difference in two ways: refining the consumer experience building brand loyalty and to see the importance of sustainability and corporate social responsibility. It’s doing the right thing for customers and business, but also taking care of the planet. He believes business needs “both-brained” people: the marketing people (who often attempt to solve design problems first), and design people looking for the next thing. J&J’s solution: the Global Strategic Design Office where teams of people work together, cycling from brand to brand, applying design thinking problem solving. It requires that they “get the problem right.” — in other words, getting as close to the problem as possible. J&J assists retailers like Canada’s Shoppers Drug Mart to develop new ways of thinking about the crowded retail environment from in-store visual merchandising to shelf displays. He concluded by saying designers have a responsibility to help make change happen in the world. And he challenged delegates to “Add one paradigm to your design process — make the environment a design priority in your work. Make informed decisions, and start by making design responsible.”

Day One’s final keynote was delivered by Lisa Strausfeld, Global Head of Data Visualization, Bloomberg, where she leads a team that creates consumer-focused “data products.” Data visualization is the visual representation of data, communicating information clearly and effectively through graphical means: think of word maps, infographics, even bar charts and maps. Combined with information technology and large volumes of data, sophisticated graphics and animation can be achieved. DV emerged in the 1990s out of the consumer market. She offered a few demonstrations of effective DV: General Electric visualized home energy consumption data sets by employing a portfolio of home appliances as graphics, when users scroll over the icons, they convey their cost of operation in dollars. Then, their cost of operation is converted to the cost of gasoline to really bring it down to practical terms. Data visualization provides explanation through visualization. She was instrumental in the creation of Major League Politics — an online data-driven journalism site. It attempts to make government activity as interesting as possible by showing users how the United States Congress works, employing data visualization methods. Why is DV emerging? For consumes, it expresses a need to share data about their lives. She believes this is an amazing moment for data. Data visualization has a rightful place as a design discipline.

Design Thinkers 2012 Day Two first keynote speaker was VP of Innovation, Coca-Cola Company, David Butler. More than just 'innovation' he believes in disruptive, sustainable, breakthrough innovation. Leading the world’s top brand is a challenge to say the least, while Coca-Cola is a pretty simple beverage, the company is highly complex with literally hundreds of brands competing in a complex world. Coca-Cola Company must be agile, responsive and relevant. Like all brands, they must differentiate their brands from others in the marketplace. David Butler believes design is more than strategy; design is at the core of business. He suggested we all want to grow individually, in our families, in our communities, in our country, in our workplaces, economically, spiritually. How can we use design to grow? After all, everything is designed by somebody; but how is it designed? Coca-Cola Company has standardized design for scale. What has always been complicated is now complex. Think of something difficult to understand — a remove control TV device, crowds of people, traffic flow: our world is complex. All companies are complex, and they are encountering new problems: the speed of communication, maintaining value, even natural disasters, climate change and terrorism affect business. These are ‘wicked problems’ meaning they’re challenging to solve due to incomplete data, changing dynamics, they’re even difficult to recognize. He believes design can be used to embrace complexity. Coca-Cola designs for scale and agility: for example, increasing fruit growth yields to meet growing consumer demand, or using sugar cane extract — once a waste product — in product packaging. What does this mean for designers? There are no bigger problems than those faced today; it is up to designers to make solutions happen.

Saffron Brand Consultants Creative Director, Gabor Schreier engages a multicultural design team across European capitals. Saffron employs rigorous thinking with courageous bold ideas, their approach can be distilled into one simple message: clarity and courage. They capitalize on brand strategy, looking as far as possible, their goal is to achieve extraordinary results. He believes branding is 95 percent generic and only 5 percent unique — a small window for differentiation. Three principles guide Saffron: perspective, authenticity and audaciousness. Always challenge the status quo. He offered samples of Saffron branding projects from across Europe. A checkerboard tablecloth, universally understood across local cultures as familiar and comforting, served as inspiration for a Venice, Italy-based airline identity: an everyday element was re-imagined in a new context. A telephone land line operator merges with a mobile phone provider and produces Austria’s biggest telecommunications company, A1. Naturally a new branding roll-out was required. Saffron’s solution: a brand that speaks to all, reflecting the tastes and viewpoints of customers: individualism and the unexpected, personality and attitude. He concluded, saying “It’s not about doing the best you can be, it’s about being the only one doing it.”

One of the DT 2012’s most engaging speakers had to be Justin Ferrell, from d.school at Stanford University. His background is in journalism at The Washington Post where he transitioned the newsroom to deliver news via mobile devices. Today he works at d. school— essentially a start-up on Stanford university where people from different disciplines come together to generate new ideas in a multidisciplinary environment. Employing design thinking principles leads to radical collaboration. By sharing talent and expertise, the space between these varied disciplines — or the sweet spot — generates design thinking, unlocking creativity. It’s a human-centered approach that encourages confidence. Building confidence in others is achieved by using divergent thinking, thus expanding the solution. D.school’s design thinking-based method: empathize (listen), define (apply needs), ideate (brainstorm), prototype and test. He describes it as a cycle that can make the difference. Like other presenters, Justin Ferrell concluded with an inspired message: “Be confident in your discipline and the people around you. The space between will all for creativity.”

New York City-based design superstar, Austrian Stefan Sagmeister was a big headliner at DT 2012. Delegates were buzzing over his attendance at the conference. His presentation was decidedly unconventional. Foregoing the show-and-tell approach employed by others, he offered thoughts on the connection between design and happiness. He has been exploring the daunting possibilities for achieving happiness as a designer for over ten years, producing a work-in-progress documentary film The Happy Film which he previewed at DT 2012. We observe Stefan Sagmeister self-experimenting; placing himself in situations in pursuit of happiness. On a busy street he offers female passersby flowers, attempting to engage them in conversation — his goal is to offer his email address, and ultimately a response from the recipient. It’s a comedic piece; he quickly finds the pursuit of intentional happiness met with resistance. Happily, he is successful in his experiment though. He suggests that we must seek out bliss. Designers must embrace the call of their profession, rising above design simply as a job. To be happier, do more of what you would like to do, less of what you dislike doing, he advised. Be bold. He concluded, “Having guts works out for me.” The Happy Show will be presented in Toronto at The Design Exchange, January 2013.

The conference concluded with U.S. design partners Sean Adams and Noreen Morioka, co-founders, AdamsMorioka. Sean Adams holds a distinguished career in design: president emeritus of AIGA, teacher at Art Center College of Design and author of several books published by Rockport on design. He recounted his professional history with Noreen Morioka. They were committed to doing things differently, they had specific ideas about what design should do. Their design principles: clarity, purity and resonance. How do you decide on your work? Good work gets good work — be selective about choosing clients. Sean Adams offered three inspiring words of guidance: fun (have a good time), fame (be rewarded by your industry) and fortune (get paid!). They maintain a blog, Burning Settlers Cabin, offering “good and plain optimism.”

Design Thinkers 2012 hosted the Adobe Design Achievement Awards ceremony at the conclusion of day two. The awards acknowledge student achievement reflecting the merging of technology and the creative arts in varied disciplines: graphic design, photography, animation, digital filmmaking, web development among others. Sean Adams and Noreen Morioka hosted the event.
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The Next Designer
Posted 09/19/12

Presented September 18, 2012 by RGD Ontario, The Next Designer featured a panel of professionals discussing the changing role of the graphic designer, the skills required to remain relevant, and where the opportunities and challenges of the profession will present themselves in the future. This was the fourth gathering in RGD’s ongoing series Future By Design.

Lionel Gadoury, RGD, President RGD Ontario, facilitated the evening’s discussion. Adam Antoszek-Rallo, RGD, Creative Director, Catalyst Workshop offered up an interesting case for the direction of design: hodinkee.com, a niche online publication website devoted to — timepieces. It’s a simple, clean site, competently produced, crosses all digital reading devices. Hodinkee.com was published with SquareSpace a template-based, build-your-own website for non-techies that’s abundantly affordable. The takeaway: SquareSpace is a sign of things to come, it’s an economic model that is scalable offering high-end affordable design solutions. Designers must seek out and realize opportunities where others don’t go. He also suggested that there must be a focus on strategy. In his words, “There will be no definitive version of anything.” Adaptable personalization will become the norm; technology will offer niche turn-key software solutions for print and digital devices. Dawna Henderson, President and CEO, henderson bas kohn, an advertising agency, presented an interesting site: milwaukeepolicenews.com is a beautifully designed site that demonstrates the emerging use of parallax scrolling. Designers must work with technologists and immerse themselves with consumers, engaging them in online experiences. Helen Pak, Creative Director, Saatchi & Saatchi Canada, suggested designers must aim beyond traditional design. She used the launch of the book Decoded by recording artist Jay-Z and his collaboration with search engine bing.com which engaged users in real world and the virtual one too. She suggested designers must “forget what you know” and explore new ideas and embrace extremes. Justin Rieder, Director of Creative Services, Indigo Books & Music, spoke from a different experience — online book retailer Indigo has no agency-of-record — it is both client and agency together. He suggested we are in a renaissance period: art blending with science. New designers must be nimble, original, and must pay attention to what is going on in the world — be informed.

In response to the facilitator’s question “What do you call yourself” an interesting exchange followed on the issue of titles and the shifting meaning of “design.” Adam Antoszek-Rallo, proprietor of his own communications company is also an “adapter” and “facilitator” — bringing people together. Dawna Henderson found the term “graphic designer” is too limiting; design goes beyond one single medium. Helen Pak concurred, finding the term “graphic” to be too traditional, or flat — like ink printed on paper. She felt there is no solid answer to this question. Both women agreed that “problem solver” is an accurate description of their professional duties. Similarly, Justin Rieder, finds the term “graphic designer” is fading. He’s a “coach” prompting and guiding his creative team. The notion of teamworking was a reoccurring theme during the conversation: designers no longer work in isolation, but are being married with other design disciplinarians like technologists, building on their respective competencies.

Lionel Gadoury inquired about changes in design and opportunities in the future. Adam Antoszek-Rallo believes designers must be generalists. Creative thinkers must be engaged and brought into decision-making situations. Dawna Henderson believes designers must be bold and fearless with the attitude that they are game-changers acting as agents of change. Helen Pak similarly suggested that the challenge for designers is to say “Yes, it’s possible” meaning that ways must be found to answer clients seemingly impossible requirements. Fearless indeed. Indigo’s Justin Rieder returned to the teamwork model, suggesting tomorrow’s designers must be generalists with a broad understanding of how ideas can be applied to real situations.

Commoditization was another reoccurring theme. Panelists agreed design is placed in high value: clients will be willing to pay for it. Adam Antoszek-Rallo critically noted the popularity of 99Designs, the online marketplace offering questionable weekly ‘design contests’ at unsustainably low prices. He believes 99Designs represents the bottom end of the design industry. Ultimately, clients are unwilling to spend money if there is no value in it. Fortunately, he believes the design industry's floor is being raised higher and higher. Helen Mak spoke of commoditization with respect to consumers growing accessibility to well-designed mass-market products — think of retailer Target. Design has been democratized: People have gained exposure to some level of affordable mass-scaled design. Commoditization doesn't mean bad design. Similarly, Justin Rieder suggested entry into design has never been so accessible. Technology has enabled non-designers into the creative space; however, low-end designers will commoditize themselves — quality will outpace commodity.

With regards to recent design graduates, what strategies can they employ? Adam Antoszek-Rallo teaches typography at Sheridan College. He suggested students must take control of their own education. He recommended the RGD Handbook as a source for guidance. Dawna Henderson believes new designers must have burning passion: they must stand out. “Where are the prima donnas?” she enthused to much laughter from the RGD crowd. Helen Mak believes new designers must be nimble and willing to work on interdisciplinary teams. She spoke of collaboration — ideas become richer with cooperation. Justin Rieder concurred, saying designers must function in a team dynamic.

I approached this evening’s panel discussion with some trepidation. The next designer? Like many professionals, I’m overcome by technology and change today. But tomorrow? I’m not there yet. I was anticipating more talk about mobile communication advances and the latest news on gadgets. However, the panelists engaged in really informed discussion about design in its broader scope. Yes, technology is advancing: tablets, mobile devices and websites are produced by technologists — integral to their success is creativity and design. Designers of the graphic kind, will be essential players on tomorrow’s team.
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The Evolving Consumer
Posted: 02/17/12

Presented January 31, 2012 by the Design Exchange in collaboration with RGD Ontario, The Evolving Visual Consumer featured a panel of design professionals on the transformation of how people experience and consume media. Printed word, radio, television, internet, or mobile, generations experience media in different ways. Design plays a critical roll in presenting information in new and innovative user-friendly ways. This panel was the first in an ongoing bi-monthly series, Future by Design.

To start, what are the characteristics on the new visual consumer? Bev Foster Creative Director BMO Financial Group, suggested the obvious: they’re challenged for time and consequently scan a lot of devices from magazines to mobile devices. People have behaviours when consuming media; this is the challenge for marketers to stay with them. John Furneaux RGD, Managing Partner, Ove Design, believes it's more and more about content — a theme that was repeated often during the discussion. Content must speak to audiences and draw them into a deep dive, beyond headlines. He suggested that conversation is a dialogue, and there is a growing movement in social media to engage feedback — dialogue is the great equalizer. There is a need for crafting an authentic message that engages readers to respond and become active in this exchange.

Feeling overwhelmed by new media? Well, so are design professionals on the panel. In fact, one can never really be up on everything; Mikey Richardson RGD, Creative Director, Amoeba Corp, suggested designers need to become ‘T-shaped’ designers, they require a great depth in one disciplined skill while maintaining broad empathy in other skills, or a wide horizontal skill set, punctuated by a vertical specialty. In effect, designers must be team contributors. John Furneaux offered an interesting suggestion when he considered the standard technology curve: there isn’t just one curve, but many. So pick the curve where you find your interest and ride it. Good advice. All panelists, suggested they’re running to stay on the curve.

On targeting audiences and finding niche markets the panel offered interesting comments. Kaye Puhlmann, Vice President, Critical Mass, believes online marketers are aggregating — or selling to the largest possible audience. To find a gap, or niche, customization is necessary. John Furneaux spoke of tribes of consumers — a common reference in recent books I’ve commented on TomCulture — that can be tapped for their insights and can be scaled to the mass market. Large organizations require constant conversation with users; the mass market isn’t going away, but niche markets can talk back to the mass market. It's an inversion of the old model: By speaking to the niche market, the mass market can grow. Adrian Norris, Managing Editor for Presentation and Design from The Globe and Mail, spoke of the struggle between creative forces and the requirement for sales; it’s a daily struggle. Online users, simply don’t want to pay for content.

The panel’s discussion moved to the issue of aging baby-boomers. Mikey Richardson felt there is a need to spend less time talking about demographics and more time on psychographics, marketers must relate to the values and attitudes of users and speak to their targets. John Furneaux suggested the power of insight is accessible to all, research is critical to understanding consumer tribes. Kate Puhlmann believes people want to socialize, they seek to share their interests; there is growing interest in the 65+ demographic in social media sites like Facebook.

When asked about the significance of graphic design in the user experience it was suggested by John Furneaux that design initially did not play a role, "It was designed by geeks, for geeks." Today, of course, design is a big part of the conversation in social channels. Kaye Puhlmann believes that as design matures there is a greater need for differentiation among brands or they risk becoming invisible.
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Let's Connect: Design Thinkers 2011 Conference
Posted 11/06/11

November 2 and 3, 2011 Let’s Connect Design Thinkers 2011 conference brought together 1200 delegates for two days of presentations from mostly U.S. and international visual communicators and branding experts. RGD Ontario Executive Director, Hilary Ashworth lead opening greetings and acted as ongoing host for the event.

Day 1 was bookended by advertising and design legends. First, RGD Ontario President Lionel Gadoury, RGD, introduced U.S. advertising industry legend George Lois, one of the most celebrated creative thinkers of the 20th century. For the outspoken ‘graphic communicator’ George Lois, the verbal and the visual are indivisible. Intuition is more important than intellect. Designers must capture the zeitgeist of the time; his iconic covers for Esquire magazine were challenging in their time. Remember “I want my MTV” ads? That was George Lois’s work. He feels strongly that advertising should ‘change the culture.’ MTV’s popularity changed the cable television industry. Sometimes referred to as the original ‘mad man,’ George Lois is quite disdainful of the Emmy-winning AMC cable TV series Mad Men; too consumed with boozing and smoking ad executives, he feels Mad Men disrespects the real creative work that made Madison Avenue so famous.

The very thoughtful Robert Wong, Executive Creative Director at Google Creative Lab, wants to make the world a better place by creating meaning. His random thoughts ranged from ‘obsessing the why’ to his experience at Google — a place he feels still feels ‘very start-up.’ He’s a believer in story and meaning; he demonstrated Art Project, powered by Google, a site that enables virtual gallery hopping from the world’s top galleries. He spoke of Google’s browser Chrome, for Robert ‘It’s about the awesomeness of what you can do.’

Concurrent streams followed Day 1’s morning keynote speakers. Christian Schwartz, type designer and partner in type foundry Commercial Type shared his thoughts on the current type environment. Happily, he believes type standards have not fallen, given the technological advances in creating typefaces. In detail, he presented his contribution to the updated U.K. newspaper The Guardian. Like many other major broadsheets, The Guardian was cut down in size and required revisions to its typographic treatment. In his words, the paper had to ‘speak in a quieter voice,’ even in a tabloid format. Co-owner of Commercial Type, with Paul Barnes, they were able to follow their obsessions for typography. He also discussed his experience designing a typeface for O, The Oprah Magazine; which was featured in great detail in the next concurrent session.

Robert Priest and Grace Lee worked in the hyper-driven magazine publishing industry before establishing their own branding firm Priest + Grace. They presented two case studies in great detail. First, one year in development, with oversight by Condé Nast chairman, S.I. Newhouse himself, business magazine Conde Nast Portfolio seemed to be in trouble from day one; Priest and Lee presented a grocery-store-tabloid-like retelling of the magazine’s indecisive editor-in-chief Joanne Lipman and the seemingly unending search for the perfect cover. Battling for consistency which never seemed to stick, soft sales and plummeting ad revenue, Condé Nast Portfolio ceased publication in only 18 months. O, The Oprah Magazine, is a happier story for them. Initially designing the magazine’s 10th anniversary issue, they were invited to return later by editor-in-chief Susan Casey to develop more substantial designs. Turning to Christian Schwartz and Paul Barnes at Commercial Type, Priest and Lee undertook a new design. They shared their nervous experience of presenting creative to the mighty Oprah herself. Whew!

William Poundstone, author of Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value talked about the tangible (price) and the chronically under priced intangible (design). He spoke of the hidden psychology of outrageously priced luxury goods to the use of price as a pervasive persuader and our hardwired tendency of the ‘Rule of Three.’ The design industry can learn from pricing techniques, it seems. His wide-ranging presentation offered several rules for effectively pricing design services: from incentives, to non-linear pricing, to inflation and the power of ‘anchoring.’ Pricing the intangible is difficult; he offered practical advice for setting value on creative time.

Keynote speaker Rei Inamoto, Chief Creative Officer, AKQA spoke of designing a culture of innovation. It’s culture that makes innovation happen. He effectively demonstrated how storytelling has evolved over 500+ years, illustrating a timeline that returned to the age of the Gutenberg press to the present. He believes today, storytelling is about enabling. This is possible by designing a culture of innovation in business: do what was not possible five years ago, solve problems in unexpected ways, innovate by ‘cross-pollinating’ ideas, and if you can’t find a way then make your own new way. Storytelling is now about ‘story doing.’

New York Art Director Chip Kidd brought the house down in a spirited presentation of past and present book cover designs. Chip Kidd is gregarious and he’s over-the-top when on stage. He designed the cover of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park with its Tyrannosaurus Rex in striking silhouette. The cover design for Dry, by Augusten Burroughs, was literally splashed with water to create the fluid bleeding effect - a surprisingly practical solution that disregarded electronic filtering. He feels his book covers must ultimately be self-explanatory. Chip Kidd is a great fan of the comic book media and he has been invited by DC Comics to develop a new Batman story. Delegates saw a sneak peek of the story boards.

The other bookend was the final Day 1 keynote address by the founders of legendary brand design firm Chermayeff & Geismar - Ivan Chermayeff and Tom Geismar — with partner Sagi Haviv. For Ivan Chermayeff, finding the client’s essence is the goal. Alternating, they each offered brief illustrated highlights of some of Chermayeff & Geismar’s longtime iconic trademarks. They suggested that a trademark is about what works, not necessarily what is pretty. A logo can’t be separated by the institution, it must reflect the institution’s essence. They discussed two of their well known identities: Chase Bank and Mobil Corporation. When Ivan Chermayeff was asked what sustains him every day, he replied that he is driven to solve other people’s problems and to learn everyday; he is continuously invigorated. Principles remain constant, but details change. Of graphic design he said, “It’s one of the world’s great professions.”

Highlights from RGD Ontario 2011 Design Thinkers Day 2:

Day 2 first keynote address was delivered by Brian Collins and Leland Maschmeyer from New York design company COLLINS. Leland Maschmeyer presented their work and offered insights into the challenge of creating new futures. Very high concept stuff. What does the future hold? Sighting the Declaration of Independence, to the vision of John Kennedy to Disney and even the futuristic promise of space travel as envisioned by the Space Age, history illuminated the future as a vision of what it should be: designing for a better tomorrow. Today, that Jules Verne-like imagined future is mocked. While technology maybe today’s default answer, he suggested everything casts a shadow. He spoke in detail ‘the commons,’ or a shared common free resource such as water. Carried further, the Web is the new commons. Commons is about entrepreneurship. The Web is a facility for sharing the commons. He believes we are moving from the information age to the commons age. Heady stuff for the beginning of Day 2.

Eric Ryan makes soap; he co-founded consumer-packaged-goods leader Method with Adam Lowry. Their ambition was to find a differentiated place in the crowded domestic marketplace. How? By reinventing green cleaners. They wanted to make cleaning fun! They took a personal care approach to the home care category. Partnering with U.S. retailer Target was their turning point. He spoke of the importance of design; Method would not have happened without it. The Method founders have put their philosophy into words with The Method Method. Their book offers seven obsessions: create a competitive advantage by branding inside out, find a social mission, inspire change on a grand scale, prototype repeatedly, selling by transferring emotion, master the product experience and ensure your company is design-driven.

While a graduate student at The School of Visual Arts, New York City, Deborah Adler developed a medicine packaging system for her thesis to better enable prescription drug users to safely administer their medication. Eventually, the CleaRx packaging system would be distributed in Target stores. Design can provide effective solutions: a new bottling system for prescription drugs, a just-in-time 2-minute instruction system for in-hospital wound care, and a repackaged kit on the proper application of a catheter. Deborah Adler went into the field; iterated and then iterated again. She spoke of ‘going to the genba,’ or, ‘the real place’ - a Japanese term. For designers, that means going to where design is used. Like a hospital patient ward. More time spent in the genba, means more success. She was really inspiring. Her thesis story has appeared as a case study for good design in many books, like Warren Berger’s Glimmer. Learn more about Glimmer on TomCulture/Books.

Bobby Martin and Jennifer Kinon’s company is OCD: The Original Champions of Design. Martin and Kinon devoted their presentation by describing their revision of an iconic U.S. trademark: the 1978 Girl Scouts logo by Saul Bass. OCD didn’t mess with success. They tweaked it. Researching Girl Scouts archives, they found inspiration in the familiar trefoil form. Visible in the Saul Bass iteration, OCD tweaked the points on the trefoil and refined the three faces in profile. Now the profiles appear younger: necks are elongated and there’s even a youthful change in hair style. The points on the trefoil are pinched, sharper. Extensive type on the wordmark/descriptor unifies the Girl Scouts nationwide network. Interestingly, during their presentation, Martin and Kinon charted a timeline of existing U.S. identities to reveal the growing trend toward brand refreshing. Fortunately, they paid respect to their predecessor.

Tod Simmons, creative lead for international brand consultants Wolff Olins, New York City echoed an earlier theme: designing the why. You can’t do new things with old mechanisms. Designers must to go deep with clients. Bypassing typical presentations, Wolff Olins workshops with their clients, imbedding designers in their client’s offices. The result: a highly collaborative environment that creates a better reality for clients and their customers. Answering the ‘why’ is critical, not the ‘what.’ He illustrated Wolff Olins design solutions for Tate Modern; a world-class gallery that broke the established mold for how art is presented. The impact: the gallery has become the most visited place in London. He discussed the controversial global reaction to Wolff Olins design for the 2012 London Olympics: criticism of the logo even reached the late night comedy TV talk show circuit. While he was apologetic about the launch of the identity, he maintained that design solutions must be tough and audacious. For global internet services and media company, Aol, he described the shift from an access company to a content-driven creative resource. The Aol brand must be put way out in front of the actual business; this required a new internal culture for Aol.

The remaining keynote presenters delivered a boost of energy in two forms. First, U.S. typographer and illustrator Jessica Hische offered a funny description of her experience in typeface design. Her personality was bubbly, yet she clearly demonstrated a passion for the field of typeface design, particularly lettering. Personality and humanity guide her professional life - its one of the smartest new ways to find success. Jessica Hische has created two Web sites: Daily Drop Cap and Don’t Fear the Internet. Her final words: Be an advocate for specializers, technology shouldn’t replace everything, and make something you wish existed.

Nobody does eccentricity better than the Brits. Design Thinkers 2011 final keynote speaker was the very dashing Steve Edge — self-described prophet, madman and wanderer. With wavy hair, thick dark-rimmed glasses, a floral print jacket over a soft pink shirt, bright magenta trousers and red patent leather shoes, his personality matched his appearance. His personal philosophy was unsurprising: Dress for a party every day and the party will come to you. Very Oscar Wilde. Humour aside, he effectively described his love for revitalizing traditional English luxury brands. Edge Design Ltd. worked with venerable U.K. retailer Fortnum & Mason, a brand in existence since the early 1700s. Great brands are about history, heritage and stories. He believes we should bring a twist to everything we touch. By doing so, users will create their own concepts of brands.
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Reading Books: Paper and Pixels
Posted: 08/14/11
Presented August 11, 2011 by the Design Exchange in collaboration with RGD Ontario, Book: Burning Questions featured a panel of design professionals, a book publisher and a media commentator on the changing nature of book reading. The event was moderated by Lionel Gadoury, RGD, President RGD Ontario. This event was well attended by many RGDs and professionals from design and publishing — I spotted Stan Bevington, President Coach House Press later at DX’s current exhibition Out of Sorts, but more on that later. The discussion was lively and panelists offered wide-ranging thoughts on the present state and future of book reading.

Not surprisingly, the emergence of e-readers in the retail marketplace was a repeated theme visited by the moderator and panelists. Laura Stein, Creative Director, Communications, Bruce Mau Design acknowledged that e-readers are picking up steam and gaining a strong presence the retail marketplace; she drew an interesting comparative study between reading and the transformation of the music industry regarding the use of new technology, namely digital downloading of MP3 players. She observed, “The format is part of the experience.” E-readers are altering the reading experience, shaking up the publishing industry, that, according to panelist Scott Richardson, VP & Creative Director, Canadian Publishing of Random House Canada moves at a glacially slow pace.

Panelists suggested we’re presently in a transitional phase regarding emerging digital reading options. Margie Miller, Creative Director of Harlequin Enterprises suggested, that with books, you have time, the visual is intrinsic — paper has control. A book embodies permanence. The door is open for digital. Imagine enhanced interactive books that feature: trailers, music accompaniment, image and video attachments — or a link to a ubiquitous Facebook fan page? A panelist suggested a book as a possible video game-like experience with multiple story ending options. Think of the ‘networked’ book engaging readers — an online book club of sorts. Authors themselves may become more engaged in the design experience with an opening for collaboration with experience designers. The traditional definition of a book may blur in the future. Scott Richardson wondered if ancillary material is necessary? When it comes to the reading experience, maybe “less is more.” There appeared to be consensus that some genres are better suited to these technological possibilities than others: reference books and encyclopedias yes — but fiction, well, not so much.

The perception of the book is shifting. Books can now be interpreted in digital or print form - it doesn't’t matter.

However, it appears book cover design remains strong — for online retailers like Amazon.com, covers still demand attention, although when viewed in thumbnail size, the impact is diminished. Covers may require both a print version and a simplified online version. Online shoppers will likely never buy a book from a simple text-based list of book titles - they still require that visual connection. Beyond the cover though, control may be the users’ hands with e-readers offering options for controlling body copy font size and style. Panelist Gilbert Li RGD, founder and Creative Director of The Office of Gilbert Li, suggested there is not yet a generation of digital book designers, but there can be a coexistence of print and digital hybrid.

The thorny issue of self-publishing and print-on-demand (POD) surfaced. Kate Taylor, Globe and Mail Arts writer and novelist lamented “Everyone is writing in their basements.” Namely, she lamented the apparent and diminished necessity for self-publishers to even make use of editors! Margie Miller concurred, saying self-publishing is not a productive model; vital book advertising and promotion are seemingly non-existent. Yet, one panelist suggested self-publishing does offer design possibilities for very unique custom-designed books.

The dust is yet to settle on the future of books and the book reading experience. While it remains a solitary experience, technology and the marketplace may ultimately decide how we read.

This RGD-sponsored panel discussion was a collaboration with RGD Ontario and the Design Exchange — Canada’s only design museum and centre for the promotion of greater awareness of design. DX is currently hosting OUT OF SORTS: Print Culture & Book Design - a look at the book as “a pivotal artifact” in human history and cultural development. It covers history and typography to cover art and Canadian contributions to the world of book publishing.
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Design Thinking Has Never Been More Important — RGD Ontario 2010 Design Thinkers Conference
Posted: 11/29/10

The 11th annual RGD Ontario 2010 Design Thinkers conference brought together over 1200 delegates for two days of presentations from Canadian and international designers and business leaders. RGD Ontario President Lionel Gadoury, RGD, lead opening greetings and acted as ongoing host for the big keynote speakers. RGD Ontario staff pulled the event together seamlessly and efficiently.

Paul Lavoie, founder of TAXI, Toronto and first keynote speaker got the conference rolling on the unexpected subject of doubt. Conventional wisdom tells us ‘don’t question anything’ — it is the default negative term. However, if we actually question the conventional, we will find a better way. We’ll create the exceptional. There’s a balance between the skeptic and the optimist. Doubt is the catalyst for positive change. Paul Lavoie will publish his new book ‘Doubt’ in the coming months.

Don Lindsay, VP of User Experience at Research in Motion believes ideas get you started, but the real key is execution. Thinking and positioning. Brands must get consumers when they have a need. Capture them, and build brand loyalty. For RIM, great technology means great experiences. This requires acting efficiently, executing flawlessly from end-to-end.

The third keynote speaker on Day 1 was Darrel Rhea, CEO of Cheskin Added Value, a U.S.-based consultancy that ‘guides innovation through a deep understanding of people, culture and change’. He offered three points to frame passion that is relevant to corporate survival: leveraging insights, breakthrough innovation and value creation. A brand must create a great experience. Experience that is: economic, functional, emotional and establishes status. Experience is incremental; the highest level of value is the meaningful experience. It moves us. Meaning is what we look for when designing; it provides the potential basis for radical innovation. Darrel Rhea contributed to the book, 'Making Meaning: How Successful Businesses Deliver Meaningful Customer Experiences' by Cheskin partner Steve Diller and Nathan Shedroff.

Breakout sessions followed with a presentation by ‘Designing Brand Identity’ author Alina Wheeler. She spoke about the growing importance of personal branding by applying principles from corporate branding on a personal level. Personal brands are about being irreplaceable. The core purpose of the personal brand is to establish who you are, why others should care to know you and how you may influence them. Enrich their experience and make a difference.

Armin Vit is a designer, blogger and most recently conference creator! He authors the popular design sites Under Consideration and Brand New and his previous online sites include FPO, Speak Up and Word It. He has co-authored with Bryony Gomez-Palacio several books, notably 'Graphic Design Referenced' and 'Women of Design'. He encouraged delegates to find things no else is doing. So, given the success of his site Brand New, in 2010 he organized the Brand New Conference for identity. He self-published a graphic design portfolio guide 'Flaunt'. He offered three lessons: there is always someone you need to woo, learn from others to find your own way, and never stand still.

Authors Jenn and Ken Visocky O’Grady co-founders of Enspace offered insights design research based on their book 'A Designer’s Research Manual' and the recently-published 'The Information Design Handbook'. For the authors, research is a method, not a methodology. Research is about risk management, research can help risk.

Presently with Condé Nast Digital Magazine Development, Scott Dadich is Creative Director, WIRED magazine. He spoke of how WIRED, collaborating with Adobe, was reinvented for the emerging digital tablet user. The editors had to determine what would a digital magazine be, it had to be a flexible portable experience. The essence of the print version had to be maintained, advertising created in new forms — in short, a new publishing process was invented that still put the reader first. He believes digital storytelling possibilities are exciting. To read more about WIRED's migration to a digital experience, go to this great article in The New York Observer for details.

Highlights from RGD Ontario 2010 Design Thinkers Day 2:

Day 2 began with and address by keynote speaker Helen Walters, former editor of Innovation and Design at Bloomberg BusinessWeek. She is also a contributing editor to design magazine Creative Review. She spoke of the explosion of interest in design in the business world, and the design communication challenges that come along with it. A key to business success will be design-driven thinking. Design thinking is not a new idea, but for many in business, the terms are vague, its open to interpretation. There is a lack of consensus. Many schools are not teaching design thinking — its more than just design department stuff, it should be taught to MBAs. Design needs a seat at the leadership table: CEOs must embrace design. Designers must be open-minded and be prepared to communicate beyond design’s small world. The value of design must be demonstrated in real terms; new ways of doing things must be embraced.

Marian Bantjes is a designer, typographer, writer and illustrator, spoke about her work that is rich in meaning and intricate in fine detail. Illuminated manuscripts provide her with sources of inspiration: people respond to them. They provide wonder and unknowing. Wonder is related to curiosity. Similarly, her work embraces these themes, they’re organic, fluid and understood by being revealed slowly, not instantly. Marian has recently launched her latest book ‘I Wonder’ which brilliantly demonstrates her belief in the co-dependence of image and word. Of ‘I Wonder’ she says it ‘combines graphic art with the written word, and lends my own contemplative but frequently amused voice to my observations of the world’.

David Turner, co-founder of London-based design agency Turner Duckworth spoke of iconic brands. Great brands, like Coca-Cola, must reach the hearts and minds of consumers. Brands must be committed to delivering their promise and remain authentic. A challenge for brands is the need to remain simple, be delightful and nimble — and always fresh in the minds of consumers. Always connecting.

Emily Oberman and Bonnie Siegler co-founded Number Seventeen — a multi-disciplinary New York City design studio in 1993. 17 years ago. They offered 17 comments on their career together through work-related samples from video titles for Saturday Night Live to myriad covers — and their own weekly back page contribution - for Newsweek magazine. They recommended simple rules for business: tell the truth, know your inspiration, don’t listen to conventional wisdom, it’s all in the details, persistence pays off.

Friday afternoon’s first breakout session was lead by University of Toronto Rotman School of Management, dean Roger Martin. He believes design thinking is the next competitive advantage. Businesses struggle with innovation. Why? It’s a puzzle. The paradox — design and business seem to want each other but it doesn’t work. As hard as it is, it’s a gap between analytical thinking and intuitive thinking. Design thinking embraces analytical and intuitive thinking: reliability and validity. He is the author of ‘The Design of Business: Why DesignThinking is the Next Big Advantage’

RGD Ontario 2010 Design Thinkers final keynote speaker was U.K. typographer Jonathon Barnbrook. He is responsible for iconic typefaces Mason and Exocet for Emigre, two fonts that contributed to the visual language of graphic design in the early 1990s. He writes a blog on his site barnbrook.net and on Virusfonts.com. Jonathon Barnbrook believes type is a vessel for ideology — it can actually improve society. Designing type is a complex process, as a designer he as over 3000 years of history to subvert. The past can be used to create something new. Aesthetics should be appropriate to technology — letterforms fitted around technology. He even encourages the moral role of a typeface.

RGD Ontario President Lionel Gadoury, RGD, closed the 2010 Design Thinkers conference — but not before introducing RGD Executive Director, Hilary Ashworth and all the hardworking RGD staff who brought Design Thinkers together. Delegates responded with a long standing ovation. For a first-timer, it was a great success: inspiring, educational, and after 15 keynote and breakout sessions, exhausting. A post-conference dinner at FRANK in the Art Gallery of Ontario was fun with many delegates and invited speakers in attendance.
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