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Friday morning, I grabbed a coffee with a friend before heading to the conference Sex, Drugs & Helvetica in Brisbane. Catching up on life, design and the world’s problems, we wondered how the conference would go and how it could brace us in our constantly changing role as designers. Naturally curious and convinced that design can change the world we treasure its dual-evolution with whatever technologies are a la mode; today, that is everything being designed for the user. Attending the conference, disrupted all of the preconceived ideas that I had about this and probably changed my life forever.
The first speaker was Ben Miles, the awesome Creative Director at Interbrand Sydney. He talked about changing the Sky TV vision and brand. I recently had a conversation with a designer friend from Wellington about her studio shifting to build identities for brands from A to Z. The process was to question and restructure everything about it; the “it’s not just a logo” type of talk to the client. I thought it was great and certainly the future of approaching a client about their brand. Unfortunately, I had not seen any application of this philosophy until Ben came on stage and made me want to go back to New Zealand and not only subscribe to but be a part of Sky TV. I think the whole audience was in that state of mind, demanding more of the quirky, loveable and smart brand. The contributing process of rebranding in that case came from both sides. Ben pointed out that having someone on the inside that allowed the creative team to change everything for the better was key to those kinds of projects. Sky TV had a problem, understood it and creatives came up with a great solution. Ben really seemed to approach all of his projects with a positive attitude which clearly pays off.
“Inspire people to love your brand… be honest and simple.” Ben Miles
Next up was Nick Cox, a hilariously unique character and Co-founder of Projects of Imagination. He desacralised hospitality and taught us about the ups and downs of the industry. With Nick, the right way is keeping things simple and straightforward. Weirdly enough, when he showed us two of his projects ‘Supernormal’ and ‘Supernormal Canteen’, the approach and signage made me think of an art exhibition. Everything looked clean and simple but some eccentric elements completed the whole look. It was the kind of place where you feel safe and trust your environment. Cox has great design references and allows himself to mix and match everything that goes through his mind, illustrating perfectly the creative process of connecting dots to form ideas. He attacks his projects with an “all or nothing” way of thinking; daring to present only one brief to the client, he goes in with gusto to submit an amazing final product.
“We only present one idea. You got to be quite sure about what you are doing.” Nick Cox.
Back to the conference with Zoë Pollitt, Director/co-founder of Eskimo. She presented the ‘Eastland’ project that her studio worked on. It reminded me of my neighbourhood in Paris with its refined style, food and fashion. Everything in‘Eastland’ originated from the importance of primary values; the closeness to nature and prominence of communities. Zoë’s project went back to basics, the natural beauty of the elements and how inspiration comes from them. She truly opened up about her experience and life as a designer. The job comes with frustration and a fight for educating the environment we’re in. When things go wrong as they always do at some stage, everything seems like it’s the end. Fortunately, Zoe’s way of envisaging a positive outcome makes designers fight harder.
“Your relationship with your clients are going to be very important for the future.” Zoë Pollitt
Following with Daniel Banik, co-founder of August. Daniel taught us about the how important of data was in his ‘Schools Water Efficiency’ programme. It showed us that it is not about how much we consume which is important, but being aware of how we consume. Awareness is key to education about making a change. Daniel talked about sustainability as an opportunity to present data that could change people’s behaviour in a positive way. He was talking about his hope of having children sharing the data information with their own communities. I thought it was beautiful to think that presenting data in a meaningful way would let the children educate their own parents.
“Data today became a value, go ahead and talk to people about collaborations.” Daniel Banik
After a short break we got back to find James Greenfield, of Studio Koto on stage. He talked to us about the way that people react to a branding change and how the Airbnb logo was one of the top trends for 8 hours straight on Twitter. The coolest thing about the logo is that it could be drawn or assembles anytime anywhere. One simple shape adds so much value to Airbnb: People, Sharing, Places… The goal of the brand was to be a symbol among the thousands of logos that exist in our society today. James worked really close with the target and brand team. We could see the process of workshops, real everyday people showing what Airbnb was for them. That research process was key to find that unity symbol. James also talked about the shared economy and how Airbnb as well as Uber are booming in our society. As a designer it was a great insight into knowing that market expectations had changed and we need to adapt to it.
“Make something people need.” James Greenfield
Cheryl Heller, planet savior and Founding Chair of the first MFA program in Design for Social Innovation at NYC’s School of Visual Arts, came on stage and that was it, everything just made more sense. I had been pushing the sustainability subject to designers around me, but it was very blurry. Now, I’m more aware that it is all about simplicity – because nature is organized to be simple and logical. Additionally, using technology, education and data to connect and influence our tomorrow is important. My goal is now to reconnect with people through the basics of life and nature to show their beauty and support our tight-knit, fair-trade communities. Cheryl pushed designers through her programme to complete design projects that matter and that make a difference in the world.
“Redefine what success is in a way that is sustainable” Cheryl Heller
Finishing on such an empowering Q&A with Cheryl, I think everybody just wanted to share, collaborate, and be able to actually design for what matters. Everybody met back in the lobby and beer and wine were served to celebrate the end of all of those inspirational talks. The idea of having a meet and greet was amazing, being able to talk directly to the speaker was great. Having said that, it was hard to get a hold of everybody! We finished the night with pizza, more beer and joined some of the speakers for a party on top of Brisbane at The Fox Hotel. It was great to meet such awesome people.
I’m on the plane writing about this beautiful conference that has probably influenced my way of thinking for the upcoming years. Thank you Sex, Drugs & Helvetica for enlightening me and making me a better designer for it. See you hopefully next time in Wellington.
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