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AIGA Gain: Design (Re)Invents
by Laura Shore, SVP Communications, Mohawk Fine Papers
The AIGA Gain conference is about the intersection of design and business, and it never fails to impress. Past conferences have focused heavily on branding and the fast-moving internet technology revolution. This year the conference had a different, more reflective tone.
Gain: AIGA Design and Business conference, the premier biennial event for business and
design leaders, was held in NYC Oct. 14-16.
Designers, like all businesses, have weathered a cataclysm of change in the past couple of years. Conference producers, Stanley Hainsworth of Tether, in Seattle, and Kenna Kay of TVLand, in NYC, invited speakers who asked more questions than they answered — while producing some interesting signposts for the future. Moderator Paola Antonelli, curator of design for MoMA, seemed to know everyone and asked great questions that brought out many interesting observations from presenters.
The conference content will all be available in November through www.aiga.org. So if you weren't able to attend, you'll still be able to enjoy interesting and provocative presentations. Here are some things to look for:
Ric Grefe asks the question: What is the new "normal" for design. His answer includes "using limited resources wisely, developing global and multicultural sensibility, and most important, keeping empathy and human-centered solutions at the core of our practice."
Robert Hammond, co-founder of Friends of the Highline, showed how individuals could take on a civic project on a huge scale and succeed through the use of design (and lots of politics).
Jon Iwata of IBM was joined by Curt Schreiber of VSA to talk about the new way of working with creative teams being pioneered by IBM.
Gaby Brink of Tomorrow Partners, unveiled the new environmental paper search tool on the Living Principles site. Co-produced with PaperSpecs, this unique tool allows visitors to search the paper universe for specific environmental attributes.
Two presentations that won the hearts of my Mohawk colleagues were more inspirational than business centric. Marije Vogelzang is a Dutch designer who has chosen to design the experience of eating. Her talk was mesmerizing, but you'll have to see the video. In the meantime, check out her studio site.
Similarly, Jonathan Harris, an artist and computer scientist, talked about his personal struggle to connect the cerebral project-centered world of coding with his need for human connection through art. According to a colleague, "His point of view on the intersection of design, technology and human emotion leaves me questioning basic assumptions I didn't realize I had. Again, you'll just have to see the video. See his work here.
Larry Keeley, co-founder and president of the Doblin Group, reminded us that getting ideas out into the world these days is almost "frictionless." The way for designers to succeed now, is to find our individual passion and use that energy and our skills to tackle the world's toughest challenges. He cited great case studies of projects that had taken on obesity, school system breakdowns and political paralysis.
Of course anyone who's ever been to an AIGA conference loves the 20/20 — short one-minute presentations. At Gain this year, we were treated to the ReInvention 10, where a speaker was given two minutes to tell their story. Tough assignment? You bet! I had to explain Mohawk's transition to a tech company by introducing a new start-up called Pinhole Press — in two minutes. One designer talked about her new bike shop. Another told of his transition from book cover designer to ad agency creative director, and still another announced that he was leaving design and starting a letterpress shop. The ReInvention 10 were as unique as the designers presenting — and a lot of fun to watch.
The afternoon was all about Digital. A new venture, FoodSpotting.com, is a blog / geolocation / community all about food. Imagine peeking into bakery windows with 75,000 of your closest friends . . . you get the idea. We also got to peek into the world of WIRED and Adobe, as they made the first e-reader for the magazine most closely associated with the digital revolution. Imagine developing a really cool tool in Flash and then waking up the day the iPad launched to learn that you'd have to start all over?!
The last session focused on the work of David Droga, who is building ads that leverage the power of social media. Some really cool work that succeeds because he creates ads like mini movies that people really want to watch, which makes them go viral and makes his clients very happy.
Conferences at this level lift you out of the day-to-day and allow you to enter a world of creative possibility. For two days, you get to connect with friends you only see at conferences — and think about what CAN be, unencumbered by the realities of budgets and metrics. Happily, AIGA is now making the content available for download, so you can dip in from time to time and renew the inspiration