Another design conference in another fun city. Our industry sure knows how to be inspired and entertained all at the same time.
My time in New Orleans was split between the formal AIGA Conference and with my design family which includes professional illustrators, writers for Neenah and AIGA, design magazine editors (remember STEP magazine?), and amazing agency owners. I’m still not sure why this awesome crew has welcomed me into their circle, but I’ll stick around till they kick me out! …speaking of getting kicked out, creatives tend to get a little loud and feisty and almost kicked out of fancy vrbo rentals – whoops.
As with all conferences, the best moments are never spent sitting in a session. They appear on the sidelines in random, almost fateful, conversations and introductions. It was great to meet many of the design “legends” in person who I’ve heard so much about. It was also great to have more time and inspirational conversations with my little family. The most memorable moment was finally chatting with Jamie Saunders who is my original connection (via a random tweet five years ago about how much I love using Neenah Paper) with this whole amazing group. How amazing one little thing can change the course of your life.
Before the conference, I was able to participate in a workshop with the KIPP Central City Primary school in NOLA. AIGA and a local nonprofit, PlayBuild organized an event for 6 to 10-year-olds around design thinking. The kids were able to meet some professional designers, see their work and ask about process. Then, they were matched with us volunteers and, together, we completed a design project around the upcoming New Orleans Tricentennial. It was a bit chaotic with that many kids splashing paint, feathers and marshmallows around, but quite fun! Hopefully we inspired a few future designers.
At the conference, there was one particular session that grabbed my complete attention. Christopher Simmons from MINE in San Fransisco, Calif., did his touring talk called “This is Progress”
His focus was less about his own work (which I heard enough of from other speakers) and more about the social impact we have as designers. How you can design a beautifully modern and welcoming McDonalds, but the food is still shit. How you can design a cup to measure and record all of your caloric intake through a phone app, but you’re then tied to using said cup for everything – even a nice glass of wine. He started the talk with a commercial from Verizon. A family – out camping under a vast blanket of stars – all snuggle into the tent and start a projected movie inside as they go to bed. The Verizon tagline is “What are you missing?” With 100 billion stars in our galaxy, and people hiding inside their tents, tethered to a mobile device for entertainment, we’re missing the Entire Fucking Universe!
So true – and scary. We are crossing profound, enigmatic lines in this age of tech, and we, as designers, play a pivotal role in staying true to human nature – to keep truth, sensuality, interaction and honesty in our products and designs. To focus on not losing but enhancing the human experience, the power of relationships, our connection with nature and our abilities as we grow and change.
These are the kind of thoughts that make me proud to be in more of a nostalgia industry. Stationery is tactile. The customer connects to the product through the texture, feel and temporary aspect of it’s use. Then the recipient connects to the product and – more importantly – connects back to the customer through this significant way of communication. I’m honored to bring this experience to so many people.
What happens in Nola stays in Nola, right? Well, here are a few fun moments I can share…