Earlier this year, Art Director Carol Armitage had an opportunity to attend the HOW Design Conference in Boston, MA. It was a great opportunity for Carol to learn from some of the brightest minds in the design business. In her own words, here are her biggest takeaways from the conference.
The whole event was very well organized, and there were some really great presenters. I tried to attend a wide variety of sessions that would be most applicable to my job and our company. If I were to pare it down, I think the MOST helpful to me overall was the “Responsive Web Design” seminar, which went over how to use Adobe Edge Tools: Edge Animate, Edge Code, Edge Reflow and Edge Inspect. Because we are being asked more and more by clients to design sites for mobile devices, it was very helpful to see what’s out there to aid us in meeting those requests. I am not a developer–that is a very specialized field–but in order to do the best design for the web, it’s imperative for us as designers and art directors to have some basic knowledge of how our work will translate from desktop to different devices.
Probably the most inspiring of the sessions I attended was “Perfectly Imperfect,” presented by Dana Tanamachi-Williams, a “Texas-bred, Brooklyn-based graphic designer and letterer who enjoys living a quiet life and working with her hands.”
Credit: Dana Tanamachi-Williams
Dana is a typographer who works primarily in chalk. Tanamachi is a trend setter. I’ve seen a LOT of her style being replicated in print and on the web, a phenomenon she refers to as “the copycat culture” of today’s design. But her philosophy is one of humility and growth by learning from one’s mistakes. She defines TEACHABILITY as a “willingness to learn, unlearn or re-learn”. She stresses encouraging others, and is particularly fond of the writings of Jon Acuff, who explains in his book Quitter that “anonymity allows you to make big, necessary mistakes without everyone watching you.” She attributes her great success to being able to work out the “kinks” while she was still an unknown. And she stresses the importance of “giving back”, asking the question “Because you have ________ (time, power, talent, skills, abilities…fill in the blank,) WHO is flourishing?” Giving of your gifts allows others to flourish. She is working on a new book titled D. I. Y. Type, and I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy!
I also attended a session called “How to be an Idea Witch Doctor”, presented by Stefan Mumaw.
A caricature of author Stefan Mumaw (credit: http://www.callahancreek.com/stefan-mumaw )
Mumaw is the author of many books on boosting one’s creative proficiency. He started out the session asking us to design the “ultimate” baby stroller, with no constraints, and we built on that throughout the session. He says creativity is “problem-solving with relevance and novelty.” Oftentimes designers get stuck on projects, and can’t seem to work through to a solution, so he suggests we can be “Witch Doctors’” by casting 3 “spells”: 1- change the problem; 2-change the rules; and 3-change the answers. By putting restrictions on our creative thinking, we make ourselves MORE creative, which sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s true. One great avenue to getting a breakthrough is taking an idea to a level of utter absurdity, and then pull back from there. The session was hands-on, and lots of fun. I would love to have seen what the final results were on all the absurd baby stroller ideas from each participant. Mine was pretty ridiculous: a sleigh being pulled by an alligator with a hollowed-out boulder on the gator’s back for parents to sit in. LOL! Being a parent myself, there is NO WAY I’d see that as practical, but hey, Wilma Flintstone might have bought a stroller like that for Pebbles.
And lastly, I was struck by Bob Gill’s presentation, DESIGN as IDEA.
Bob Gill caricature, credit: Bob Gill
Gill is one of the founding members of Fletcher, Forbes and Gill, which later became Pentagram. He reminded me SO much of our own Bob Jones, with his shock of white hair, sense of humor and basic philosophy on advertising. He says, “The best way to get a visual is not to look for a visual image.” He says we need to “…eliminate culture. The next time you get a job, have no idea what it should look like-all ideas already there are put there by culture.” He gave the example of designing a logo for a dry cleaner by explaining, “…if you’re doing a logo for a dry cleaner, GO TO A DRY CLEANER, and stay there until you have something meaningful to say, and it will design itself!” He referenced the book Looking Sideways by Alan Fletcher, in which Fletcher apparently never asked, “what do you want?” of a client, and then gave it to them. This segued into a Q&A portion of the talk where an attendee asked Gill if he had EVER given a client what they wanted. He replied: only once, for George Harrison on his Wonderwall album cover. Harrison had asked Gill to remove a brick from the wall dividing the two scenarios shown. At first he refused, but Harrison strongly protested, so Gill gave in. After all, he WAS George Harrison!
The “Wonderwall” album cover, designed by Bob Gill
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