Monday, October 29, 2007

Next, Please! A review of the 2007 AIGA Next conference, Part I

[This is the first part of a three part post about the Next AIGA conference. Written by our kick-ass guest blogger Brian E. Smith who is the Associate Art Director of the Visual Arts Press and friend of pica and pixel]

     I had every reason to have a horrible time at the AIGA Next conference after I discovered that someone at United Airlines went through my baggage and stole my wife’s digital camera. But after listening to Kurt Andersen’s wonderfully soothing voice during the opening ceremonies, I was loosened up like a cheap date after the first expensive drink.

     Being a huge fan of Studio 360, I was already sold on Kurt Andersen as conference moderator. I was convinced that he would be attentive during lectures and have critical inquiries for the speakers. He delivered a humorous dialogue and changed normally annoying after lecture Q & A sessions for the better.

     The surprise hit of the conference was Command X the live reality design competition. I was wary of Command X and after the first “episode” I thought it was going to serve bathroom/phone call period. After the second “episode” I was sold on this kind of “trashy” entertainment. It is also a good way to see hard working young’uns show how sophisticated they are as designers. When I was their age, I was not finishing my type assignments and going parties at my punk-rock-frat house.
     Michael Bierut showed more charisma and a fraction of the annoyance, as the host of Command X, than most reality-game-show hosts. The judges were funny, but easy on the contestants leaving me hungry for more humiliation even though conferences are where designers are supposed to come together, not stampede young talent to the ground.
     In the end, the winner, Nichelle Narcisi, gave a great performance and it was clear that she MUST be the winner. Her presentation was leaps ahead of what most designers with twice her experience are capable of. Announcing the winner of Command X was without a doubt the most exciting moment of the conference, and probably a very rare moment in Nichelle’s nascent career.
     There was a lot of talk about how Command X ought to be a syndicated series on television. However, I wonder if a graphic designer is as interesting as people having food fights or insulting one’s clothes while they are thrown in the trash. If contestants are forced participate in very risky adventures such as wheat-pasting posters at 4 am, then it would be worth watching. I have my suspicions that since it's the brainchild of Emily Oberman & Bonnie Siegler of Number Seventeen will give it their all to bring it to syndication.
     What makes events like this so special are the people, those you know and new colleagues you meet. It makes you experience the tightness of the design community. It's just as important to talk with other designers to swap tales about difficult clients, bossy employers, and extreme hours spent in a chair, as it is to hear the scheduled lectures. When some friends and I couldn’t decide which session to go to next, we decided to play hooky and throw back a few beers at a local tap house. This hour and a half was just as valuable as the sessions.

     The community sessions ended up being the highlight for me, with the exception of one breakout session that I found particularly interesting: Design for People/Who Give a Damn hosted by Scott Stowell and Casey Caplowe.
     First up in the community sessions was Daniel Libeskind. I have never heard anyone speak so fast in my life. I can’t imagine it is pleasant to have to throw that many words out of your mouth in such a short period of time. In any case, he spurted out his ideas and process about how he created over 100 models for the Freedom Tower. He showed us sketches that at first glance look like someone trying to draw a normal-looking building while riding in a subway, but then these drawings would magically transform into architectural structures that most humans would never conceive of. He designed the Denver Art Museum that looks from the outside like a Picasso drawing of a battleship, but on the inside feels like you are participating in the natural landscape surrounding Denver. He demonstrated how your playful and seemingly uninteresting first attempts are usually hiding the seeds of a brilliant idea.
     John Hickenlooper, the Mayor of Denver, was up next after Libeskind scuttled off the stage to fly to his son’s wedding the next morning in Germany (WTF??). Hickenlooper wears many hats and has developed an important relationship between Denver and design, unlike many other U.S. cities. He understands that this design work will develop a better urban landscape for Denver residents (i.e. bike lane initiatives to rival any other American city). Hickenlooper was a great example of someone who, in following his passions is bringing an unimagined cultural renaissance to Denver.

1 comment:

Jess said...

very thorough recap!