The Tecnológico de Monterrey's SLP campus
Last week I was down in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, to speak at the Design Addict Congress, a series of lectures and workshops focused on industrial design at the The Tecnológico de Monterrey's SLP campus. In attendence were over 300 designers and design students from all over Mexico. The Tecnológico de Monterrey was founded in 1943 by Eugenio Garza Sada. Along with a group of Mexican businessmen, Sada envisioned a cutting-edge educational institution for Mexico. Today the Tecnológico has more than 30 campuses throughout Mexico and nearly 50,000 undergraduate students.
At this year's Design Addict Congress, speakers were invited to give a lecture to the entire audience, as well as a workshop to smaller groups. Speakers included Karim Rashid, Don Lehman of More/Real, Matali Crasset, Alberto Villarreal, Antonio Aguilar of Electrolux, and myself, Michael DiTullo from frog. The San Luis Potosi campus has one of the younger design programs in the Tecnológico system of schools, and in my experience those younger design programs tend to be a little more open, hungrier for reality, and full of eager students. That was certainly the case here. Everywhere we went we encountered eager, bright, and very passionate design students.
Snapshot from the workshop.
We do a lot of workshops at frog, frequently with C-level or VP-level executives at Fortune 100 clients. To introduce and guide these types of folks through the controlled chaos of the creative process we have developed a flexible set of specifically designed workshop exercises. This was an unusual case. I wasn't giving a workshop to a group of execs, I was leading a bunch of hungry design students and experienced design professionals who could ideate laterally and rapidly visualize their ideas. I decided to do things a little differently as a bit of an experiment. Instead of pushing them outward, I needed to give them the structure to evolve and refine ideas rapidly within a 4-hour session.
We decided to tackle the problem of transportation. Transportation involves products, services, systems, and as an industry it is going through rapid change. As an ice breaker I had everyone say how they got to the conference, knowing we would get some nice focus areas. From those answers we consolidated down to three transportation problems to work on: international air travel, a long-distance car ride and a walking commute. We broke into groups of five to list out all of the steps of a user journey on a white board. Next we rotated groups and the second team listed out all of the possible problems that a user might encounter along the way. Rotating groups again, they started quickly ideating possible solutions to those issues with more weight given to solutions that solved more problems. The last exercise saw one more rotation and now the groups had their original focus area. This last exercise focused on evaluation and refinement. I think this was the most interesting because it effectively simulated what a frog team does after a client workshop. Now having a pile of ideas, the teams had to sort through them, evaluate which ones were working, critique their weak spots and develop a stronger solution to pitch back to the group. The twist was they would have to explain to the people who developed the original concepts why they changed what they changed...I love a good twist! I wanted to see what would happen if we added a little bit of fast-paced structure to their process. The group did not disappoint, generating a dozen or so really nice concepts.
Above, Clockwise from the top left: Matali Crasset, Karim Rashid, Michael DiTullo, Antonio Aguilar, Alberto Villarreal, and Don Lehman
After the workshops, we kicked off the first day of lectures. I've spoken at many conferences and I have never seen a more excited crowd. I love speaking to students, mainly because I remember the interactions I had with professionals as a student myself and I know how valuable it is to hear a few words from the outside world. The academic design environment is a bit of a paradox. It needs to be removed enough from industry that students feel safe to learn and explore. Yet it must be tethered to reality to enable students to transition into the professional world, where their apprenticeship and growth under seasoned, talented professionals will occur. This balance seemed to be a common theme among all of the speakers. Don Lehman took us through his journey from student, to designer, to business owner. Alberto Villarreal talked about the global impact and responsibilty of contemporary designers. Matali Crasset walked us through her portfolio from kitchenware for Alessi to boutique hotel interiors. Antonio Aguilar's lecture was particularly compelling, as a young man who left Mexico to go first to Art Center, then to Ume ä, Sweden working now as a designer for Electolux. He was able to show how sometimes simple decisions alter the course of your life.
Karim Rashid gave a broad reaching lecture that revolved around how constraints inspire design solutions. One of my favorite stories from his talk was about the Bobble Bottle, a self-filtering water bottle. Rashid was originally hired by an entrepreneur to design a set of carry-on luggage for the frequent flyer. As he was presenting initial concepts, he by chance mentioned that as a frequent traveler he hated constantly having to throw away bottles of water he neglected to finish before security, only having to buy another one on the other side. Karim said, half to himself, it would be nice to have a bottle with a filter in it that you could empty out and fill back up at a tap. What seemed like a side-comment struck a cord in his client. A few weeks later the client told Rashid to stop working on the luggage; instead, they would be developing the water bottle! It was a reminder of how sometimes even a casual comment may contain the seed of an idea that can be developed.
Top: Slide from Don Lehman's lecture. Bottom: Michael DiTullo on stage.
Designers tend to be collectors of things and one of the things that I collect are designer origin stories. When you were growing up maybe your parents wanted you to be a doctor, a lawyer, a business person or something else sensible to them. As designers, each of us found our calling our own way, frequently under our own guidance. Our first conscious act of design is often deciding to be a designer and figuring out how to go about that. So on these speaking engagements I like to share my story, as well as to collect as many other stories as possible from the audience and the other speakers. None of us came out of the womb doing what we do. It was journey, a process, and one that always involves dedication, hard work and passion.
The second topic I spoke about was making real things. As modern designers we have many powerful tools. These tools can help us get farther faster in the hands of a serious designer. Unfortunately, they can also give the illusion of an idea being at a higher fidelity than it really is. In my view the purpose of a designer is not to make a powerpoint deck, a document or a rendering. It is to get a real solution in the form of a product, service or system, into use by real people. To do that, is to be a designer.
The enthusiastic crowd at the Design Addict Congress
After three days of workshops and lectures, the speakers took a much needed night off to see the sights in San Luis Potosi, talk about what we experienced over the trip, and eat some fantastic local food....yum.
Sites and tastes of San Luis Potosi
Design Addict Congress speakers, organizers and sponsors.
Rarely have I been to a conference that was as well-organized and thought through as this. A very special thank you from all the speakers to the organizers: professors Karla Lopez and Edgar Guillen; student volunteers Mario Lara, Rocío Hernández, Daniela Cruz, Karina Gonzalez, Liliana de los Ríos and Karen Gutierrez; and sponsors Palacio San Agustin, Masisa and Glocal magazine.
You can see all of the photos from the event HERE