Photos by Alex Welsh unless otherwise noted
We briefly recounted the ongoings at the Core77 Conference in near-real-time last Thursday, breaking up our crowdsourced coverage into two recaps: morning and afternoon. In case you missed it, take a look at what folks were saying on Twitter:
Now that you've had a chance to see what everyone else had to say, we'd like to present the highlights from our inaugural one-day conference. Instead of going in chronological order, we've organized the speakers' collective wisdom into several recurring themes that surfaced over the course of the day.
Thanks again to everyone who attended and we hope to see more faces at future events! Make sure to check back for videos of each presentation to come in the upcoming weeks.
Dong-Ping Wong had the unenviable task of going first...
The Transformative Power of Educational Initiatives
To kick off the conference, Dong-Ping Wong of +Pool [Plus Pool] came to discuss a project looking to change the way urban dwellers define what their water is. By educating the masses with slightly gross statistics relating to what, exactly, lives in our drinking water, Wong and his collaborators at Playlab have created the plans for a giant, floating pool that filters water and provides data in real-time. +Pool—which was chosen by TIME magazine as one of the 25 best inventions of 2013—filters water through the walls of the pool, like a "giant Brita filter," as described by Wong onstage. We've been hearing about the water crisis for years, but it takes a radical project such as +Pool to make some worldwide waves—pun intended. While the project is still searching for the ideal site, it's estimated that ground will break come 2016. In fact, sustainable, responsible design was a theme that cropped up throughout the day.
L: pensanyc; R: industrypdx
Catapult Design's Heather Fleming took the sustainable, educational focus even further and proposed greater awareness of the enormous impact that design has on a global scale. While she rejected the term "design for social impact" on the grounds that all design has social impact, Fleming examined both successful and failed initiatives in the developing world. Among her many insights: "The vision of the designer should be broader than the studio."
On a more literal level, Becky Stern of Adafruit and Ricardo Prada of Google X emphasized the transformative power of incorporating educational components into projects during their panel discussion on integrated technology led by Core77 Senior Editor Mason Currey. Although the two guests work for companies on opposite ends of the spectrum in the tech world, they were able to find common ground in discussing their creative processes and multidisciplinary approaches to ideation. Stern also dropped one of the more memorable quips of the day: "'My prom dress doesn't light up yet,' is a problem that can lead people to want to learn to program." Well said.
L: 501union; R: nbalthrop
The Role of Design and the Power of Patents
Core77 Partner Allan Chochinov let the advertising speak for itself in his clever presentation on the portrayal of design objects in the media and how it is our responsibility, as designers and consumers, to parse the mixed messages. "Designers make artifacts and designers make consequence," Chochinov said on stage. "The line between good and evil is very blurry. Who decides what is good and what is evil?" While Chochinov's examples of design objects in commercials and photos had the audience in laughing fits, his own message was clear: "Brands are trying to confuse us." But is it the design's job to stop any confusion? That may well be the topic of another presentation all together.
Technologist and writer Colin McSwiggen's historical perspective on the evolution of design as a commodity, a business process and a catalyst for socio-economic change was a more straightforward, media-free reminder of the weight we all carry as designers—it's up to us to consider all possible outcomes when we create and design. Insofar as design solutions may engender new difficulties and products designed to make life easier may cause strife for those who produce/manufacture them, designers must remain aware of both side of the coin when it comes to potential. Marta Salas-Porras of Obscura Digital mirrored this sentiment and reminded us to remain aware of alternative paths, especially when it comes that which we accept unconditionally. Just as traditional post-grade school education should no longer be considered necessary for professional achievement/validation, she suggested that perhaps the very foundation of design protection—patents—should be ignored in the name of greater progress.
The importance of patents also turned up somewhat unexpectedly during the "Cult of Bike" panel lead by Core77 Managing Editor Ray Hu. Intellectual property was paramount for panelist Michel Dallaire, the industrial designer behind Bixi / Citi Bike / etc.: "Our value isn't just the quality of the product, it's the quality of the patents." However, the youngest panelist, Ethan Frier of Project Aura, had different thoughts: "Patents are only as good as the people willing to protect it."
It wouldn't be a good design conference without bringing a little speculative insight into the mix. The bike panel, for one, also touched on the future, at least in terms of "a design that is as close to perfect as can be and hasn't changed much in over 100 years" (as Frier put it). While Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Hofstra University Edward Albert started the discussion with a solid rundown of cycling history, the conversation gradually shifted to the future of bicycle culture. While Albert advocated helmet use (because "shit happens"), Frier was convinced that other countries may have a more progressive outlook: "Helmet use less than one percent in the Netherlands, and their injury/accident rate is way low. It's up to the drivers to keep cyclists safe through their practices."
L: "Cult of Bike" panel discussion photo by yawnaton; R: Autodesk's Jordan Brandt shot by sarahkrasley on Instagram
Meanwhile, on the technology front, Autodesk Futurist Jordan Brandt shared his thoughts on our obsession, as a society, with a machine that can create anything and everything—and why it will not be a reality. "We've always been crazy about 3D printers that can print anything," he said. "The Industrial Revolution taught us that there is a place for purpose-built machine—we're going to see a boom in niche machines." Brandt also discussed the importance of algorithmic design in our future as designers and consumers. "Designers are the ones I'm worried about. I'm worried about the shit. I'm worried about strip malls, ugly chairs, the slums," Brandt said. "Most of the world isn't well-designed. This is where I think algorithmic design can have the impact. Improving strip mall designs by five percent will have much more of an impact than improving the BMW by one percent." Niche machines and well-design strip malls—those aren't the things that you envision when thinking about the design of the future.
Recognizing Design as an Opportunity
If attendees of the very first Core77 Conference walked away with nothing else, it was the empowering sense that we are all surrounded by opportunities to create, improve and design. As Sallas-Porras pointed out during her presentation, "this is the greatest time to be a creative," because we are living in an era of ever-increasing possibility. Never have we had greater potential to create impact on multiple scales (or to just "Do More" as filmmaker and fellow speaker Casey Neistat's tattoo insists), thanks to the innovations realized and risks taken by previous generations. However, this unique stage in human history comes with a caveat: The great potential and possibility is closely accompanied by responsibility and consequence.
Design has always given us an opportunity to question and experience the things we're uncomfortable with. As practicing speculative designers, Tim Parsons & Jessica Charlesworth offered a sampling of their work in a presentation titled "Spectacular Vernacular." Charlesworth walked us through her work in exploring the ways people deal with death and mourning and how the experience of dying has been designed through the ages. From YouTube videos where you can ask a mortician any questions related to the biz to harp players who will play the soundtrack to your last living moments, Charlesworth's exhibit MeMo was comprised of imaginary objects that looked as though they would fit into everyday life, following her theme of reality being between somewhere design thinking and atelier). Objects included a ring made from the very growth that caused an imaginary death and a facial form used for creating pillow indentations of loved ones. The opportunity comes into play with how we perceive and react to the work. With this particular project she shared with the audience, she indulged that "some break down and cry, some are fascinated and some shut down and walk away."
Neistat's presentation also addressed opportunity in a different—much less heavy—manner. His keynote speech was a personal reflection on the way he's risen to the top of his creative field as a viral video auteur. Notorious for trekking around the world on Nike's dime, among other antics, Neistat shared his beginnings as a high school dropout who made his own way as a filmmaker before rejecting Hollywood in favor of YouTube. Offering behind-the-scenes commentary alongside a couple of his videos and indulging us all in an event-wide Snapchat shot, Neistat ended the conference on a hopeful note.
Finding the Fun in Design
As always, we managed to pull in a few laughs and smiles throughout the day. From Chochinov's vacation photos—one of which prompted a thorough analysis of a packaging design (we're looking at you, Bug-A-Salt)—to watching two Core77 Design Awards jury teams announce the winners of their categories live and wrapping up the dayat the afterparty featuring New Orleans band Bonerama, there were a few lighter moments among talks of algorithmic design and sustainable futures.
L: aquafinahyena; R: eyeheartchocolatemonkies
Perhaps the most lighthearted presentation Carla Diana —writer behind the illustrated book, "LEO the Maker Prince," featuring a number of 3D printer characters—took some time to show off her well-designed story outlines and the many fields of 3D printing she was introduced to after writing and experiencing the reactions to the books. From edible chess sets to 3D-printed jewelry, Diana also credits algorithmic design with her success. Just seeing Diana discuss the book and introduce the characters within its pages was enough to help us all re-experience meeting the technology we've become so used to seeing in headlines for the first time. (And if that doesn't come off as fun to you, spend a few minutes with her book for proof.)
As with any career, burning out and losing sight of the fun and passion behind the work you live to do is a serious consideration. Michael DiTullo, Chief Design Officer at Sound United, offered words of wisdom that stuck with attendees long after the last speakers left the stage and the after party shut its doors. In case you've lost yourself in the seriousness of coming out of a project with the perfect solution, he reminds us: "It's our job as designers to shepherd towards progress, not perfection. A picture is worth a thousand words. Be the designer in the room."