You have to give it to the Art Directors Club for gathering a stellar panel to launch what may or may not become a new movement--Designism. As branded gesture, or the first gathering of a nascent manifesto posse, the evening swirled around the fundamental question of "whether design can and should do good." But it wasn't a question at all, of course, since the panelists have been plain in much of their take-no-prisoners work, and the political-style buttons laying about the entranceway foreshadowed a movement indeed.
After welcoming introductions by ADC vice-president Brian Collins (who conceived of the event) and moderator Steven Heller, Tony Hendra provided some hearbeat-raising forewords, wondering if the U.S. was, indeed, in a "bloodless civil war" right now. George Lois grabbed the mic next (Lavalier, actually, but he hung on with all his might). Showing his infamous Esquire Magazine covers from the 60s and offering a patter so curse-filled it would make a sailor blush, he fired up the crowd with contagious passion. (And kept on firing through the night, for the record.)
Jessica Helfand, articulate and inspiring, pointed to some initiatives that she and partner William Drenttel are engaged in (D.O. Winterhouse Writing Awards, Below the Fold), each pushing the design community to engage in smart dialog and move the ball up the field. The uncompromising James Victore, so disgusted with the state of the Bush administration that he could barely bring himself to speak about it, was next. (Tied, at that point, with George Lois on the potty word count.) He drew a poignant line separating the post 9/11 crap that people churned out with their InDesign packages and the actual stuff people "made and put in the corner," showed a couple more things, then closed up shop. There was power in his brevity.
Milton Glaser commented on the political swirl of the evening, noting that "left wing/right brain is a good combination." He talked about modesty, modestly, but I'm not sure that this resonated with the audience. It was a nice, if semantic, gesture to balance the bombast of the other half of the panel, but the work that he showed didn't pull punches in the least.
Kurt Andersen, with his awesome voice and hypnotizing cadence, provided some synthesis at the end, admitting to the obvious preaching-to-the-choir quotient, but urging us all to "make the middle squirm" just a little bit. Anderson also raised the issue of a fractured media and its reduced power to shout through a single megaphone, but then backstitched to sing the praises of the internet and the awesome power and speed of user-generated content on sites such as YouTube.
With a logo designed by Milton Glaser but no clear mandate of what was to happen next (indeed, a Q. from the audience asked if there was going to be a "10 Commandments" for the movement), the evening ended with a fitting conundrum: do I get busy myself, or do I join forces with others? Do I look to the ADC to continue this initiative, join the club--literally--and attend future events?
Closing remarks from Hedra were on the money: "We can get into people's bloodstreams, or we can get into their faces. But what we can't do is do nothing."
[Thanks to Sascha Mombartz for pics!]