The IDSA Western District Conference is happily located here in Portland this year, in a broad gray space above the Pearl District. Keynotes last night featured a pair of long-established designers: Max Burton (at left, below) from Nike Tech.Lab (and formerly Smart - he's responsible for about 30 of the Good Grips SKUs), and Howard Meehan (at right, below), a former Tektronix designer turned public installation artist.
photo: Kirill Shelayev
While both talks were essentially tours through the designers' personal portfolios, they held some serious attention: Max's for its sheer beauty and consistent theme of making technology into an experience accessible to the uninitiated consumer; Howard's for the rare opportunity to hear a cantankerous, opinionated old-school designer talk passionately about what makes a good life, not just good design.
Most striking moment of the evening: Howard relating the story of a personal radio he did for Panasonic in 1970. What started as a charming story of a young designer defying convention to come up with something unique and compelling (it was a sphere, and eventually sold four million units), transformed into something completely different when he spied one on a colleague's desk 15 years later, who was about to get rid of it. "Four million units sold" became "four million pieces of landfill," and started the longer story of Meehan's move away from consumer product and toward art for public spaces; a move he credits as responsible for his most fulfilling work.
The theme of sustainability is, as you might expect, strong and persistent this weekend, featuring a speaker from Nike's Considered initiative, a bike-oriented design charette on Sunday, nods toward sustainability from practically every student presenter so far, and recyclable everything in the conference venue.