Cristina Chiappini and Silvia Sfligiotti, who selected the speakers, clearly had some fun making those unconventional choices, and so did we as the audience.
A speaker that stood out for me was graphic designer, typographer and design educator Saki Mafundikwa from Harare, Zimbabwe. Born and raised in Zimbabwe, Saki studied fine arts at Indiana University and graphic design at Yale University. At Yale he discovered the existence of sub-Saharan scripts and alphabets designed by Africans themselves - without the influence of the Roman or Arabic alphabets - and this became his life-long passion.
He then worked for many years as designer and art director in New York, while also lecturing at such places as Cooper Union, but finally decided in 1997 to return to Zimbabwe to found his country's first graphic design and new media college, the Zimbabwe Institute of Vigital Arts (ZIVA).
"'Vigital' is a word I coined (and trademarked) to best describe the institute I had in mind: teaching visual arts using digital tools, "vigital" is really visual and digital morphing to form a whole new word."
As one can imagine, running a design school in Zimbabwe, without any public funding or grants from international organisations, is extremely difficult. But from what we could see during Saki's presentation the educational level is high and the quality strong.
"At the heart of ZIVA's mission is a desire to create a new visual language - a language inspired by history, a language that is informed by but not dictated to or confined by European design, a language that is inspired by all the arts (sculpture, textiles, painting and African religion), a language whose inspiration is African. We are at a crossroads in the history of design right now with the young designers of the Western world rejecting the straitjacket confines of what design is and is not."
I enjoyed his radical non-Western view on design, and found an (older) article by this great man that you may want to read.
Mark Vanderbeeken is a senior partner at Experientia, an international experience design consultancy, based in Turin, Italy. He is also the author of the successful experience design blog Putting People First. Mark is a specialist in visioning, identity development and strategic communications and worked in Italy, Denmark, the USA and Belgium. He was communications manager of Interaction Design Institute Ivrea, European communications coordinator for the World Wide Fund for Nature (or WWF), marketing director of Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects (USA) and chief press officer of Antwerp 93, Cultural Capital of Europe (Belgium).