A few thoughts on the IDSA Midwest conference that took place here in Chicago this past weekend...
Alinea - The most amazing talk I've ever seen. I'm not trying to throw that kind of praise around lightly, its been a couple days after and I'm still on a high thinking about it. Alinea is a high concept restaurant here in Chicago that has been getting worldwide attention. Martin Kastner (designer of Alinea's utensils) and chef Grant Achatz gave a tag team presentation where Grant would start to describe a food he was trying to present and Martin would explain his solution.
When Grant spoke of a meal he was creating, this intense look came over his face as he focused on the laptop that held the presentation the rest of us were seeing projected. The audience faded away and it was all about the intensity of the food as he used his hands to gesture a flavor much in the same way a designer would gesture a curve. It was clear that here was a master explaining his craft: experimentation, materials, processes, experience, artistry... it was all there.
After the spectacle and build up of the food, Martin would step in and deftly diffuse the difficulty of displaying such cuisine. Solutions became quite clear and lucid. Grant had a dish: cold potato soup chilled to 30 degrees F, a ball of potato heated at 275 degrees F, black truffle, and parmesan. It would be enjoyed in one bite where the diner would experience each individual flavor and temperature as Grant envisioned in his mind. Naturally, the answer would have to be a molded paraffin wax bowl that would be created from a mold at the restaurant made by every night by the chefs. The wax would allow the extreme temperatures to coexist, while at the same time protecting the diner's hands from the heat and cold. A skewer would hold the hot potato tantalizingly above the cold soup, perched in the side of the paraffin. Martin seemed to be quite humbled by it and slightly embarrassed that the audience sat entranced at the beauty of the solution.
I'm telling you, it was THAT nuts.
Chuck Harrison - Chuck is one of those guys that could be considered a humble father of industrial design. He started working soon after WWII and we are lucky to have him as a living history of how our profession grew up. At Sears for much of his professional life, he created such icons as the Viewmaster, was Sears' first African-American executive, and was maybe the most prolific human being on the planet (He designed 8-12 sewing machines every year for 12 years and it was just a fraction of the work he completed during that time.) As he gave his slide show presentation, with actual slides (obviously), you couldn't help but feel humbled and grateful about the strides that his generation made for the rest of us. Chuck recently wrote a book about his life and career that I would strongly recommend. Buy it here.
When he sat down in the audience following his talk, Jonathan Hayes, Microsoft's design manager on the Xbox 360, slid over a few chairs to shake his hand. It was one of those moments where you see an unsung hero of a generation cross paths with a leader of the current generation... Crazy stuff.
And now for quick parting thoughts - Scott Henderson: Obviously great, great work and he's revving up for the best and most productive years of his career... Grace Bonney (design*sponge): Outstanding understanding of the design industry, she's going to go on to do something crazy, I can feel it... Jonathan Hayes: I can't believe all of the people involved in bringing the design of the Xbox 360 to life, I can see why Jon was the type of personality ideal for tying together such a diverse team and helping to will this thing into existence... Stefan Andren: Designer from Nike, had a fantastic presentation on the design of his house in Portland that he actually modeled in Alias. (wtf) The best part was he put a 6'3" stick in the model and snapped a camera to the top so he could view the house from his perspective...
That's all from Chicago... I'm off to put all this inspiration to good use...
Don Lehman is a Chicago-based industrial designer and the founder of More/Real, a startup focused on making technology feel invisible. More/Realâ€™s first product, Stylus Caps, turns common pens and markers into touchscreen styluses.
Don has been honored by the IDSA, featured in the CES Innovation Showcase, and his design for the Contigo Autoseal Travel Mug was named by Bloomberg Businessweek as one of the 50 Coolest Designs of the 21st Century. He has contributed to Core since 2001, first with his column, "The Student Life", documenting his design school years at RIT, and since then posting news and columns.