Insights From Design Indaba 2017

Posted Musings

I attended my first Design Indaba this year. How I wish I started sooner.

It was still a truly inspiring experience. I’m no designer and many of the speakers were from fields which don’t share much overlap with what we do at Gorilla.

Nevertheless, I was inspired by the work and passion of so many of them. Below are a couple of thoughts they provoked in me which go beyond career and industry.

FROM THINK TO DO

Design Indaba 2017’s motto. Ideas that aren’t implemented are ghosts. I heard this re-iterated in countless formats over the three days. I SAW it before me in the work that was produced. It’s an apathy we all slide into so easily.

It’s also a stark reminder that coulda-shoulda-woulda gets you nowhere. Give an idea the respect it deserves by acting on it (kinda like writing this piece, which has clearly taken me WAY too long to get around to).

PROCESS IS IMPORTANT

Don’t knock the journey of production. There are lessons to be learned, insights to be gained and improvements to be discovered along the way. Just as we enjoy the scenery on a journey, a process of creation has its own benefits.

Paying attention to will lead to fresh intuitions, greater understanding and ultimately a better end result.

GIVE A SHIT

It was abundantly clear that the people on stage talking about what they achieved were successful. Equally obvious was they all had a deep and abiding passion for what they did. It’s fair to say that excellence cannot exist without passion, because that’s what gets you through the tough bits.

If you don’t like what you do, prepare to be happy with adequate results.

PERSONAL PROJECTS ARE CRUCIAL

An outlet for your creativity, frustrations, or simply a chance to sharpen up your skills should be mandatory in the marketing industry (although that would negate the whole point)!

Marketing is a beast of insatiable appetites that can gobble up everything you have to give. A non-work related outlet for your creativity helps you unplug from creativity driven by briefs, budgets and deadlines. It will most certainly increase your capabilities in your chosen profession.

“Paint, write, draw, build, code, whatever. Get a passion project and give it the priority it deserves. It’s not “work” but it will make your work better.”

MARINA WILLER is a great example of this. A designer who wanted to document her family’s experiences, she started shooting video. She had no training in it. Her pursuit has resulted in her short film Red Trees seeking funding on Kickstarter.

THE CHARACTERISTICS OF DESIGN THINKING

Not only for people with “design” in their job title! This is pure AYSE BIRSEL and resonated immensely. Design thinking has three requirements:

Optimism – You must believe a solution exists, even if you haven’t found it yet.

Empathy – You cannot resolve a problem without understanding the point of view of the person suffering it.

Collaboration – problems do not exist in isolation, and any resolution must be reached through a process of feedback, whether it’s within a team, with the sufferer of the problem or the proponent of it.

JOE GEBBIA, a co-founder at AirBnB, had a similar outlook. He referred to Duck Tape Opportunities: spaces where there is potential to resolve a challenge or difficulty people have accepted as immutable. These are hidden in plain site, camouflaged as the realities of life. But as TEA UGLOW pointed out in her talk,

“Reality is a constantly shifting point of view, and therefore malleable to our whims.”

deep!

DATA IS INPUT, NOT OUTPUT

Machine Learning, big data, and AI are terms tossed around a lot in the marketing world. The web is rife with examples of their use in marketing. But it’s easy to fall into seeing big data as the end, and not the means.

This was evident in the Sync Project, where MARKO AHTISAARI is using Spotify to create music as medicine, and BRYAN COLLINS showing how they used information to create dynamic typefaces for the Type Directors Club that evolve in response to data.

Data is the tool, not the product, use it in service of an idea, or it will offer no creative value.

REJECT BINARY THINKING

Several speakers considered this massively limiting to both perception and opportunities. Head of Google Creative Lab, Tea Uglow, had my favourite quote of the entire event:

“Your confidence in reality is really very misplaced.”

By removing the limitations imposed by thinking in absolutes, one is free to tap into an entire spectrum of states of existence.

KATE MOROSS (another favourite) shared this sentiment. She spoke about life between the 1’s & 0’s, and the creative freedom in rejecting an either/or outlook. NELLY BEN HAYOUN had a more bombastic approach: the Hammering Technique:

“A ‘no’ is actually a massive YES. Just keep coming back at them until they eventually agree with you. After all, they took the time to reply, which means they’re obviously interested.”

THE FUTURE IS NOT TODAY, TOMORROW

As beneficial as ration and reason are, they are terrible tools for predicting the future because they extrapolate what we already know. That’s why the Jetsons is basically the 60’s, but with taller buildings and wings on the cars instead of wheels.

In order to truly design something new, we must be willing and brave enough to envision things wholly different from what we know.

Bryan Collins talked about designers making the future by turning fantasy into reality, but he also spoke about them being in competition with it, as everyone’s ideas of what could be compete with one another to move from abstract to actual.

WINY MAAS from MVRDV and CRAIG DYKERS from Snohetta exemplified this: they are in the business of buildings, changing social spaces and skylines. These spaces may literally be set in stone, but figuratively, they can be anything. Consider Snohetta’s decision to convert Times Square into a pedestrian only space or MVRDV’s efforts to make a building a residential space housing an open air market and the world’s largest piece of art.

DJ and producer BLINKY BILL had a different perspective on creating the future: When he grew up, futurism always looked like a Western world view, draped in an African appearance. But as his career and perspective has developed, his vision of Afro-Futurism has evolved into an African vision, constructed wholly from a local point of view.

SOME FINAL THOUGHTS…

You’re not creative because you have clients. You have clients because you’re creative.

Professionally creative people recognise that creativity is a skill and is honed through practice and training. “Waiting for inspiration” is for amateurs.

Manifestos are nice, but culture will always shine through no matter what you say.

When you understand the “why” it is much easier to figure out the “how”.

Expose yourself to the unexpected. It’s only by experiencing the new that we discover the unknown.