Original Interview: July 2017

SP 17 Wrap Up

Each year we’re lucky enough to partner up with our favourite conferences around the world, and again this year our kind friends in Sydney at Semi Permanent gave us a double pass to give away via Instagram. Our winner this year was Lara Shipard. Thanks for doing such a great job Lara!

Designing for Change was the focus of the 2017 Semi Permanent conference, and there’s nothing like a live Virtual Reality set-up upon entry to spark your appreciation of the possibilities we have in this day and age. Before being formally introduced into the 15th year of SP, the scene is set in the theatre with a continuous slide show of mesmerising imagery, igniting the big screen above the stage that flaunted their partnership with getty images. It’s also worth noting for all the traditional print lovers, like myself, that your complimentary SP goodie bag is filled with beautifully designed bits and pieces printed my MOO about the conference, partners and events happening in Sydney, which instantly got me thinking of new ways to print my next projects. It’s here we are welcomed by the humble Murray Bell (Director and Founder of SP) and enlightened by his advocacy of “designing a future that we love and are proud of”.

“Enrichment happens when you trust people”.
– Stuart O’Brien, SP 17

Hosting the event this year was the incredibly talented typographer and illustrator Gemma O’Brien, who had insightful introductions for every speaker and intriguing questions that prompted new directions for each topic. The first group of speakers not only inspired us with their insight on how stories are made and told, but shared with us their projects that ultimately gave context to design that “challenged the physical restraints of our reality”. Due to personal reasons, our first speaker Katherine Keating couldn’t physically come to SP but of course that’s no issue thanks to the magic of live streaming. After giving us a glimpse into her career journey, she then introduces VICE IMPACT – the web platform that “produces disruptive content for millennials by millennials, connecting the dots between our future and what happens around the world”, then empowering us to make a difference. This is complimented by the technological reality check made by Aiden Sarsfield (Animal Logic), Leo Faber (Badfaith) and Tarik Abdel-Gawad (Google) that dove into the possibilities of projects that haven’t been done before through “not having expectations” with VR technology and emphasised that with this we must collaborate with a team “to make something amazing”.

“Design a future that we love and are proud of.”
– Murray Bell, SP 17

After a much needed coffee break, we are then immersed in designing for change within rebranding with Paul Stafford (Design Studio), how we should position ourselves at work as commercial artists with Glenn Cole (72 and Sunny) and education techniques for future design/technology/business students by Jonathan Briggs (Hyper Island). Paul treated us with a glimpse into his Studio’s creative process when taking on a colossal project like the rebranding of the Premier League. He emphasised through this process it is “not the identity but the spirit of the brand” that creates the greatest impact, that you need to research and test “how does it live and breathe as a brand?” The room is then refocused by Glen by starting his speech off with a relaxation voice over, whispering to us to think of what was stressing us out and just say: “f*#k thaaaaaaaat”. Thus leading into his point that “optimism is the ultimate creative act”, and that if we live and think with “purpose and frequency” as an optimist, we can have a more fun and productive work space. Jonathan’s frame for design education is innovative and it’s frustrating that it still hasn’t been adapted everywhere considering it’s been around for 20 years! For those who haven’t heard of Hyper Island I suggest you google it right now. He stresses that we need to “give people harder questions” and it is through doing the research and challenging work that we are learning.

“Earn the trust in order to gain the insight. Travel and meet people in person. Get off the damn computer.”
– John C. Kay, SP 17

Ultimately, what I took away from this session was how real and relatable these industry leaders are, and that they suffer the same downfalls we do. They’ve just had more practice on how to overcome them – and we can learn from them.

It was GIRL POWER that finished off day one. From the incredibly insightful Jacqueline Bourke (getty images) sharing with us her data from photo trends, and what a delight it was to learn that the number one search in 2016 was ‘women’. Followed by the inspired Directors Elizabeth Ann Macgregor (MCA) and Lisa Havilah (Carriageworks) who shared with us their perception on museums and galleries redefining cities. These spaces are tools in which not only support artists but “give you a moment away from yourself” to be immersed in what the artwork or piece is communicating or challenging. Thus, the overlying theme of designing for change inherently spread itself throughout the disciplines that were presented, but it was the emphasis on collaboration being a critical tool in how we need to adapt our process of designing.

“Being a part of SP is beyond being inspired. It’s design in context and how it fits in the world.”
– Gemma O’Brien, SP 17

Day two was an absolute explosion of phenomenal industry leaders. We picked back up from Thursday by having the privilege of witnessing some left-field collaborations; such as James Jean (Artist) working with Sharni Spencer (Professional Ballet dancer), and Luke Lucas (Typographer) working with Kelvin Ho (Architect). These down to earth creatives presented not only incredible works of art with each other, but sat as a panel to share their experience with VR as designers who have never touched this type of technology before. Making all of us VR virgins feel connected and at ease to hear. Ultimately they proved through this new technology integrated with craft, “a lot of possibilities in the future for different disciplines to collaborate”.

“Nothing fits into a neat box, and there’s no simple solution for anything”.
– Jess Miller, SP 17

Artificial Intelligence (AI) was the next panel topic. All dystopian pretences vanished when Toby Walsh (AI Expert) and Ian Wong (IBM) made the statement that we should “not fear it, it’s going to help us”. They touched on the human condition as a critical tool needed in the creative process – that this could never be adapted by any kind of technology. And in fact, we should be seeing technology as “another tool to understand the world” and the bridge between design and inspirational research. We can ultimately use this technology to filter through millions of sources of information and spit out what we as creatives can use to inspire us. “We need technology, it’s the only card we have to play – but we must play it right”.

Up next was Kevin Coatmen and Ron Dumas (Senior Creative Directors NIKE sportswear & Packaging). They brought us through the evolution of the NIKE brand over 40 years. Although there was an obvious contrast between the speakers themselves, and the design work and products produced between 1987 and now, their motto and mission has never changed. The idea of driving the brand solely by the community is what has made NIKE what it is today, and this concept is brilliantly integrated into all projects that Paul Stafford and his team at DesignStudio take on. Paul highlights through the inevitable negative feedback that comes with a rebrand that people “will always have a resistance to change”, but if you have a “strong purpose” behind everything you do it will succeed.

There was no better way to finish off the second day with the legendary Director and Writer Oliver Stone. His unique life journey has impacted his work majorly, stating inspiration is from “real life… absorb it…you need to get examples from somewhere.” His insight on designing for change is to “keep it moving…don’t make it boring” and that collaboration “saves a lot of time”.

“When technology and art merge, incredible things happen.”
– Leo Faber, SP 17

Starting out the day with a robot panel was definitely a first. Saurabh Datta, a Design Technologist from Frog, demonstrated how “deeply connected and constantly evolving” our industry is through this AI technology and it’s potential for the future is yet to be discovered. Designing for the future continued throughout the next few speakers in the context of redesigning cities. James Pearce, Jess Miller and Stuart O’Brien were our panelists, and through architectural and environmental examples they emphasised that “great design must have great purpose” in order to be truely practical in today’s society. It became increasingly clear that no matter what profession you were in, design is a process that can be applied to any sort of discipline.

Every University student struggles with the choice of staying local or going international to start their career, but Kelvin Ho, Henry Wilson and David Caon demonstrated to us that you can do both! As an entrepreneur you must stay true to what you’re passionate about and develop long lasting relationships with your clients. They too, showed the benefits of collaboration in order to achieve the best possible result for your client.

“A logo is like a full stop at the end of a beautiful story or the flag we rally behind.”
– Paul Stafford, SP 17

Coming towards the end of the conference now, the idea of immersing yourself within a brand in order to create the best work possible was shown by the other co-founder of DesignStudio Ben Wright, and Marie-Margaux Tsakiri-Scanatovitis and Ifor Ashton from Moth. These industry leaders proved through their process of immersion with the brief and client, that you can “blur the lines between agency and client”. And with every project you take on you must remember that “the work you do informs the work that comes to you”.

‘What is the contribution of creativity in future work?’ was asked of Aaron Rose, Allen Liao and Emma Morris – it’s that creativity is vital in this emerging technological age. Technology is such a powerful tool and it’s important that we not see it as a threat, but as a way to assist us for inevitable change. Even though “change is slow in society”, we are all still headed toward a future with incredible potential, and it’s through innovative design that we are making our world a better place.

This year was my first SP, and I cannot recommend it high enough to those of you who haven’t experienced it yet. It goes “beyond being inspired,” even though you walk away completely motivated, it informs you about where design is headed and challenges you to design for our ever evolving future.

Website: semipermanent.com
Instagram: @semipermanent
Twitter: @semiglobal

Images: Toby Peet