I’ll admit, at first Phoenix Design Week (PHXDW) sounded to me like a vague term to describe a chance for creatives to pat themselves on the back and participate in some humble bragging. But what I discovered was far more inspiring and eye opening than I had ever imagined. Design Week was a chance to challenge my skepticism and change my opinions of graphics, websites and other graphic and multimedia design work.
As the conference began on a Saturday earlier this month, I found myself asking the question, “Who will surprise me or teach me something I’ve yet to discover?”
The conference was off to a strong start with Armin Vit, the co-founder of UnderConsideration, a design house in Bloomington, Indiana. It was fascinating to see how Vit took simple designs in a new direction. One example that caught my attention was his guide booklets for his yearly Brand New Conference. His intention was to create something that you’d feel bad throwing away (which as a designer who’s accepted the majority of graphic work for events will be tossed after it serves its purpose, I found to be an interesting approach).
So, instead of a cheap booklet thrown into your tote bag, Vit decided to make the cover out of concrete slabs. Now, while this may not be the most practical of conference collateral, it left me imagining how far I could stretch my art and ideas, not just personally but for the greater good of our agency and our clients.
Vit’s casual, yet sophisticated persona offered a bright outlook to the future of design. I’m not just talking about concrete slabs here: The goals he sets for himself are the real inspiration I took away from his presentation. This inspiration set the tone for what was sure to be one hell of a weekend!
Another presenter that blew me away was Steve Thompson, principal designer at The Walt Disney Company. His “Drawing from Life” presentation focused on his 24-year career as an artist for Disney, and how to pull inspiration from everyday scenarios to overcome “artist block.”
In short, Thompson has dedicated his life animating for Disney, seizing every opportunity to work with the world’s most iconic brand. Today, he designs products that are seen in Disney stores around the world. His story connected with me above all the other presenters because it was apparent how deeply passionate Thompson is about his work.
Aside from the main presenters, there were breakout sessions and lunchtime workshops to fuel the mind and keep our blood flowing (creatives don’t usually do well sitting for long periods of time)! One of these sessions that stayed with me featured Melissa McMullen, assistant professor of visual communication at Trinity University, who discussed “Using Cultural Research to More Effectively Design for a Global Audience.”
My eyes were opened to what I can only describe as ‘obvious subliminal detail.’ An example is Pepsi using red cans to sell in China and other countries where the red symbolizes good luck, while in the US their signature blue appeals to our psyche.
Details and understanding audience’s subconscious preferences are what can ultimately affect a consumer’s choice, whether they realize it or not. These are the sort of things I look for in my design. All in all, it was fun to see ads that deliver powerful messages in subtle ways.
Phoenix Design Week turned out to be more than just a conference. It was an opportunity for creatives like me to break away from the 9-5 desk job and recharge, network with like-minded folk and, of course, drink plenty of caffeine.
While Design Week may be over, the feeling of inspiration I left with is sure to last. In other (although not very original) words: “This is just the beginning.”