For me the conference began as soon as I arrived in Boston. This was Wednesday night, an hour before the Design Legends Gala. Now this particular event was not really part of the conference, since it seemed limited to those that could spare another day away from the office and those who c/would pay another night in a Copley Plaza hotel - given that it was held the night before the opening remarks.
Held at the Fairmont Hotel, it was a striking setting, with roomfuls of beautiful people. Long dresses and dark jackets, flowers and wine ubiquitously. As I walked around catching up with old friends, I realized that this is what belonging to The Country Club must be like. I knew in advance who the attendees where (in a general sense), but once in the room could not feel the diversity, in every level, that makes our community so exceptional and rich. Where was everybody? Oh right, you needed a minimum $350 to attend (and $300 a night and 8 more hours away from work).
As the event unfolded I was in awe at the lack of respect from the attendees towards those who took the stage to welcome us all, to present/receive the Design Leadership awards to/from Gillette and Hallmark- in a scramble of waiters trying to keep the plates coming in very tightly placed tables, friends finding friends, table mix-ups, and general chatter. It wasn’t until the design medalists Bart Crosby , Meredith Davis, and Steff Geissbuhler) were announced, that the design community found it in their hearts to shut up and listen. Shortly after, it was over. And with a peculiar feeling in my stomach with a friend on either arm I walked back to my room and for a long time lay in bed trying to sort the night in my head. In the end, I am disappointed in my disappointment. I wish this could have been shared with more members of my profession, with more members of the AIGA community and with more of my friends and peers.
Thursday didn’t start until later in the afternoon, around 5pm. As we entered the main stage, I was surprised and delighted to see that R. Sikoryak was to be illustrating the sessions live. I am in awe of his energy, wit and his ability to spend so many hours on his feet. Hopefully his work will be available online for all to see, for I am sure that much incredible pages were not shared with the public that should. I am not going to dwell on each presentation, as I know that Armin is sitting across from me on the train back doing exactly that, but I am going to give you my general thoughts and impressions about the entire conference.
John Hockenberry is — and I make this public via Speak Up — my new love. The dynamism that he brings to the stage, the intelligence and mockery, but most of all the sensibility of truth is refreshing and something I search for. If only his stamina could have been better translated to the rest of the conference which I found somewhat disperse and unenthused. Many people complained after Vancouver, stating that the content of the presentations was so broad and “visionary” that it was basically inapplicable to real life. This year, is as wide-ranging, if not more, and harder to pin-point what to anticipate. Design. Mark Pine nailed it when he mentioned how, when we saw the title for the conference he wondered if lawyers titled a conference Law, and accountants Accounting, designers should have the title Design. Why? Well, that is the name of the profession after all, and what better descriptor than that. Maybe to open and undefined subject, which meant there wasn’t a strong connection between each lecture or an umbrella take-away. Was this good? Bad? That I think is a rather personal judgment.
I was not surprised but rather impressed with the ability to stay on schedule every single day. The structure of the conference was almost ideal in my view. I enjoyed the fact that each day started with general sessions that we could all attend, in a room that was very accessible and set up in a way that no matter where you sat, you could see and listen to every detail. With a large screen on each side of the stage, and one half way down the room in the middle of the audience, you couldn’t miss anything, even if you tried. Breaking the 20/20 presentation in groups of three and spreading them throughout the three days provide a respite and refreshing moments that are greatly needed and appreciated. I only wish that one of the rules for this, was that the individuals selected had to speak live, making it more a thing of the moment. Michael B. you made my year.
My one problem was with the 3-5:30 pm slot. It was too much stuff. I would have been happier staying another hour each day and attend three focus sessions rather than two. Having to select one item out of twenty-three is not my ideal situation. Even four, and wait a little longer to drink and party.
On Thursday night we had a small and casual dinner with Tan, Jason, Kenneth, and Gunnar. It was a good way to catch up with friends, and a good introduction to the kind of people we would be “mingling” with the next few days. The design fair and the Living Room were great spaces in which to meet and greet those that share our passion for design. Running into people you met in Vancouver, online friendships now flourishing in real life contact and the every present “networking”. I overheard that the attendee number was 2500 designers. Such a number lays to groundwork for little dissatisfaction in meeting new people, and if you take nothing else with you from Boston, I am sure that a couple new friends are worth the trip.
One thing to cherish from the AIGA roster is the diversity to be found. In professional level, area of expertise, place of work, location, language, origin, interest and personality. Every two years we have the opening to soak in this, to bask in this very interesting and nurturing environment that is so hard to find on a daily basis.
On Friday, Speak Up and Design Observer hosted a party at Lounge 33. More than 200 people showed up and with music and alcohol managed to have a bunch of designers dancing until the wee hours. No schedule, no inhibitions, no reserves.
On Saturday night we all hopped on buses and rode to the Science Museum for the AIGA closing party. Usually I love parties in museums, and I was very excited. And I was not entirely disappointed. After a while, I realized there were actually two parties, and I could choose which one to attend. Indoors, or outdoors. I am still wondering why two parties were really necessary instead of all of us hanging out together, but maybe they were catering to our varying tastes.
And as an interesting sidebar, as we traveled from one party to the other, we discovered that the logo and packaging that Debbie Millman from Sterling Brands developed for Star Wars a few years back was on display in a glass case, in the ground floor of the museum.
But going back to the daily presentations, I have to draw a conclusion. And I am having a bit of a hard time. Bill Strickland was the most moving, one who surely deserves the standing ovation he received, and one who struck a soft spot in me. His is the most memorable presentation that I take home today. I found Ze Frank to be entertaining, the Vignelli’s reading uninspiring, Blechman and Niemann comical, Lupton repetitious, Scher and Karlin dynamic and interesting, Sagmeister good but exhausted, and so forth. But, as I go over the presentations in my mind I find most of them to be good. Not arresting, not terrible, not overly engaging, not deeply insightful, mostly just OK.