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Designers, heal thyselves

I am currently at the ICOGRADA conference in Seattle, Washington. The problem with reporting on conferences is that you don’t care. I mean, yeah, sure, I could report my little heart out about the various speeches I’ve seen and heard, experiences I’ve had and people I’ve met, which you would read the same as any report, yawn and move on with what you’re doing.

Ultimately conferences are experiential things. You have to be there, you have to have that immediate response followed by passionate or passionately irate conversation with those interesting individuals. This is what gets your brain working, gets the ideas flowing, and creates some change or action in your way of doing things, even if only for a moment.

So the best I can do for you is to act as a filter; as a kind of medium conjuring up the voices through my own voice, in an attempt to bring a little conference to your doorstep. This is a blog after all; a poor simulation of an interactive experience. I’m going to just throw some things out here from the day, and see what happens.

And the first thing I want to say is this. There is a familiar theme in this conference about the designer’s role in changing the world (yes, Armin, I can hear you all the way from Seattle), and upon arrival at the conference I had an equally familiar experience: the handing over of the goody bag. Another canvas bag filled with printed material. A quick survey determined that everyone does what I do in this situation, which is sit down immediately, remove 60–80% of that material and throw it out. Not 10 seconds into the conference, and the message has already been violated.

I thought this might be because of an obligatory contractual arrangement to do with the sponsors: that being one of their main avenues for advertising to the audience. But, you should know that the existence of the goody bag has been blamed on the attendees: that designers actually complain if they don’t get their bag of stuff. This seems like an assumption, though who am I to say.

Well, one of the things that really rankles me are talks that deal with issues of sustainability, with the usual rhetorical questions and angry anecdotes without practical, small scale solutions. So I’m going to do my sustainability bit right here and right now, in honour of the ICOGRADA conference, and say to conference organizers everywhere:

Get rid of the goody bag.

We have lots of shopping bags, we don’t need more; and you can’t afford a nice enough office bag to satisfy us. A small self-contained package containing the program information, directions, maps, a notebook and a pen will satisfy all our conference needs, lighten our trudgy load, and serve as a keepsake of the event.

If you really want to give conference goers some thing, put on those high-falutin’ designer brains of yours and think up something that they really need, want, and will use, like edible underwear and pain killers. Something interesting, y’know? Something that won’t go directly into the garbage or be left in the hotel room (uneaten).

If sponsors have some message they need to convey, like awards promotions, special deals on software, subscriptions, whatever, allow them a few minutes of advertising during the conference. It’s once, it’s painless, if we’re interested we’ll take them up on it, sponsors will save so much on manufacture and shipping of all that garbage, and maybe we’ll save some trees.

And the rest of the stuff we’re just dying to get our hands on: that groovy notebook, squishy pen, magazine or giant poster … we can pick it up, or not, at the sponsor booths.

Conference Attendees Unite! Next time you get a goody bag at a conference, either refuse to take it, or leave everything you don’t want at the sign-in table. This will make everyone very upset, and maybe next time they’ll learn that we’re not so shallow as all that, that we actually do recognize that we’re there to take away experiences, not paper samples.

Other posts on this conference concern: Rethinking the conference, as a concept, Some helpful advice, A vitriolic attack and More heaps of derision.

Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
PUBLISHED ON Jul.15.2006 BY marian bantjes
debbie millman’s comment is:

girlfriend...edible underwear and pain killers...hmmm...what are you hoping to do this weekend?

miss you, babe.

On Jul.15.2006 at 09:28 AM
Brad Brooks’s comment is:

Marian, can I have your goody bag if you don't want it?


On Jul.15.2006 at 03:47 PM
Christina’s comment is:

Here here!

What a tragedy to dump out that goody bag at the HOW Conference and see maybe two things worth keeping.


On Jul.15.2006 at 07:15 PM
Randy J. Hunt’s comment is:

Two issues of Colors magazine isn't half-bad.

On Jul.16.2006 at 12:19 PM
Caren Litherland’s comment is:

See, this is precisely why I never go to conferences.

But yeah, if the bag itself were edible and also contained something for the pain...yeah, yeah, then I might consider it.

On Jul.16.2006 at 03:51 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

Randy, I agree that magazines can be nice, but they would be better served as a pile on a table where one has the voluntary act to take, rather than the obligatory act to discard.

In a half-hour conversation with 2 other people we came up with some ideas for things we would appreciate receiving at a conference. Perhaps:

A jump stick
A portable screen shield
A universal power converter (would have been a great metaphor for *this* conference)
An Amazon gift certificate
A donation to a good cause

On Jul.17.2006 at 01:25 AM
Randy J. Hunt’s comment is:

I completely agree Marian. I'm just pointing out they're giving good pubs. Should we go without the bag? Hell mother yes.

On Jul.17.2006 at 03:45 AM
r agrayspace’s comment is:

Thank you Marian! Finally a practical and simple idea in the name of sustainability (formerly known as environmentalism).

There has been a lot of talk about designers and sustainability and most of it ends in talks about soy based inks & windpowered presses or how we should all use our communicative power to convince everyone green is good! But rarely do simple ideas get put on the table that would have an immediate and local impact.

We should all be thinking so simply about everything around us.

On Jul.18.2006 at 09:23 AM
Bryony’s comment is:

Breaking News:
Designers boycott The Goodie Bag! What are sponsors to do?
Will they get over the shock?
Can they reclaim their audience?
Will they reach an agreement?
Stay tuned.

On Jul.19.2006 at 07:37 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> But yeah, if the bag itself were edible and also contained something for the pain..

At the AIGA conference in Vancouver, the goodie bags were made out of corn starch (which, if desperate, I guess could be edible). They stank to the high heavens. I left mine in the hotel room, the thought of putting it next to my clothes and in my suitcase made me scared.

I say, put it all in a brown paper bag. Screen print it. Call it a day. Throw in booze if appropriate.

On Jul.19.2006 at 08:12 AM
Tan’s comment is:

More than a decade ago, when I attended the Design Conference in Aspen, the goodie bag was made out of recycled, mesh plastic/fiber, and could be worn as a shoulder bag or a backpack. The idea was that if the bag was functional and cool enough, people would continue to use it beyond the conference — therefore, making it environmentally responsible. Great forward-thinking, I thought.

Since then, I've organized a number of Design Camp conferences here in Seattle, and have tried to follow the same thinking. Make the bags nice enough for people to keep, or don't make one at all. As a result, I know some designers who have used the camp conference bags for years after.

I'm always so disappointed with the bags produced at most national conferences like AIGA and HOW. The bags are usually cheap, but not really disposable. They have minimal function (groceries/shopping/storage), but not enough for purposeful everyday use. They're also usually butt-ugly. They're nothing more than just another advertising banner these days.


On Jul.19.2006 at 05:44 PM
Randy J. Hunt’s comment is:

Tan, any idea who manufactured the bags used at the Aspen conference?

On Jul.20.2006 at 03:26 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Nope. It wasn't a fancy bag that would've been that difficult to source. You just have to understand the goals behind its selection.

On Jul.21.2006 at 08:48 PM