James Victore, graphic artist and full-time professor at the School of Visual Arts, took the main stage to open RGD’s DesignThinkers 2015 last week with a talk that introduced one of the conference’s recurring themes: magic. He showed one of his favourite objects, a Highland County walking stick, saying “this thing makes me feel like Gandalf. It’s beauty and magic.” How do you add a touch of magic to your work? Victore imagines creating beautiful things for an audience of one. “I want all of my work to be love notes,” he said.
Big Medium’s Josh Clark followed the same line of thought and applied it specifically to UX and “the internet of things,” invoking everyone’s fav Arthur C. Clarke quote. Imagine technology as a wizard’s wand; with a combination of speech and physical gesture, the wand creates wonder and delight. Smartphones were the first magic wands, Clark said. Next: anything, thanks to the internet of things. Maybe a diaper? Why not. “Forget about your graphic design, your websites and apps,” he said. “The diaper is your new interface!” The successful design of smart devices and even rooms will depend on whether they are approached as tech or magic. Google Glass fell flat because it felt like a wonks-only tech project, he said. “What if these glasses were magic?”
Penguin book designer Coralie Bickford-Smith brought things back to the tangible. Asked about the future of book design, she said things are “kicking off” now — while e-readers seemed primed to take over a few years ago, print sales are recovering and publishers are adjusting accordingly. “I’m feeling pretty positive again,” she said. Regarding the finer details of her process, she mentioned the value of a book’s spine. “The spine is so important because books in bookstores rarely get displayed face-out. I pay as much attention to spines as the front cover,” she said. “I want to blow people’s minds and create shelves of beauty.”
Subculture specialist Art Chantry, known for his definitive grunge-era posters and album covers, spoke in favour of analog. “Whenever tech takes a big step forward, I take a step backwards,” he said. Which makes it funny that Microsoft has tried to hire him numerous times. “Imagine that?” he joked. Punk music taught Chantry to question everything, including his approach to design. “What I needed to do was teach myself to think like these guys [the musicians]. Take everything I know and then throw it in the garbage.”
Meanwhile, at a panel on “The Current State of Canadian Graphic Design,” Underline Studio’s Claire Dawson picked the brains of four prominent creatives to ask why the country doesn’t get more recognition on the global stage. Is the work not up to par? Or is it good but not visible enough? Stéphane Monnet of Monnet Design offered that Canadians are shy. “We’re just a little more quiet about it… [and] we’re not pushing for really great work from clients,” he said.
Claude Auchu of lg2boutique thinks we’re on par with any country outside of Japan or Sweden, at least from the statistical standpoint of our award wins. “I think it’s more a problem of vision,” he said. “What role do we want design to have in our country?” Others agreed that design has little to no role or value at the governmental level, and that that attitude trickles down to the populace. “We’ve got to change the culture,” said Lisa Greenberg of Leo Burnett Toronto. “All the good stuff comes from countries that have support from the government,” said Diti Katona of Concrete Design.
Perhaps it’s the available work that isn’t up to grade. “I think clients are getting more and more scared. But we can’t stop pushing,” Greenberg said. Monnet mentioned he doesn’t want to wrestle with clients, he wants their trust. Regardless, Canadian designers are leaving for other locales. “There aren’t that many places to do great work here,” Monnet said. “If they want to do interesting work, it’s pretty slim pickings.”
Day 1’s closing keynote came courtesy of one of our previous cover subjects, multi-disiplinary designer Karim Rashid (who left Canada for New York himself, but I digress). He called our generation the “bioneers” of the digital age, fumbling around trying to figure out the new landscape. The 3D world was designed in 2D, and it shows: “As a product designer I’ve realized that everything is Cartesian,” squares in squares and straight lines everywhere. Now things can (and should) be designed in 3D, Rashid said. He pointed out that we are quick to accept changes in the digital world, but not changes in the physical realm. “If you’re a designer, you have to have no fear,” he said.
[Photos: Michael Hewis]
Designedge Canada is a DesignThinkers 2015 media partner.