Day 3 of a design festival through the eyes of a writer who wasn’t there ~ agIdeas 2013

It was sometime during Pey Chwen Lin’s talk yesterday that I started feeling uncomfortably warm. By the train ride home I was shivering, and by the time I woke up on Friday morning, I knew I wasn’t going to make it to day three. So, here’s day three of a design conference interpreted by a writer through the notes and tweets of people who were actually there.

A font built from a bridge.

A font built from a bridge.

First speaker walks out and I’m already seething. I really, really really, wanted to see Tony Brook. As a ‘non-designy-type person’ his work really appeals to me. That’s not meant to be offensive. What I mean, is it’s clean, simple and it all works. There’s no bullshit. I get the feeling the man himself would be similar. Plus, he called his studio ‘Spin’ because he loves cricket. I wonder how close he came to calling it “Left-arm Chinaman’? Anyway, if I had have been there, I would have heard him speak of his work and offer up a great piece of advice regarding ‘inspiration’: It’s not where you get it from, it’s where you take it to.

Artwork created with biofeedback from the audience.

Artwork created with biofeedback from the audience.

George Khut could very well have been Friday’s Oron Catts: that guy you hadn’t heard of but blew your mind. Heard of biofeedback? Get your head around it. It’s awesome. George has already developed a game/app for hospitals that calms the player/user down as they use it. George’s presentation was a visual representation of the crowd’s feelings on a screen. It was confronting, beautiful and I’m super annoyed that I missed it.

Unique perspective is your point of difference.

Unique perspective is your point of difference.

I don’t know much about design, but I know even less about fashion. So 20 minutes with Dion Lee seems like it would have done me the world of good. Dion waxed lyrical on the importance of fabric choices (mesh, rubber, vein-like structures, thermal imaging in 3D) although visualising a concept always comes first. “Be honest with yourself to have a unique perspective”.

Soren Luckins is the Design Director of Büro North. He looks like he’s got a bit of swashbuckle about him. Unfortunately, I cannot confirm or deny this. He asked the crowd “Who do we design for? Greed, humanity or family?” Which is enough to put any crowd on the back foot. But that’s exactly where Soren likes to be. He shared with the crowd that fear and self-doubt make him a better person, and while he’s an optimist, failures and future challenges push him forward.

Munchkins?

Munchkins?

Gliding onto stage next, oozing class, came Peta Heffernan, Architecture and design eating out of the palms of her hands. She introduces us to Liminal Studios in Hobart and firmly agrees that answers arrive only if we collaborate and then outcomes often feel like magic. So I’ve got a mental image of her as Glinda, the Good Witch of the North from the Wizard of Oz.

The ladies love a man who can operate serious machinery.

The ladies love a man who can operate serious machinery.

I know quite a bit about the next speaker, Robert Foster. See, I told my wife to bravely carry on without me and go to the Gala Dinner on Friday night. She had quite a big chat to him. Robert Foster is a silversmith who’s acclaimed studio FINK delivers works that sit comfortably alongside Stark and Alessi. Robert Foster is so talented. Robert Foster is so amazing. He’s a free living daydreamer who believes new ideas fuel the mind. Yeah, I’ve got my eye on you, pal.

There's more than one way to paint a portrait.

There’s more than one way to paint a portrait.

Someone who definitely won’t try to steal your wife while you’re on your death bed is Chris Chapman. As senior curator at Australia’s National Portrait Gallery, he took the audience for a platonic walk through the rooms he’s put together in Canberra. If there’s one thing he wanted the audience to get to know intimately, it was the architecture of the gallery and the element of human scale which augments the audience’s pleasure. I’m told he made the audience feel at home and comfortable, like a true friend. Nice one, Chris.

Strong design.

Design that sings.

Stony Cherng burst onto stage amidst dry ice, ceiling fans and backlit venetian blinds and burst into song. Before the last note had hit the back of the Plenary, the audience were on their feet cheering wildly. Following the tweets from home, I did a search on the iTunes store. Nothing. I tried YouTube. Nothing. Turns  out she’s a better designer than she is a singer. Her style is clever, well-crafted and leaves you thinking ‘I wish I thought of that’. Just like her intro.

I knew something was up when I was tweeted a hug by a colleague. According to ‘Branding Expert’, Andy Stalman, the amount of gratification we get from social media, devices, etc is the equivalent of eight, six-second hugs. No wonder people are roaming the streets holding their phones rather than their significant others these days. Anyway, from the notes of others, it would appear that Andy was today’s speaker that missed the brief. Turning his talk into a big pep talk with audience participation. “Who’s in the centre stage of this era? ALL OF YOU! Don’t be afraid to be a superhero no one has heard about. New ME is WE. etc”

Bon Jovi fans are everywhere.

Bon Jovi fans are everywhere.

From hugging to listening to Bon Jovi, ‘It’s my life’ and a time-lapse of raw shots from Papa new guinea, Japan and China by Sonia Payes. Sonia lives and breathes photography, she’ll put herself in front of anything with an attitude. As long as she’s there with her camera she’s happy. Beyond the camera she experiments with digital mediums, processing and 3D. As we’re immersed in her depth and raw passion for photography, she educates us how pollution can work as a filter and effect rather than a photo of landscape. Her photos left you feeling as though you had met the subject and knew something they maybe kind of didn’t want you to know. Sonia explains, “I can do that I’m an artist, not politician.”

Vince Frost was one of the major draw cards of this year’s event. Once again, majorly cut that I missed him. If you’re reading this, he doesn’t need an introduction. As a designer he’s done it all, and today he spoke of how he’s using his powers for good. OZ Harvest, one of his current clients, rescues excess food and delivers it to those in need. Today’s Frost Design is all about giving from the heart, helping people to be better at what they do. There’s a focus on generosity. Giving to those who truly need your help. Clearly he’s won at design and now he’s angling to be the next President of the United States.  I’ll vote for him.

Come out of the cave, man.

Come out of the cave, man.

There’s something about the last grouping that seems to always throw up an unexpected hit. In my notes, this sentence leaps out at me. Kit Webster: a man who once called himself a hermit has now taken video, sound and mapped out lighting to a new level.  Words like compelling, spectacular, sensory, woah, and a few others that are a bit sweary were used to describe his work/presentation. Hands up who missed it! <waving>

Typography, not topography.

Typography, not topography.

If anyone was waning and daydreaming of the bar, Gemma O’Brien soon woke and sobered up their thoughts. Gemma burst onto stage in a bubble of energy that didn’t seem to stop. Ever. She’s probably still going. Talking about how she was discovered on social media and flown to Berlin to talk about her all over font body protest against graffiti art. She’s probably still effervescing of all the fonts she’s designed commercially since. She wasn’t just a breath of fresh air, but a fire hose of confidence. The kids loved her.

"Just draw" he said. Someone was listening, Roger.

“Just draw” he said. Someone was listening, Roger.

Roger Dean. A drawing legend who deservedly teased the day out just a little further than scheduled. He reminded the audience early in the piece to draw and take your sketch pad everywhere. As the talk augmented to a display of genius, you apparently just had to glance to room to see more emerging talent busily drawing. He effortlessly talked through slide after slide pointing out sketches that took him ‘20 minutes’ which looked like a good days work. Truly timeless work of an artist who’s drawings, font’s, album covers will be world renowned for decades to come. And a fitting end to another quality chapter in agIdeas history.

Day 2 of a design forum through the eyes of a writer ~ agIdeas 2013

Day 2 begins at 5:45, which is inhuman. Soon enough I’m off the train, caffeinated and hob-nobbing at the Advantage Business Breakfast. Thankfully, bacon and egg rolls are in abundance. Normal service resumes.

Dan Formosa’s opening talk was first class. He was engaging, insightful, took us on a journey and made an impression on everyone. He reset the bar for the remainder of the speakers for the rest of the conference. So many pearls of wisdom: don’t ask ‘what’, ask ‘why’, ‘People don’t buy your product, a person buys your product’. So many workable answers to our problems: ‘It’s personal relationships, treat them like you’re dating.’ You just wanted to wrap him up, stick him under your arm and run away so no one else can benefit from his genius but you.

At first, I couldn’t place John Barratt’s accent and it distracted me. Then I realised it was trans-Atlantic Novacastrian and slapped my forehead for not picking it sooner. John works at Teague. A massive industrial design company that only has about 20% industrial designers on staff. Makes sense. Well, everything else he said did. No matter how big your project, get a small, core team to run it. And he knows big projects. Like, $200,000,000,000.00 worth of big. He also told us designers need to get tangible early in the process. Handy.

Both mornings before the ‘big show’ we’ve been treated to the musical styling of an up and coming band (Rebirth/Red Leader). I neglected to mention this yesterday. Today’s group, made me feel like I was at a Spandau Ballet concert. But in a good way.

Notre premiere presenteur, Alain Le Quernec, didn’t suffer from English not being his first language. In fact, he used it as weapon. I don’t know how you say ‘brevity is wit’ in French, but I’m pretty sure he does. He proudly proclaimed not to be ‘a reference or an example’, then proceeded to show us time and time again exactly the opposite. He had us eating his political, cultural, social communication out of the palm of his hand until we were full.

Second up was a man I’d been looking forward to hearing from ever since the speaker announcements were made so I’m probably going to be unduly hard on him for missing the brief. David Nobay from Droga5. ‘Nobby’ is one of advertising’s better-known characters, and for good reason. His work proceeds him, as does his ability to get the best out of those around him. The guy wins awards for breakfast, but I’m not reviewing his work, I’m reviewing his talk. Nobby took it upon himself to give the students in the room a ‘pep-talk’. This included telling them that there were already too many people in the industry and illustrating his points with clips from MadMen. It would have been great if he gave us insights into how we can overcome all the problems he brought up and gave us a better insight into what he looks for in people, but unfortunately he didn’t.

To whoever tweeted about the lack of female representation on the speaker list, Leah Heiss should have put your mind at ease. I’ll take quality over quantity any day. With agIdeas now falling under the Victorian Government’s Design Matters initiative, Leah stood confidently on stage and showed us precisely why. With a range of inspired, functional jewellery designs that administer medicine, monitor arrhythmia, project allergy information and more. Reducing the necessity to lug around cumbersome, embarrassing equipment in the process. Leah told us she’ll work with anyone, micro-biologists, nanothechnologists, designers, and pretty much anyone else who she can learn from or be inspired by. The collective subconscious in the room said “You can work with me” in unison.

After a quick break, the affable Simon Rippingale took us through the process of ‘getting a project off the ground’ while telling the story of how we got his latest animation “A Cautionary Tail” realised. “A Cautionary Tail” was written by his creative partner while holed up in hospital for a year (echoes of @FullSickRapper). Stylewise, it uses live, filmed sets with 3D animated characters. The results, that we saw, were stunning and clearly painstaking to create. Somehow he managed to get it voiced by Barry Otto, David Wenham and Cate Blanchette. Impressive. Inspiring. Informative. Everyone is barracking for it to be a success. Look out for it on ABC later this year.

Ok, so I met Jan Van Shaik (from Minifie Van Shaik Architects) for the first and only time on Monday night. After a few beverages we had a chat. Despite only meeting him once, I will trust him to the ends of the earth and back. I mean, you’ve got to trust a man who loves his mum so much to walk out onto a stage in front of 2,500 people, get them to stand up and sing her (hi Catherine) Happy Birthday. Jan’s talk was a great balance of information, aspiration and detail. The only thing that could have improved it was if he’d successfully organised a Kickstarter project to fund a group purchase of that art deco former hospital in Mildura. Maybe there’s still time…. I dare you.

Reiko Sudo, founder of Nuno Corporation and Nuno Works is a worldwide authority in textiles. The time and effort that goes into her work, is reflected in the exquisite results. I couldn’t even begin to describe it. Simply go to nuno.com and feast your eyes. Despite not being particularly fluent in English, it was easy enough for Reiko to let her work do the talking. Simply breathtaking work.

After lunch, Ken Cato announced the winners of NewStar. Again, the ladies shone out (apologies for not getting names: I think there was a Grace? and someone from New Zealand) Anyway, congrats!

Then Kane Hibberd filled the breech after the unfortunate passing of the scheduled speaker’s mother (condolences to Mr Mott and family). Kane is a rock photographer who likes taking photos of guys covered in ‘shiz’. His talk was a refreshingly candid study in believing in yourself, following your dreams no matter how shit people say you are to your face. He shoots promo shots for bands in unique ways. It made for a ripping yarn accompanied by some very interesting visuals.

Chris Khalil came out next to take us on a half journey/half lecture on the world of User Experience. Like Kirsty Lindsay yesterday, Chris told us that if people don’t notice what he does, he’s doing a great job. It must be a bugger for his boss to give him performance reviews. Still, it was a good peek behind the curtain as to why news sites lay things out the way they do.

Ian Anderson followed Chris. You could see a good percentage of the audience sit a little further towards the edge of their seats. Despite still having tickets to sell for his ‘Up And Over Down Under’ Workshop this weekend, he was definitely not on a charm offensive to win over those umming and ahing over going along. Ian grumbled, grizzled and swore through his set. He’s no arse-licker is Ian. There’s no such thing as a good, rich designer too. Maybe it’s his thing? Maybe the fact that he earned the Twitter hashtag #CheerUpIan during his talk will please him. His PR shot (a close up him casually giving a two fingered salute) would suggest as much. Not knowing him from a bar of soap beforehand, I saw him as someone I’d probably love to have a beer with, but wouldn’t cross the road to be inspired by. Still trying to figure out if his parting slide “Don’t be a cunt all your life” was ironic or not.

Taiwan’s Pey Chwen Lin has created a really interesting hologram based installation piece known as Eve Clone. She took us through the process of bringing the concept to life – which was kind of interesting. Then she went deep. She started talking about the planet and how we’re stuffing it up (which I’m totally cool with). And this all led into what Eve Clone was all about. I was kind of expecting a half-baked concoction that was tenuous at best. What we got was so good it was scary. From memory, Eve (the first woman) Clone (technology) represents the lust men have for technology, and their desire to advance it, be with it, and use it to the sake of everything else. Her eyes follow you around the room at all times. The explanation had one absolute effect – All the guys who were live tweeting, quietly put their phones down. Bless.

By this stage of the day, you need something refreshing. The guys from Voice design delivered. So confident were they in their ability to cut the mustard as designers, they started their business fresh out of Uni. Their theory was, you’re not born with it, you learn it, work hard and earn it. From the looks of their work and their shut-up-and-do-it attitude, they’ll do just fine.

Last up was John Barratt. I’ve already sung his praises and he carried on well in the face of a couple of technical difficulties. The big difference between this talk and this morning was it gave us an insight into how his career started and subsequently took off. It’s all about trust.

I trust, we’ll see some more brilliance tomorrow.

A design forum through the eyes of a writer ~ agIdeas Design Forum Day 1

agIdeas has a reputation for bringing together a top-notch line up year-in, year out. In his opening address, Ken Cato beamed that this year’s speakers were among the best collection ever. Looking through the list, it was hard to agree. Not from an informed perspective. I simply had no idea who most of these people were. I sit here now, at the end of day 1, with a greater understanding of what all the fuss was about. For the purposes of science, I took no notes. This is all from memory. Hopefully it reveals who and what made the most impact. I will be, however, referring to the agIdeas program to inform me of the correct spelling of all speaker’s names.

A quick sketch from Page.

A quick sketch from Page.

First cab off the rank was Neville Page. He pitched himself as an Industrial Designer. Yeah, ok, sure, if coming up with the massive ‘labia monster’ (his words not mine) from Prometheus is now considered ‘Industrial’. He was confident, articulate and clearly massively talented. Neville managed to mix in some good advice while giving us a great insight into how he works. Basically, grab a plucked chicken, take a photo of it on Photobooth. Use a few tools and filters and voila – terrifying space monster. Genius.

Creating an Arabic font that works in harmony with its Latin counterpart.

Creating an Arabic font that works in harmony with its Latin counterpart.

Nadine Chahine was disarming, charming and brave. Probably too soon to make jokes about the Boston Bombing, but it kind of seemed ok in context (an Arab being thankful it wasn’t one of their own). Nadine’s love and work is typography. Specifically, creating complimentary Arabic and Latin fonts. She’s clearly technically excellent, driven and was one of few speakers today who didn’t hide behind the lectern.

A man who likes his work to speak for him.

A man who likes his work to speak for him.

Andrew Ashton came out with something on his jacket. It looked like bird poo. It was a painted on Australian flag. I reckon if anyone wanted a ‘do-over’ today it’d be Andrew. As one of Australia’s better known designers, his content was great. Possibly too great. But his presentation was disappointingly lacklustre. Read off a script, fumbly, awkward. Clearly he’s done this before as his presentation suggested he’s talked at a few forums. Willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he just had an off day.

It's all about the dance.

It’s all about the dance.

Rafael Bonachela was born to dance. So he danced. Then he danced some more. Then he started choreographing other dancers. Then he danced into our lives for 20 minutes and made us all really happy that he started dancing all those years ago.

Cool like a fridge.

Cool like a fridge.

Aaron Hayward from Debaser reminded me of Tony Hawk. An effortlessly cool guy who is awesome at what he does but carries not a single pretention about it. He flicked us through his impressive back catalogue of album artwork, gave us an insight into his influences and work methods and then kind of floated off to go and be effortlessly cool somewhere else. #mancrush.

John Crawford knows that he's welcome in Melbourne.

John Crawford knows that he’s welcome in Melbourne.

John Crawford is a different kind of cat. He’s a Kiwi. He’s a photographer. He loves light. And he loves boobs. Ok, maybe he’s not that different. But we’ve been getting to know his work ever since the promotional material for agIdeas 2013 first appeared. He’s the guy who takes photos of words on gravestones. He also takes photos of aerial nudes, landscape nudes and a few other kinds of subject matter that may or may not involve nudity. Quirky. Interesting.

The fountains of Wet.

The fountains of Wet.

By the time Claire Khan hit the stage, my brain was feeling very full. So I’m not sure how much involvement she had in all the work she showed. But if she had even a tiny bit to do with any of it, I can see why she was here. Claire works for Wet. They do amazing things with water features. Not your garden variety type of fountains. The kind that sit out the front of the Bellagio in Las Vegas. In fact, Claire poignantly posited that the Bellagio fountain is the only real bit of original creativity on the strip. You’d think anyone with that on their CV would be full of beans. Or maybe she was just way too dry for a crowd with lunch on their mind.

After lunch Christian Van Vuuren came onto the stage and apologised for being there. He took us through his journey from being an advertising executive to a Fully Sick Rapper and Bondi Hipster. It was a great, uplifting story of how creativity and positivity can help the healing process. Then he gave us a lecture about doing work for passion instead of a paycheque (cough cough The Iconic commercial cough sellout). Still, bloody great chat.

Still, the tapestries were beautiful.

Still, the tapestries were beautiful.

You’ve got to feel for Antonia Syme. Some genius in scheduling put Australia’s highest authority on tapestries on after the Bondi Hipster guy. Still, she ploughed on. And the more she stuck to her guns, the more she drew me in. By the end, I was mentally measuring up my walls for a woollen hanging. Antonia was a study in presentation skills. Firm, to the point, authoritative. I learned a lot. Yet, at the end of the day, she was talking about tapestries after the Bondi Hipster guy had talked about surviving TB with a Macbook Pro. Hiding to nothing.

And he wears proper shoes.

And he wears proper shoes.

Paul Collison did the lighting for the Beijing Olympics and the Melbourne Commonwealth games – among a billion other things. Unfortunately for him, the two things that are sticking with me after his talk are his time as the sound guy on Here’s Humphrey, and his recent ski trip to Austria (and the $100 bucks he won off his mate for putting the photos into his presso). Actually, there’s another thing. He gave a couple of sterling pieces of advice, including this gem: ‘Being a creative person isn’t a license to be a flake. Turn up on time. Wear shoes.’ Listen up kids.

A beautiful Holden interior.

A beautiful Holden interior.

Kirsty Lindsay makes Holden cars look beautiful. Wearing a bright pink pashmina thingy, she said ‘if people don’t notice what I do, then I know I’ve done my job’. Well, if you keep wearing that thing, people will notice everything you do at all times. But seriously, she had a point. Her job is to make the interiors and detailing of the car sympathetic to the overall concept of the car. So if it’s right, it’s seamless. If it’s wrong, it’ll stand out like a bight pink pashmina on a red background.

It's no Dirty Old Town, but my five year old loves it.

It’s no Dirty Old Town, but my five year old loves it.

Shane MacGowan is a drug-addled, toothless singer from the UK. Shane McGowan is a brilliant illustrator from Australia. Being a Chris Taylor, I know what it’s like to have people more famous than you with your name, so I think I connected with Shane on a deeper level than most. The main things I got out of Shane’s talk was that you need to know what you love, love what you love, don’t be afraid to walk away from what you love and make sure you adapt what you love when the things you should love change. Lovely.

Someone should tell Chopper.

Someone should tell Chopper.

Oron Catts. Ok. So. Um. Wow. If Oron was wearing a lab coat, like most scientists do, had an assistant with stitches in his face and a limp, and the stage lit up with lightning to illustrate his points – no one, and I mean no one, in the room would have batted an eyelid. Oron has been trying to make synthetic meat for a while. Oh, and soon we’ll be growing watches in a petri dish. Apparently. This was exactly what the crowd needed towards the end of the day. Fascinating, mind boggling, out of your comfort zoning, über intelligence.

A Birnbach poster.

A Birnbach poster.

Heribert Birnbach knew his crowd. He started with a dragon reference. So every Game of Thrones loving attendee’s ears immediately pricked up lest he begin talking about Winterfell and the Dothraki. As a non-native English speaker, I was genuinely impressed with his command of the language. Successfully navigating his way through a couple of giggle-worthy puns. He showed us a great selection of his design work from over the years. It was all cool.

Great day 1. I better go to bed so I get up in time for breakfast.