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.


Oh no, someone’s asked me to write a blog post ~ or ~ How to write a blog post if you’re not a writer.

Sooner or later it happens to everyone. We’re all being asked to write blog posts for someone. Why? Because search engines prefer sites with new content over sites with old content.

Those of us who work with words for a living are happy to punch out a five hundred-word rant on any topic you care to mention. But most people would prefer to stand in a crowded train carriage at peak hour with a stage-two hangover.


Of course, you could just hire a reasonably priced copywriter (cough) to write your blog for you. But it’s only a blog piece. Why don’t you just grasp the nettle and write the thing yourself? It’s really not that hard.

Here is an easy step-by-step guide to help you write a short piece you’ll be happy to link to on Facebook or Twitter. You might even send it to your Mum when she asks you how work’s going.

 Pick your subject and your topic (not the same thing).

What’s the thing you’re pretty good at that most people don’t really understand? That’s your subject area. Now pick your topic. Your topic is the thing you’ve got a strong opinion on in your subject area, the thing you like to talk about when this subject comes up in conversation.

It’s even better if your experience in the subject area means you can provide your readers with some real insight that they can’t get elsewhere.

“The great thing about audio production [subject] at the moment is the improvement in technology. You can capture a studio-quality recording while standing in an alleyway [topic].  The real challenge now is stopping the audio from sounding clinical or lifeless [insight].”


Make it interesting.

It’s the Internet. No one wants to read anything long or boring. Write about your topic like you’d talk about it at a dinner party. Simple, short and if you’re going to use jargon make sure you explain what it means.

Add in some images.

The Internet is a visual medium. Illustrate the points you’re making with pictures.

Don’t post it straight after you’ve written it.

Once you’ve finished, let it sit for an hour. Maybe even overnight. Then re-read it. Make sure it makes sense. Get someone else to have a look at it and ask them if they understand what you’re trying to say.

Then do a re-write. Why? Because every first draft needs work.

Remove all the first person personal pronouns – the I’s and me’s, the we’s and us’s. Then see if you can say what you’re trying to say with less words.

One last point…

You don’t have to do all these things at once.

This is the reason writers carry notebooks. Coming up with a topic you’re happy with, thinking of sentences that neatly capture a particular thought, crystalising an insight – these things usually happen after you’ve thought about your subject, jotted down some notes and then started doing something else.

Then, once you’ve finished and it’s posted, send a link to your Mum. She’d like to know what you’re up to.