Bloomberg Businessweek Design 2015

May 5, 2015

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Last week, we attended the Bloomberg Businessweek Design Conference at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in SF. The conference featured talks by heavy hitters across multiple disciplines, including technology, product design, architecture, graphic design, fashion and education.

One thread of the conference was how design is making business better, and how business can make design more powerful. A lot of top quality work was shown, but more than just that, insightful tidbits were shared from years of experience, training, risks and failures. Rather than getting into specifics about each talk, we’ll just share some key takeaways.

For a full lineup of speakers, see here.

1. Design can be used to solve new problems.

Shawn Douglas, UCSF professor, is doing research on DNA Origami and nanofabrication which constructs DNA objects into specific shapes to be able fit and attach with human cells, which could be a part of the cure for cancer.

Tim Brown, President of IDEO and Roger Martin, of Martin Prosperity Group, had a conversation about the influence design thinking can have on the way we are forming infrastructure and legislation. (For more on this, see here).

2. Work with talented people who are experts in their field.

Daniel Caudill, Creative Director at Shinola, shared how they are partnering with the best craftsmen in America, with a mission to build products that are completely crafted and manufactured in the US.

Dolly Singh, formerly with SpaceX and Garrett Reisman, of SpaceX, taught us the importance of hiring exceptional people, across diverse disciplines. How do you know? “Someone exceptional is easy to spot because they stand out. If someone is questioning the hire, they are not exceptional. Hire people that you would work for.”

3. The best companies are built out of a personal need or pursuit.

In the onstage interviews with several founders —Evan Sharp (Pinterest), Alon Cohen & Adi Tatarko (Houzz), Ayah Bdeir (littleBits), Evan Williams (Twitter and Medium), Jesse Pickard (Elevate), to name a few— it was reinforced that a personal problem or insight is often the best driver for a successful enterprise. Rather than get frustrated about the way things are, do something about it.

4. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Susan Kare, original Mac icon and typeface designer, was intentional in her restraint and simplicity in icon design. While working with Steve Jobs to find a replacement to an apple icon on the keyboard, she discovered and re-appropriated the “⌘” icon, now ubiquitously known as the “command” key.

Ammunition Design’s Robert Brunner, shared that “the design of everyday things is in great danger of becoming the design of superfluous, overloaded, unnecessary things.” With a goal of simplifying product to only what is necessary, he shared some simple products that were the result of many iterations and refinements.

Michael Bierut, Partner at Pentagram, talked about the process of logo design, and the common critiques of “simple” design including, “How much did they pay for that?” and “My four-year-old could have done that.”

In book designer Chip Kidd’s talk entitled “! or ?”, he spoke about the way we can utilize clarity and mystery to communicate, but also intrigue. He shared some of his wonderfully thoughtful, often bold and always original book covers, which makes us want to pick up his new book, appropriately titled “Judge this.”

5. The best design solves problems, but also inspires.

As expected, Bjarke Ingels reminded us to challenge our conception of architecture and the opportunity it has to connect with people. Sharing several of BIG’s recent projects, he presented their work in a way that turned functional, pragmatic challenges into driving forces for exciting architecture. On top of that, the whimsy of a power plant with roof-top ski slope that blows CO2 smoke rings, reminds us that architecture doesn’t always have to be serious.

A few words of inspiration:

“We’re never going to be truly immersed as long as we’re looking at a square, whether it’s a movie screen or a computer screen. We’ve got to get rid of that and put the viewer inside the experience, where no matter you look, you’re surrounded by a three dimensional experience. That’s the future.” -Steven Spielberg
(From Framestore’s Mike McGee)

“Everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.” -Albert Einstein
(From Michael Bierut’s lecture, Simplicity)

“Architecture has the possibility but also responsibility to make the world a little bit more like our dreams.” -Bjarke Ingels

Needless to say, we were thoroughly inspired by the lineup at this year’s Bloomberg Businessweek Design Conference. Check out what others had to say at #BWDesign2015