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AIGA NEXT

Official UnBeige AIGA NEXT Roundup

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Even though we still can’t get that Command X theme music out of our head (damn you all, Open, Agoraphone and The Plasticines!), we’ve finally had a few days to contemplate the AIGA NEXT conference in its entirety. Although we had a slight peek at the innerworkings while serving on the planning committee, in the end we were just sitting there in the audience watching, as surprised (and/or delighted) as you were. Here are the highs and lows:

Command-ing the lead: We admit, we had our doubts about a “Project Runway” for graphic design. But not only was Command X the highlight of the conference, it gave great insight into how design actually works–and how fast, funny and brilliant designers are. Winner Nichelle Narcisi‘s incredible finale also ended the conference on the perfect teary, triumphant note.

Talkin’ ’bout my generation: Maybe it was simply in line with the theme (“Next”), but we can’t applaud this conference enough for shifting attention to the youngsters. The brilliant Command X forged seven new young superstars and the 20 one-minute presentations that opened the first night were all by up-and-comers (and better than we ever remembered). It was great to see the older and wiser take a backseat to youth for once.

Someone get this guy an agent: Drew Carey should not have gotten Bob Barker‘s gig on “The Price is Right.” That job should have gone to a man who is long overdue for his big showbiz debut, Michael Bierut.

Everything in moderation: Golden-voiced Kurt Andersen was the best moderator we’ve ever seen at one of these things. Witty, efficient and blissfully deadpan, Andersen asked incredibly intelligent questions tempered with just enough cynicism to keep things real.

Three people we’re running away with: Janine Benyus, Marian Bantjes and Alex Steffen wowed us with solutions that proved great design is natural, personal and sustainable, and, in the end, always–always–beautiful.

You can’t win ‘em all: Of course, there were a few duds. Momus‘ mainstage presentation was probably brilliant but unfocused to the point of befuddlement. Wrapping a design conference with an awesome visual application that doesn’t work on Macs was a big mistake. And even though it made good diversity efforts, the lineup was incredibly New York-centric. One might even argue specifically SVA-centric.

Worst information graphics: Upon entering the Denver Art Museum for the closing party, guests were handed a map which hinted at treasure troves of food and drink stashed in various corners of the galleries. Never mind that the Denver Art Museum is a perplexing heap of angular ADD (Daniel Libeskind must design like he talks), the ambiguous map forced us to mount great expeditions in search of circulating lamb lollipops and the elusive chicken potstickers. Luckily, the martini bar was in plain view.

Best party: Duh.

Best overheard quote in design history: When another designer worried that a former employee may have been bipolar, Dana Arnett brought perspective to the situation: “Bipolar can work, though. They present one idea, then they present another totally different idea. It’s great for clients.”

Sure to see traffic spikes this week: Design Observer lead with the most overall impressions, mentioned in many affinity sessions, at least seven times on the mainstage, and in all the conference materials as a sponsor. Second place goes to Very Short List, which got two plugs on the mainstage (Andersen is a founder, ahem).

Okay, we get it, you’re Democrats: We stopped counting the anti-Bush attacks after we hit the number of years he’s been in office. We know that designers are traditionally left-leaning. But any Republicans in the audience would have been pretty darn uncomfortable, and we’re not sure that’s altogether appropriate.

On the other hand…: There was something to the fact that the same day Al Gore won the Nobel Prize, one of our own jetted up there to work closely with him on his Alliance for Climate Protection. Or maybe that because of AIGA, people across the country will be be voting on redesigned ballots next election. Or maybe it was just AIGA president Sean AdamsJFK-like good looks. Whatever it was, we swore we felt a huge shift happening in the world of design, and we can’t wait to see what happens next.

All UnBeige AIGA NEXT coverage.

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Coverage Elsewhere By Our Bloggy Brethren

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As we soak our carpal-tunneled wrists in a soothing tincture of epsom salts and the leftover champagne from last night’s booze crawl, let’s visit the sites of our other blog friends who were covering the AIGA NEXT conference:

Nate Voss (who we met, finally!) went BADG to TEH FUTUR, starting with Day One.

Randy Hunt got jiggy and also gets type-y on DESIGNY.

Our fellow blog panelist Allan Chochinov was tapping away at Core77.

Dori Tunstall looks like she had her laptop humming over at Dori’s Moblog.

We’ll post more as we find ‘em, or if you’ve got coverage, send it over.

All our AIGA NEXT coverage can be found right here.

Command X: Get Out the Vote

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Here we are at the final round of Command X, the world’s first graphic design reality show held live at the AIGA NEXT conference in Denver, Colorado. Because we know you’re wondering, yes, judge Brian Collins is back, and got to hang out with Nobel Prize-winning Al Gore yesterday in San Francisco to work on his Alliance for Climate Protection, which is coincidentally the organization that will benefit from his Nobel Prize money. Collins told us that the media was swarming outside his hotel when he got there, but Gore still made time to take the meeting. Oh, he has Ghirardelli chocolates for everyone. It’s just like the Hershey store.

Back to the show and the challenge: to get 18 to 26-year-olds to vote. It’s a much more sober round. Kelly Dorsey, usually very funny but this time quite serious, had a nice subversive logo. Matthew Muñez was articulate again, but a bit loose in his concept.

Beginning with a great audience participation gimmick, it is Nichelle Narcisi‘s “except you” campaign that brings down the house, in a stunning standing ovation before Michael Bierut even does the applause-o-meter. He says he was expecting something more like…sausages? Narcisi is quick: “You like that Helvetica, don’t you?”

***Deliberation***

Noreen Morioka‘s been bawling since she had to make her decision. Emily Oberman and Bonnie Siegler are playing their “American Idol” roles to a T. Collins promises to turn his and Morioka’s flirting with Muñez into a dinner (what we wouldn’t give to be at that affair). Morioka will not stop crying. Bierut: “There’s no crying in graphic design.”

Matthew Muñez gets second place.

Kelly Dorsey gets first runner up

And of course, Nichelle Narcisi wins.

All AIGA NEXT coverage.

Blaise Agüera y Arcas Is Making Us Dizzy

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Even though Blaise Agüera y Arcas works at Microsoft we’ll forgive him. He’s got two killer apps that will blow your mind, so much, that quite honestly, just his demos are giving us a little motion sickness.

Seadragon is a radical new way to navigate through and use screens to find information with incredibly high resolution. The intense zooming in-and-out capabilities were actually based on gaming technology.

Photosynth uses a collection of photos found on Flickr and can reconstruct the images in 3D form. This visual crowd-sourcing is called photo tourism. Some geekery: The algorithm uses feature extraction to matches the features with other photos, and can even find features that are shot from a very different perspective. The features are then “mapped” into 3D forms. We really wish you could see this art studio that’s completely mapped into a full tour, complete with super high res scans of the art. But it doesn’t work on a Mac OS.

Booooooos all around. But he says there’s reason for hope. Cheers.

You can still watch this awesome Wired News demo instead.

All AIGA NEXT coverage.

Alex Steffen’s Changing Our World

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We met Alex Steffen last night and he seems like a pretty upbeat guy in light of all the bad news he must run into all day as editor of Worldchanging: “We have inherited a broken future.”

(We don’t think we need to go over all those problems right now and bum you out.)

But basically, we are Americans, living a five-planet lifestyle. We have to fix it because we caused the problem in the first place. Thank god we have moved environmentalism into the mainstream. But even the small changes–all those little steps–can’t solve these problems.

We can’t just swap out all the Hummers for Priuses, we have to think differently. Like Netflix, who has dematerialized the movie rental system. Or Ze Frank‘s Earth Sandwich project as a method of sustainability. If you know where you are and where things are you can relate to them better. Car sharing is another example of a brilliant dematerializing of resources. Power tools are another thing–we just don’t use them enough to own them. Shared tool libraries are the answer. Like a pillow on an airplane, once we use something, we don’t need to keep it, and we should give it back. More producer take-backs need to happen.

So. People want guilt free affluence, but we can’t just rely on the bombardment of information, we need to know the backstory of our decisions. For example, the speed at which people have decided they don’t want to eat crap, and know where their food has come from, has increased exponentially because it became trendy.

How companies tell their backstory is going to be the most critical job for designers of the next decade, and so here, designers, is the challenge. The rest of the world needs you to show us how to engage. and you need to show the rest of the world that you can be beautiful. We should build it to be better and build it to be more fun.

And let’s finish with this uplifting quote by Paul Hawken that we’re sure keeps Steffen going back to the office every day: “You are brilliant and the world is hiring.”

All AIGA NEXT coverage.

Blog O’Fear: The Rules and Etiquette of Blogging (Featuring Us!)

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Bless that Liz Danzico for live-blogging this blogging panel while we were talking about blogging.

The panel, moderated and concepted by Steve Heller, no stranger to blogs as editor of AIGA Voice, writer for a daily design column in PRINT online, writer for Design Observer and A Brief Message and countless others, was to talk about blogs–their journalism aspect, their memoir form, and other forms they might take.

The all-star panel are luminaries in the design blog world:

  • Khoi Vinh, design director of NYTimes.com, and editor of Subtraction.com, which is seven years old, and A Brief Message, founded this year.
  • Bill Drenttel, co-founder of Design Observer, which just turned four years old.
  • Allan Chochinov, editor of Core 77 the industrial design supersite (not a portal), and also runs Coroflot.com, and Design Directory.com (“a blog negative”), for an amazing 13 years.
  • Alissa Walker, editor of UnBeige and, freelance writer. Her goal on UnBeige is to post “every 20 minutes or so.” She is proud that UnBeige is called the People of design blogs.
  • Tina Roth Eisenberg, author behind Swiss Miss, and responsible for too many “major credit card purchases.”

    If A Blog Falls in the Woods
    The panel started out on a pretty philosophical note, dissecting what having a “blog” really means. According to Eisenberg blogs are really just “sites with a content management system.” Vinh jumped in and immediately disagreed, pointing out that he thinks blogs are really a conversation between writer and audience in any more. Writers engaging with an audience; commenters engaging with other commenters; and traditional journalists with commeters. Walker, like Chochinov, uses the blog as a traffic driver. “The blog is just one ingredient,” he put out there.

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  • Project M’s Buy a Meter Featured at AIGA NEXT

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    John Bielenberg just made a presentation about Buy a Meter, that lovely little Alabama project that we just can’t stop talking about. Water meters will be purchased as gifts for all the mainstage speakers at the conference, and they’ve produced t-shirts reading 425 that will be sold for $425 (the cost to bring clean water to the 25% of Hale County residents that don’t have access to it). Even if you’re not here, you can buy one, too.

    Somewhat coincidentally, Pam Dorr, HERO’s angel-like director and M’s person on the ground for Buy a Meter, was interviewed about the project on the excellent KCRW radio show “Good Food” today at 11am (scroll down to see more information and links). You can also podcast the show or listen to the archive by clicking on that link.

    All AIGA NEXT coverage here.

    Khoi Vinh Says Don’t Be Scared of the Web, You’re Actually Gaining Control

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    Our good friend Khoi Vinh (a regular in this parts) served as a clear, soothing voice to what we guess are many print designers in the audience who are still scared shirtless about the web.

    We won’t go into much detail because Vinh is very good about posting his presentations on his blog, but here’s the simple argument he gave that should make all designers boohooing about the internet think twice.

    If narrative is the guiding principle of print, then interactive media is not narrative, it’s about behavior. And designing for behavior transfers some control away from the designers, and–as designers often think–gives control to the users.

    However, when you produce a printed piece, the design is indeed “baked in,” and it lives in a static state. But when you put content on the web, you actually don’t lose control, you gain the multiplicity of states. Therefore, your role as a designer isn’t reduced, you actually have more jobs to do–and you have to do it better and in more ways.

    Good narrative gives rise to good conversations. So use the very best of your design skills and traditional design values online, and as new web tools evolve, they will actually be tools that support designers (thanks to advocates like Vinh), so you’ll gain even more control.

    So take a deep breath and proceed.

    All AIGA NEXT coverage here.

    The Quotable Maira Kalman

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    So funny, so witty, is that Ms. Maira Kalman. In case you might not have noticed, she likes to change what she does a lot, even within one piece of work, just so she doesn’t get bored. After a brief background of her Elements of Style book, she walks us, blissfully, through her book The Principles of Uncertainty, which was originally a blog for TimesSelect (on seeing her work online: “If only every book could come backlit”). And, like Style, Principles is also being made into an opera, which opens next week (and may involve contratenors, boots and goats) Our four favorite things she said:

    “I’m admitting I’m manic depressive on stage, which I’m assuming anyone who does anything is.”

    “How horrible is February, right?”

    “There was zero peace in my childhood home, but the cake was mocha cream cake.”

    “I want to be a maid for the Dutchess of Devonshire and handle her chicken eggs.”

    Isn’t she precious?

    All AIGA NEXT coverage here.

    Dirty Dancing Observer Party

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    Sometimes at these conference things it’s nice to escape the pristine white hallways for a hot, filthy little basement packed thick with grinding graphic designers. Where legends of print, stage, screen, the airwaves, and a movie about graphic design take the stage for guest DJ sets. Where you not only don’t know which body part is being violated by which person’s gyrating sweaty loins, you don’t care because Kevin Smith is playing Prince and you just gotta dance, dammit. Oh yes, this was the Design Observer party.

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    Head DJ Smith with Debbie Millman, throwing out a little J-Lo.

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    Laurie Rosenwald was anything but “tired”; Gary Hustwit, who spun his own real records, prepares to take the stage.

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    Host Michael Bierut looking dapper, Bill Drenttel (we can call you Bill, right?) becomes possessed by the demons of the dance floor.

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    Randy Hunt gets jiggy; Marian Bantjes‘ hot bow-topped boots.

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    Dancemaster David Womack takes a break to compare tans with Nik Hafermaas; Eric Heiman can’t control himself.

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