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y conference

Y Did It Have to End So Soon?

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Sure, we made it home safe, but we’re not happy about it. We wish the Y Conference in San Diego could have lasted a whole week. Now we’ve heaped praise upon these stars to the south before, and it’s not really news that this little regional conference is no longer little or regional. What Y is, however, is small enough for even the lowliest student to hobnob with the biggest of big-time speakers. The conference fee is relatively cheap. And we don’t think we have to mention the beyond-perfect climate (72 and sunny; okay, make that very sunny).

As we smooched old friends goodbye at the Red Circle Cafe Saturday night, realized that were it not for Y regulars Stefan Bucher and Petrula Vrontikis, we’d have never known about the wonder of Y. We thanked Terry “Stampy” McCaffrey for changing the way we think about those little perforated stickers. And we praised conference chair Adam Rowe, who has been doing this for an incredible seven years, although we’d like to offer one popular thought to mull over for the next year: 12 white guys and only two women?

On our way out we were busy describing the plot of Idiocracy to Tucker Viemeister when his eyes drifted towards the ceiling. “It’s a shame we can’t get these guys some lightbulbs,” he said, as we followed his gaze to two burnt-out lights over the bar. Ah, the curse of the man who can do everything. Next to him was Mirko Ilic, forever cursed as the only man confident (European? crazy?) enough to take his shirt completely off while sunbathing in the lawn of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice. We may have missed hearing Ilic speak, but it didn’t matter; he was pretty much presenting all weekend.

Finally, we got totally busted by our newest best friend Stefan Sagmeister who promised to bore us again and again with his deja vu-inducing presentation. We turned bright red and said that we didn’t think everyone felt that way, it was just that we happened to be at every single conference. “But so am I!” he laughed. Man, that Stefan Sagmeister is downright impossible not to look up to–and not just because he’s like seven feet tall.

So if Y was the question, what was the answer, you ask? Probably the most important thing we learned that when you Ask a Ninja (and believe us, we did), the answer is most likely going to be “Thomas Kinkade.” See you next year.

More Y Conference coverage.

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Starbucks Global CD Stanley Hainsworth Says He Hasn’t Seen the Starbucks In Idiocracy

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At the final session of the Y Conference, it was a Best Hair showdown: Tucker Viemeister vs. Stanley Hainsworth. We dunno but we’re gonna give it to Hainsworth for his rad super spiky ‘do (twice as long as the photo to the right). You can tell he works at Starbucks just by looking at him. His hair just had a double espresso.

Global Creative Director Hainsworth talked about Starbucks culture, branding and projects like their tie-in with the film Akeelah and the Bee. And he did it all through the voices and opinions of Starbucks fan sites, reviews (good and bad) and pop culture references. He even cut a reel together of Starbucks as seen in movies. But one thing he didn’t mention was the Starbucks portrayal in our favorite future brand experience, Idiocracy, so we asked him about it during the Q&A. He claimed he had never seen it, and that he doubted Starbucks had enough power to get the movie yanked from theaters (that was the rumors we heard). We offered to show it to him, we even had Armin’s article cued up on our trusty laptop. But he said he’d look at it later.

Tucker Viemeister Covers Everything

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Apparently Tucker Viemeister has been stricken with a terrible affliction: The Curse of Being Able to do Everything. His dad, legendary industrial designer Read Viemeister could also do anything (“And not just because he’s my dad,” he said). And yes, Tucker is named after the car–which his dad worked on. No pressure, right?

At his latest gig at Studio Red at the Rockwell Group (named for the soda, not that other RED) they’re working on everything from a frightening-sounding Coca-Cola Wellness Center to the Coke Cruiser, which is like an ice cream truck on a Segway. He says working at the Rockwell Group is like being in the Village People. We bet David Rockwell is the cop.

But back to being cursed. Le Corbusier was cursed. Da Vinci was cursed. Hitler was especially cursed, says Viemeister–he was a brilliant designer of SS uniforms, a Volkswagen, imposing architecture, and of course that pretty effective logo–but he was also cursed in a different way.

Viemiester himself has been single-handedly cursed by literally “good design”: he did the OXO Good Grips and can’t live it down. So what does a cursed man do? Choose “multi” over “total”. Take chances, for more choices. Cross-pollinate. And so, from the man who can do everything, a really good new idea:

We don’t have any good rituals for Martin Luther King Day, he says. So on January 15, eat lunch with someone from another race. The civil rights movement was all about integrating lunch counters and lunch with anyone is a good thing.

Viemeister also wins Best Designed Presentation for the conference, with slides that zipped by with continuity that made us feel like we were swooping through an IMAX-sized screen. He’s currently tied with Stanley Hainsworth for Best Hair.

Maria Piscopo Says Joining Professional Associations Absolutely Necessary

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Creative services consultant Maria Piscopo broke down everything from networking to time management for designers at the Y Conference. Most of her tips can be accessed through her super handy website, but she did say something that struck us. Joining a professional association used to be optional, she said, but now it’s no longer an option. Getting involved with a group of your peers is absolutely imperative, especially if you’re making a career transition.

Piscopo is also always looking for creatives to feature in her many columns and articles in design mags. Be sure to send all your company news to her and get yourself some ink.

New Shorts From Hillman Curtis

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We felt horrible for Hillman Curtis today, who couldn’t shake a cough during his presentation at the Y Conference. The designer/filmmaker laughed (and coughed) it off, but it didn’t matter–he didn’t have to say much once he started running the clips.

You’re definitely familiar with Curtis’ Designer Series of web films; we often find ourselves cueing up one of those portraits when we need a few breaths of fresh Glaser in the middle of the day. He’s not just an expert interviewer, either–”Quaaludes,” he joked when asked how he gets his subjects to open up–a montage he cut of Mark Romanek‘s videos set to different music is better than most editing in the music video industry today. Soon there’ll be even more to love: Curtis is currently delving into these pristine little short narratives that are dramatic, emotional and absolutely gorgeous.

Straight Talk and a Spirited Sermon Saturday Morning at the Y

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Depending on where your hotel room was situated at the Hotel Solamar your anticipated bedtime may have been delayed (windows facing the pool were treated to a fratty party scene of epic proportions). Luckily, there was somewhat of a wakeup call this morning at the Y Conference.

First, Christopher Simmons from MINE delivered a casual, no pretense heart-to-heart that was a pretty nice deviation from the canned presentation–and this is coming from a guy who made police tape that says EVERYTHING IS OK and puts it up in random places to see what people do. We like that. Simmons also gets bonus points for the Thomas Kinkade reference.

And when Hank Richardson from the Portfolio Center took the stage, the mood shifted yet again. Beginning with bashing the new branding direction for Uncle Ben’s as way of example (very frightening, check it out), Richardson ranted and raved about design ethics for the better part of an hour, even as the “time’s up” light flashed in vain. Soon the hot pink slides matched Richardson’s rosy cheeks and we felt like we were back in school–or church; this was design fire and brimstone! Richardson acknowledged that he always gets dragged off the stage, “I don’t even get warmed up in 35 minutes.” But the bottom line from Richardson’s presentation: When it comes to great design work, it’s ALL personal. And it was pretty obvious to everyone in attendance that this is one man who practices what he preaches.

Stefan Sagmeister Gives Us Deja Vu All Over Again

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Stefan Sagmeister ended the day with a crowd-pleasing presentation at the Y Conference that seemed to send everyone out into the world with a smile. Now you know we love you, Sags, we do. And we love that thing you do. But as regulars on the conference circuit, we’ve gotta ask you to switch it up a bit. Here’s the recap from a year-and-a-half ago. And one from a year ago. The new developments, as far as we can see, are a cool ad for a economic development agency in Singapore, and that he’s trying to make a giant floating speech bubble out of a blimp.

One thing we did learn is what happened when Sagmeister was performing one scene of a short film which required him to hang out of a window in Debbie Millman‘s office in the Empire State Building, holding a sign that said OVER. The cops came, thinking he was a jumper, and wanted to seize the camera as proof. Millman thought fast and said that the camera contained “personal” footage…they backed off.

Ninja co-conspirator Kent Nichols returned the favor during the Q&A, asking about Sagmeister’s affinity for the painters of light, like Thomas Kinkade. Oh Ninjas, we do hope you’re back tomorrow for more hijinks.

More Y Conference coverage.

USPS’s Terry McCaffrey Predicts Star Wars Stamps Will Rule the Universe

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Terry McCaffrey is chair of the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee, of which the blogosphere’s fair Jessica Helfand is a member. She’s the latest in an illuminated list of design names like Bradbury Thompson and Meredith Davis who’ve served (apparently Steven Heller was on it once but attended two meetings, found the committee too bureaucratic and quit).

But with all those big names, 50,000 letters from the American public annually, and the collecting community clamoring for single color engraved designs–it seems like when it comes to stamps, everyone has their own agenda.

Until the Elvis stamp they didn’t do anything contemporary (remember the old or young Elvis contest?). The USPS was only allowed to start making a profit two years ago, but they made $26 million on Elvis–and that’s mostly from collectors. They’ve also made $53 million for breast cancer research from a 1999 stamp.

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Here’s the crazy thing about stamps: When they make mistakes, people want them more. For example, McCaffrey learned today that in the Buckminster Fuller stamp based on that famous Time cover, the artist made a huge mistake and put six sides on his geodesic dome-head instead of five. Mirko Ilic was good enough to point that out from the audience. Whoops.

Maybe they should purposely make a mistake on the upcoming Star Wars series (available May 28) since McCaffrey predicts it will blow the lid off the USPS. At first the committee didn’t want it because it honored living people, which is against postal rules, but McCaffrey argued that it’s not Harrison Ford, it’s Han Solo. They’re printing 500 million, just to start.

Sagmeister and Kent Nichols (who are either brand new BFFs or old friends) manned the peanut gallery throughout the presentation, cheering “I love you, Stampy!” If that’s the official term of endearment for McCaffrey, then we say, Stampy, we love you, too.

More Y Conference coverage.

Kyle Cooper’s Beautiful Mess

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At Yale, Paul Rand once told Kyle Cooper that there wasn’t really anything interesting going on in title design. Alvin Eisenman told Cooper that the world needs graphic designers more than it needs filmmakers. It’s a good thing both of those legends told Cooper to focus on design first, film second, or title design wouldn’t be where it is today.

The founder of Imaginary Forces got fired from the GoodFellas titles because he was trying too hard to make them into a metaphor for the movie. Saul Bass ended up getting the gig (tough break, Kyle) and he solved the problem by not creating a metaphor but making the titles into another scene for the movie. And that’s why Cooper’s new company is named Prologue.

“I like to make a mess,” said Cooper as he showed the heart-wrenching titles for Donnie Brasco, the freak show opener for Se7en and super-clever titles for some really bad movies: Wimbledon, Euro-Trip, The Painted Veil, Dawn of the Dead (okay, that one was actually pretty good) and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which seemed to bleed Bass, but as Cooper revealed later through examples, was actually inspired by Rand.

More Y Conference coverage.

Sagmeister Asks a Ninja

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We know what you’re wondering…what the hell is a ninja is doing on stage at the Y Design Conference? Ask a Ninja creators Douglas Sarine (dressed and in character as Ninja) and Kent Nichols began their presentation by answering that very question.

Ninja: What are we doing at a design conference?

Nichols: Well, you’re wearing all black. Don’t you fit in?

But fitting in became irrelevant once they showed the latest episode of their web show, which amazingly featured an interview with Blades of Glory stars Will Ferrell and Jon Heder. Ninja was upset they didn’t kill anyone with their “blades” of glory. This is a show that started in their tiny West Hollywood apartments.

Nichols and Sarine first started down this dark path with an animated screenplay about ninjas in Orange County, which has evolved into one of the most popular shows in history–Ask a Ninja has been viewed over 20 million times. With Ninja as moderator, they engaged in a discussion about creating with accessible tools, having an audience that pushes back, and developing a brand, but mostly they were just really, really funny.

Of all the audience questions, Sagmeister asked the best one. “I have a question about light,” he said in that sexy Austrian purr. “Is it a particle or is it a physical state?”

Ninja: You live in the light you create.

Nichols: The light you take is equal to the light you make.

Sagmeister laughed and seemed to be pleased with the answer.

More Y Conference coverage.

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