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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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