“Art and advertising (and skateboards and design)” OR “some cool documentaries”

This post will be a little tangential, but bear with me.

So today, I’m sitting in Design History class watching Art & Copy for probably the 6th time. [If you’re not familiar with the film, it’s a documentary about advertising. It’s really much more interesting than it sounds. You can watch it free on youtube. If you care about art or design at all you’ll probably enjoy it.] I think I had an “A-HA” moment. Not “take on me” but an idea about my career in design. Lately I’ve been looking down the throat of an internship hunt, and in the process realizing that I don’t fit the mold of any of the internship positions that my educational track mandates. It’s been a great source of stress and driven me to do a lot of soul searching on the topic of “what am I good at”. After hearing David Kennedy [of Wieden+Kennedy, the design firm that hosts the “basket” as seen in portlandia] say that he hated advertising and the love/hate situation he and Dan Wieden had with the advertising were what drew them together forming the firm, a light bulb went off for me.

I’ve traditionally hated the idea of advertising. It seems manipulative and dirty. It causes people to do things that aren’t good for them. ..and lets not get started on child targeting advertising. I’ve always felt, rather unfortunately, that I am built for such work. I’m fascinated by social science. I have a good working knowledge of human cognition and how it relates to design and persuasion. I’m also a pretty good communicator and have an ability to distill ideas down to easily manageable nuggets. These strengths aren’t yet doing a lot for me in Industrial Design and Interaction design. Well.. they are, but not enough to give me leverage over my competition. I’m currently going through an entrepreneurship certificate program, another area that I have some negative opinions on, and seeing my skills working in that arena as well. Seeing these guys with the same concerns I have, and managing to move forward in spite of them was kind of inspiring. Rich Silverstien and Jeff Goodby had some good things to say as well. To paraphrase, it’s not crappy when it’s done right.

Ok. Time to jump the tracks.

Bones Brigade documentary

Bones Brigade documentary

All this thinking about advertising reminded me of the excellent Bones Brigade documentary that Lauren and I watched on Netflix a while ago. Aside from being a really cool story about a team that really defined the sport of skateboarding, this film covered some of the art behind the brand. At the time, skateboard ads were this bland, pseudo-sporting goods style that showed average kids in full on, ugly colored safety gear. Bones Brigade brought in this artist called Craig Stecyk, who started doing all this off the wall (sic) design for the print ads. Most didn’t feature skateboards at all. They had fire, taxidermied animals, etc. To paraphrase the explanation given in the film, they were selling ideas, not skateboards. Such a great commentary. It was so amazing to me to learn the genesis of this style of art in advertising. I was not a skater growing up, but I rode BMX, which experienced a similar, but not as pronounced change in advertising. This kind of art was ubiquitous to me in my semi-suburban, 90’s highschool years. I remember seeing art from skateboard magazines early on. It seemed so acceptable even though it was kind of out there. I remember one particular Toy Machine ad that had little claymation figures that I tore out and saved. The disruptive format that Bones Brigade put out there is still in use today.

So, anyway.. where I’m going with this is that this film is great, especially if you grew up in the 90’s and had exposure to skateboard culture. I really love being able to trace ideas back to specific points. This is the most solid example of that that I’ve encountered.

Before Bones Brigade

Before Bones Brigade

After Bones Brigade

After Bones Brigade


IDSA Midwest Design Dialog Conference..

This past weekend I attended the Industrial Designers Society of America, Midwestern Design Dialog Conference. This was the first design conference I’ve been to, so I really didn’t know what to expect.. Unfortunately, our school-provided transportation didn’t run early enough for me to check out the workshops, so really, for me, the whole thing consisted of a bunch of 25 minute talks. I have to admit that I was pretty bummed out that all I got for my $175 registration fee was a “live” version of watching TED talks on Youtube, and free beer at an after party put on by my own school. I suppose I should acknowledge some other benefits though:

Evolve flyerOf the approximately 6 total vendor booths, one of them was useful. They were promoting a new software that the marketing material suggested was named “Evolve”. It is both NURBS and parametric, which is particularly helpful for industrial designers; saving the step of translation of a pretty Rhino model to a manufacturable SolidWorks model. The spokesman told me the software was free for students, which is awesome because neither Rhino or SolidWorks are free. When I got home and tried to find the software, I couldn’t find anything called Evolve, but further review of their handbill sent me to the site of a company called solidThinking who have a product called solidThinking, which I assume is what they were actually advertising? I couldn’t find any free student downloads so I sent them an email inquiry.. still haven’t heard back.

Another benefit, albeit not design related, was getting to chat for a bit with Dave Mucci from the moto mucci blog. For the uninitiated, his blog is mostly about nice looking motorcycles including his own CX500 project, which I snapped a photo of in person. It turns out that he is an Industrial designer and works at TEAMS, the design studio where we had our senior show.



Getting back to the talks.. There were a handful of good ones, some boring ones, and a few that totally seemed like ego trips. (Sorry Motorola) The theme was “Exploring creative fusion”, although from what I took away, it should have been “The rise of the design proletariat”.  Perhaps my personal leanings steered me towards this perception, but I think it was backed up by Chris Pacione’s talk “Design Literacy: Why Design is Emerging as the Next Pervasive Human Literacy” and Zach Kaplan’s “Bringing the Factory to the Desktop”. The latter yielded a great find in Zach’s Inventables.com which is kind of like a hardware store for the modern DIYer.  Joe Graceffa from IDEO had a nice talk regarding the necessity to include fun in the design lifestyle, that interestingly referenced a “for fun” project that his office outsourced to an Etsy seller.

There were other good topics, especially “Mobile apps must die”; a call to kill off ultra specific, redundant apps, and replace them with a system of local area service discovery. I guess I’d like to focus on the idea of DIY encroaching on design though. I’m pretty new to this game, only really knowing what Industrial design is since 2009, and only now starting a graduate program regarding it. I get the creeping feeling that “professional” part of it is about to fall out, much the way it did with computers and IT in the 90’s. Now, as then, the tools are just becoming more readily available. Then it was the IBM PC, now it’s the 3D printer. I feel like maybe the design industry should be thinking about how to collaborate more readily with the DIYer. Certainly there can be a synergistic relationship.

So yeah.. My first design conference was an interesting experience, and quite a bit different than the Independent music conferences I’m used to.  There were some valuable tidbits to be had, but at the same time, I really don’t think it was worth $175. I doubt I’ll go back next year. Until then, I’ll just keep watching TED talks for free.