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Finding Inspiration at Bend Design 2019

I had a great time in Bend, Oregon last week attending and participating in the Bend Design conference. Thursday, October 24th was the main stage and featured a variety of speakers from artists and designers to social reformers. Friday, October 25th was a day full of workshops helping people step out of their comfort zones, learn their creative positioning, design typefaces and zines, ponder what optimism is, and help people be more creative.

Here are a few takeaways, phrases, thoughts and ideas from the main stage that I wanted to share with you:

MARTIN VENEZKY / Crossing Disciplines and Back Again

I had the opportunity to hear Martin speak in Portland a couple of months ago, but I loved hearing him share about his creative process in a presentation format. His work is best described as the intersection of photography, design, and installation art. He creates abstractions from real materials and disassembles machines and broken tools to discover new and exciting things inside. As he creates, the accidental overlapping of objects leads to to unexpected results. He is always prepared for inspiration to strike by having a camera and lights setup at all times. During a recent project, he shot 6,000 images just to get ready.

Two things he said really hit home:

  1. Design the process, not the results.
  2. Dumb materials create things that could have never been planned or sketched.

JESSICA BELLAMY / Creative Impact: Equity in Information and Experience Design

Jessica’s enthusiasm for life shined in her presentation about how her work as an infographics designer has allowed communities to engage in the political process. She took a look at what equality means and how it is composed of being considerate, cooperative, inclusive, accountable, and flexible. Specifically, “creating an opportunity for all by fixing systematic oppression.”

A few phrases I wrote down:

  1. “Unearth the whole story.”
  2. Design by committee is an important reality in the context of community engagement.
  3. “Creative unrest!”
  4. “Keep the whole world in mind.”

Check out Jessica’s design tools including the Infographic Index and Infographic Wheel.

JOEL PILGER / Our Crisis of Unhelpfulness

The question I wrote at the beginning of my notes for Joel’s talk says it all: “Do you have a nagging sense that you are capable of more?” If Martin and Jessica were talking about their work and process, Joel approached his talk differently. Yes, he was promotional (as all speakers are to a certain degree), but he shared a problem that he sees a lot of creative entrepreneurs struggle with: drowning in the sea of sameness and how it’s impacting your ability to be found by the people who need your expertise. Joel’s solution is simple, yet difficult: Discover the “magical alchemy” at the center of three attributes overlapping:

  1. Your Purpose
  2. Your Power
  3. Your Personality

There was so much in this talk that I wrote down, but the main thing I want to pass along to you: Move from being an “A” to “THE”.

Example, instead of being “A filmmaker who tells stories of impact” become “THE filmmaker who captures moments of impact.” You move from being one of many to being the only one. Yes, it’s hard to do, but so is selling yourself when you’re just like everyone else.

Be sure to check out Joel’s live broadcast of his Carve Out Your Positioning workshop if this inspires you!

LIZ JACKSON / Engaging in Disability as a Creative Practice

I was intrigued and challenged by Liz Jackson during her presentation. Extremely vocal, at times unsettling, and infinitely passionate for making sure that disabled people are embedded into the creative process.

Four takeaways from her talk:

  1. A lot of her work is a “fuck you” to someone or an organization who tried to either profit from her or minimize her.
  2. Disability can be a creative practice. “Disabled people are the original life hackers.”
  3. The history of ideas and participants in a space should be recognized.
  4. She honors the friction of her disability.

DEANNA VAN BUREN / Peace by Design

“What we believe becomes concrete.”

I was blown away by Deanna’s talk because it changed the way I think about how to use creativity to impact society. Deanna’s main work is re-envisioning justice through her organization Designing Justice + Design Spaces. She told many stories of projects that embrace the principles of restorative justice and reimagining how to use spaces left behind by the prison system including Welding Justice and a Pop-up Village. To see more of what she shared about, you can check out her TED Talk: What a world without prisons could look like.

I love this thought she closed her talk with: “If you build things with people, you have impact.”

PETER BURR / Pattern Language

Breaking up the speaker flow was the presentation of Peter Burr’s film, Pattern Language. The visuals were hypnotic and divisive. Strobing patterns of black and white shapes mixed with cellular automations and a penetrating soundtrack made for an experience that turned off some and excited others. As the film edited, someone to my life said, “I didn’t like this language.”

During the Q&A with Peter following the film, he described Pattern Language as “a visceral feeling as much as a visual sensation.” I took a ton of notes, mainly questions that I couldn’t wait to ask him the following day during my live interview with Peter and Ivar Zeile.

One comment Peter made will stay with me for awhile: “A decade’s worth of practice resulted in Pattern Language.

TRÉ SEALS / Being Vocal

I had the privilege of talking with Tré at the opening party for speakers. He was soft-spoken and humble, yet you could tell that he had a passion for his work burning underneath the surface. In his talk, he shared about his journey from student to professional and his work designing typography based upon protest signs found in the civil rights movement.

The main takeaway from his talk: “Diversity is systemic, but we can all be inclusive. Understand and listen. Understanding is the key to inclusion.”

DEBBIE MILLMAN / Why We Brand, Why We Buy

When I was pitching my live interview idea for Bend Design, I used Debbie Millman’s live interviews as an example of what I wanted to do. Little did I know she would be a keynote speaker. The most interesting thing she shared was how brands have changed over time through five major waves:

  1. Wave 1 (1875-1920): Quality, consistency, and safety. Packaged goods are premium.
  2. Wave 2 (1920-1965): Enter the age of anthropomorphized characters and copycat brands. She told a story about cereal and why cartoon characters are looking down. They are looking into the eyes of children.
  3. Wave 3 (1965-1985): Brands equal status and a form of self-expression.
  4. Wave 4 (1985-2005): Brands are about emotions and experiences.
  5. Wave 5 (2005-present): Brands as connectors to ideas and people.

I just glimpsed at my notebook and saw this closing thought from Debbie: “Branding is now a profound manifestation of the human spirit.”

It was an absolute honor to not only attend Bend Design, but also to lead a workshop. I interviewed Peter Burr and Ivar Zeile in front of a live audience and it was absolutely intoxicating. I can’t wait for next year and hope that you’ll consider giving it your time, money, and participation.