Design Thinkers 2019

written by dan

Jory and I recently attended Design Thinkers in Toronto. Design Thinkers is an annual design conference hosted by the RGD featuring talks by design professionals from around the world. The lineup included some huge names and some fresh ones, with presentations spanning a diverse set of disciplines across various industy (and industry-adjacent) topics. If we had to pick one thing that each and every presenter had in common, it would be that they are all passionate about what they’re doing. While we can’t fully convey the emotional and inspirational impact this conference had on us, we’ll do our best to share some of the presentations which really hit home for us, and made us feel amped to be designers.

Some of Our Favorites

Tina Ross Eisenberg, on the unexpected power of side projects

@swissmiss

If you haven’t heard about Swiss Miss, stop reading this, and follow her now. She’s been inspiring designers around the world for many years through her blog, her global design get togethers, and the great work being produced by her studio.

“Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.”

Hamish Smyth & Jesse Reed, on legacy graphic standards manuals and design today

@StandardsManual

A graphic standards manual defines a brand and how it should be expressed in a concise and easy to understand publication. The New York City Transit Authority’s standards manual is one of the most well designed and thorough we’ve seen, and it was all but lost to the public. Hamish and Jesse of Order carefully preserved and republished the entire manual—and various other manuals—so that designers and the rest of humanity can learn from those that came before us.

“Start with history. Think in systems. Everything for a reason.”

Verònica Fuerte, on thinking about design

@HeyStudio

After painstakingly designing, printing and binding a publication, the last thing you’d expect the designer to do is start ripping the pages out. Well, in the case of Hey Studio nothing is off limits. Check out their rule breaking work.

“We still need visual and tactile experiences.”

Liza Enebeis & Merijn van Velsen, on identity in motion

@studiodumbar

Studio Dumbar’s groundbreaking work in motion graphics is redefining what a corporate identity can be. They organized DEMO Festival to showcase the best motion work from around the world by taking over all 80 screens at Amsterdam Central Station for 24 hours. Mind. Blown.

“Everything we do all day every day we do it for love. Otherwise why the hell would we be doing it.”

Cey Adams, on designing for hip hop culture.

@CeyAdams

Cey Adams was the founding creative director of Def Jam Recordings, and a true pioneer of Hip Hop design and art. His work has hung beside the likes of Jean Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, and his graffiti art has adorned the walls and subway cars of downtown New York City. His work continues to inspire Hip Hop culture, and the hearts and minds of people to this day.

“You gotta be passionate, and people can see it in your eyes.”

Michael and Kaila Jacques, can’t read, can’t write, here’s my book

@HeresMyBook

Michael is a young adult with autism and an intellectual ability. Despite being unable to read and write, he used speech-to-text technology to write the first draft, and and his sister Kaila supported him through the creation of the published book.

“Just because you can’t read or write doesn’t mean you can’t be an author of a book and tell your life story.”

Brian Collins, on reimagining better tomorrows

@WeAreCollins

Collins believes the future of design belongs to those who test the limits of their imagination. Their work with Spotify, Mailchimp, and Dropbox are all shining examples of how design can be less about reinvention, and more about evolving from the centre.

Minimum viable product. Maximum fucking love.”

Final Thoughts

I haven’t been to a design conference since 2009 when I attend the Future of Web Design in NYC. I had the good fortune of shaking hands with the infamous Joshua Davis, the king of Flash/ActionScript-generated digital art. I forgot just how inspiring it can be to get out of your usual environment, routine, and headspace and just see what other people are doing. Getting another perspective and seeing alternative ways of living, working and designing is always a good idea. If you have the will and the means to attend a conference out of town—whether it be about design or otherwise—just do it.

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