Sure, now there’s a design and business conference every week. But with its Gain popping up every two years for over a decade, AIGA originated a category. And last week, they proved to a packed audience of almost 700 people that they’re still one of the best.
As these folks are wont to do, many speakers tried in vain to trace that elusive line between design and business. Our gal Moira Cullen gave yet another remarkable presentation about brand experience (how many of these does she have in her back pocket?). The Design Council’s Harry Rich made us insanely jealous of the UK’s solid statistics on design’s value. Roger Martin of Rotman’s D-school seemed to have some great points, too, but in such a bland-looking presentation it was hard to see if he was truly taking his own advice. We know some of you are just brilliant business people who can’t be bothered by such things, but this was a disturbing trend at a conference focused on the importance of design. Maybe there needs to be some kind of Keynote pre-screening process.
Elephant-in-the-room China was covered twice, first by 18-year-old author Michael Stanat, author of China’s Generation Y: Understanding the Future Leaders of the World’s Next Superpower, and then by Cheskin cultural anthropolgist LiAnne Yu. Start biting your nails now, Stanat said he guesses 2 in 8 Chinese kids want to become designers. Sustainability also reared its large green head: Every rejected carpet square you give back to your interior designer uses one quart of oil so Michael Hendrix of Tricycle and Bo Barber of Nood found a way for carpet companies to dematerialize their samples.
Finally, Doug Powell gave a moving, concise and beautifully-designed presentation about HealthSimple, a company that helps people with chronic illness to connect with the information they need. He founded HealthSimple with his wife after his daughter Maya was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. This presentation provided the most direct line between design and business: they saw a problem and used design to fix it, and because of the clarity, beauty and accessibility of their work, it was easy for them to be embraced by the business community. Powell’s evocative and deeply personal story should have closed the program.