Designism 3.0 Showcases ‘Simple Ideas That Help People’

Designism logo.jpgYou’ve heard UnBeige’s take on Designisms past, and so for the event’s highly anticipated three-peat, we dispatched designer and blogger Prescott Perez-Fox to provide a designer’s perspective on the evening, which buzzed with excitement for design, social responsibility, and the then-imminent vice-presidential debate. Here’s his take on Designism 3.0:

Last Thursday, I ventured out to The Art Directors Club to attend Designism 3.0, the third annual event to celebrate design for social change. Not having attended previous sessions, I wasn’t entirely sure what the program aimed to cover. After all, “social activism and instigating change through media” sounds rather lofty. However it soon became clear that the topic at hand was simply ideas. Simple ideas that help people.

While the event was billed as “an evening of discussion, debate, and presentations,” it felt more like a mini conference, with case studies and speeches on topics that range from water purification to the latest in fashions for the homeless. The venue was filled beyond capacity, with many having to stand or else enjoy obstructed views.

designism3_aquaduct.jpgThe evening began with Core 77‘s Allan Chochinov schooling us all on the errors of our ways with the “Five Imperatives of Design.” After seeing the ugly truth of our disposable culture, the stage was set for what would be one inspirational idea after another. IDEO’s Aquaduct water purification bicycle (pictured above) struck me as especially brilliant for its obvious simplicity—no manual required.

Read on as Prescott covers the flashes of brilliance exhibited in the Designism 3.0 “lightning round,” Steve Heller‘s brilliant propagandizing, and what it all means.

designism3_15below.jpgNext was the “lightning round,” in which speakers presented their projects in five-minute intervals. TAXI‘s Jason Hamm started off by introducing us to the 15-Below jacket (pictured at right), a lightweight jacket for the homeless of Toronto, designed to keep them warm at temperatures of -15°F. Dian Sourelis of Brainforest challenged the entire notion of design studio waste with their CreativePitch project. And we were introduced to a number useful sites such as WikiAfrica, The Pangea Day Film Festival, and the brand new DesignismConnects, a portal for designers and non-profits to connect on projects. Being a numbers man, my eyes were widened by Jeremy Mende and his One Percent Project, encouraging architects to donate one percent of their time towards pro-bono work. What really strikes is the realisation that one percent of a working day is about five minutes—imagine what we could all do when those minutes add up.

A living legend in the world of graphic design, Milton Glaser took the podium to discuss art, propaganda, and communication in general. Glaser himself noted the irony that his would be the only presentation of the evening to lack visual accompaniment and sadly, it made his talk difficult to recall. Read like a cross between a sermon and a bedtime story, his presentation was notable more for its relaxed and friendly delivery than his contest. Glaser’s speaking style did contrast with the rather heavy topics of indoctrination and the repetition of fear messages in propaganda.

This actually served as a nice segue into Steve Heller‘s lighthearted look at modern-day political propaganda. The room was treated to some laugh-inducing moments at the expense of President Bush‘s typographic stylings—bevels and drop shadows galore. Heller also pointed out the typeface wars taking place between the lines of the political campaigns and the overall success of the Obama “O” as a campaign logo. Unfortunately, Heller’s presentation was extremely compressed so as not to interfere with the vice-presidential debate.

An infamous reminder of his graphical legacy

Did Hillary’s choice of Baskerville cost her the nomination?

Much to my own disappointment, the scheduled panel discussion did not take place. And with the start of the Biden-Palin debate, the night came to an abrupt end.

So what does it all mean? I took away two lessons from the work and from the speakers themselves: First, good ideas don’t have to come from a client brief. With a bit of inspiration and some careful time management, we can create something truly useful all by ourselves, in the absence of clients. Second, we can’t be afraid to challenge the question and the status quo. Instead of designing within the same boundaries and the same rules, ask why bulky packaging and plastic wrapping, for example, are necessary.

I also observed a certain call-to-action undertone to the whole night. While the main purpose was to share and to inspire with tales of peers’ success, the program also forced us to ask “what have Idone recently?” Since the support of the community has never been stronger, and the communication methods have never been more open, now is the time to take an idea and run with it. You might even end up helping someone. —Prescott Perez-Fox

Prescott Perez-Fox is an award-winning designer and blogger based in Brooklyn. He writes regularly about branding and design on his site,, and contributes to BrandCurve, TheDieline, and twentyhood.