QBN Session #1: Live and In Concert

The cool kids at QBN just sold out their first-ever conference this past Friday in LA, so we asked cool kid Tom Dolan what he thought about it. Photo by Jessey White-Cinis, more here.


First, organizing and selling out a $200+ full day-long design seminar on a busy workday Friday in Los Angeles should be recognized as no easy task. Having it at Richard Meier‘s posh Getty digs and featuring a world-class lineup is coup number two. That the QBN boys pulled off their their first “Session” event without a glitch (accomplishment #3) should impress–and be a sign of good things to come from the upstart design org on the block.

Clearly differentiated in tone and content from anything you’d be likely see from the self-anointed Professional Organization for Design*, perhaps the sharpest take-away from Friday’s event was confirmation that there is a strong pulse to contemporary design worldwide–and it’s distinctly cross-media, with output ranging from motion to print to interactive to photo to film. Unexpected highlight: Intro graphics from Logan, which were over-the-top super. Unexpected lowlight: Emcee Miss Shiny Pants–wherever they got her, don’t go back next time.

If the AIGA is the designers’ dusty hall of fame, then QBN is the hip club in town–and the performers on stage Friday delivered, if not always in tune or on key. Phunk Studio, a design group from Singapore, presented their quirky, funny, illustrative work and demoed their “we’re a visual band” approach live. D.I.Y. photographer to the [rock] stars Michael Muller was full of the restless energy, humor, and spontaneity seen in his work (with subjects ranging from Modest Mouse to Spider-Man). Brothers Matt and Mark Owens (of Athletics, NYC) brought the art punk approach to work for MTV and many more, pushing design as art into the gallery scene in Brooklyn. Michael C. Place of Build (and formerly of The Designers Republic), the traditional graphic designer of the lot, showed how a ‘high definition’ graphic design focus can expand to the exhibition space. Shepard Fairey was pretty much exactly what you’d expect a Shepard Fairey presentation to be (not that that’s necessarily bad, but one expects a bit more from Mr. Obey–his corporate work was also conspicuously absent).

Two [unnamed on the QBN website, and indistinct live] guys from The Mill, a high-end visual effects house founded in London, missed the audience mark most dramatically, talking–inexplicably–about the difference between television viewer expectations for adverts in North America vs the UK, and showing too many technically impressive but run of the mill (sorry) spots for clients like Ford, Volvo, and Skittles. But just when everyone was about to doze, thank god for Josh “they told me I can’t talk about punk rock or skateboarding goddammit” Davis–whose Red Bull-fueled uncanned set of live Flash screens and a rant that ranged from Jackson Pollock to 17th century Japanese screen painting closed the day with a loud fast bang.

Exhausted yet?

While there was too much of an uneasy similarity to the style(s) of graphic work presented (does everyone have to integrate kitsch bubbly fonts and clip art from the 70s into as many projects as possible?) and it’s arguable that there are more (and more ambitious) apogees for a design career than a gallery/museum show of skateboard graphics, even a professional skeptic like me had to admit that this was one ambitious jam-packed gig–and an undeniable success. I’m sure I’m not the only one in LA who’s appreciative that someone is bringing more to the design event circuit than the same old print portfolio celebrations.

[Punk] Rock on, QBN. Bring the noise. When–and where–is Session #2?

* The AIGA’s over-reaching tagline, circa 2005.

Tom Dolan is a cross media designer and a principal at Polychrome, a design agency with studios in Los Angeles and San Francisco.