Over the weekend, masses of designers, architects, filmmakers, miscellaneous creative types and those hoping to become any of the latter (in a paid, professional sense) descended upon the Aotea Centre for their annual inspiration feeding frenzy, also known as Semi Permanent. Concrete Playground was lucky enough to be among those types, tuning in to the new generation of entrepreneurs. From expecting backlash to thinking like an immigrant, theses are the eight best messages we took home from Semi Permanent 2016.
Every High-Profile Rebrand Should Expect Backlash
Paul Stafford kicked off Semi Permanent 2016 with an entertaining, funny and insightful presentation. Stafford is co-founder and CEO of DesignStudio in London and San Francisco. Despite the forgettable name, DesignStudio have worked on some huge projects. You know Aribnb? Yeah, they are behind the famous (or, shall we say, infamous?) Bélo. DesignStudio also rebranded the Premier League, which kicked off just this week.
Stafford presented a case study of both branding projects, giving more time to the recent Premier League overhaul. His topic for the talk was 'Working with the world watching', keeping much of the focus on what happens when the public reacts badly to your rebrand. DesignStudio are certainly experienced in this department — the Airbnb logo was met with massive media attention. Unfortunately, much of it was preoccupied with comparing the friendly, innocent Bélo to breasts, genitals and Peter Griffin's chin. Stafford handled this with grace and good humour, explaining that this reaction simply prepared them for what was to come when they won the bid to rebrand the Premier League.
The Premier League has an intensely loyal following, with 1.2 billion fans worldwide. It is then unsurprising that many of them got upset when the logo's iconic lion was evolved to its present form. This time, DesignStudio was prepared for the backlash, though I'm not sure if anyone could have prepared the depth and variety of spiteful (and hilarious) memes and headlines that Stafford showcased in his presentation. At the end of the day, he advises designers to warn their clients to expect a backlash to any major rebrand. DesignStudio went through almost one thousand variations of the logo before they settled on the final one. So, Stafford says, if you've asked the right questions and followed the right process then don't doubt yourself — just give it time and the media will move on to the next thing.
Designers Shouldn't Always Make Things Easier for People
"The Uberfication of everything is turning San Francisco into an assisted living community for the young." – Tweet from Startup L Jackson
Designers should be more responsible to other humans according to Airbnb's Experience Designer Manager Steve Seizer. While he highlighted the importance of human-centric design in relation to immersing oneself in the community you design for, in empathising with your clients (and those the product serves) and co-creating designs with them, Seizer's biggest concern currently is the new on-demand culture we're living in with the arrival of apps like Uber and Netflix. "In isolation, the product [e.g. Uber] is a high quality experience and fulfils a need, but if you zoom out you get disenfranchised with the culture that these designs are creating. At scale this erodes our social values and skews us towards intolerance, impatience and lack of ability to navigate change."
Seizer thinks that, "When we remove all friction [and difficulty] we remove opportunities for people's self-reflection and self growth," which means that designers should be designing friction into their work as a means to be responsible to humanity. Friction, according to Seizer, isn't making products difficult to work for the sake of being difficult, but it's making designs which are geared towards people's skill-building, self-reflection, collisions (with strangers) and confrontation (with other people).
"Business right now is full of incredible 'Oh Fuck' moments"
Peter Biggs, the CEO of Colenso BBDO reckons that the 21st century has seen some incredible turbulence. He defines the century as one driven by disruption, one where all the linear models of the previous century are being hollowed out. Back in the day "money and structural support were a limiting factor, but today it's only human imagination". Competition has also opened up significantly – to the point where even your mobile phone can be in competition with your car. Which means that many companies that keep using the same old formulas that made them successful in the previous century (or even decade) are finding themselves in 'oh fuck' moments because everything has changed; and keeps changing.
Succeeding in such a flat world where start ups can flourish as easily as established brands requires a creative in today's world to think like an immigrant, like an artisan and like a waiter/waitress, according to Biggs. It's all about having curiosity, hard work, openness, focusing on possibilities, being creative and genuine customer service.
"If you aren't spinning 20 plates on your head, while talking on two phones, in a pair of stilettos — don't expect to change the world."
You may not know Mimi Gilmour, but chances are, you've eaten a tasty morsel in one of her fine establishments. She is responsible for Mexico, one of the first restaurants to bring the kind of immersive, eclectic interior and warm, joyful atmosphere that has become the standard with many Auckland eateries since. After leaving Mexico (with a fond and heavy heart), Gilmour went on to open Burger Burger and, more recently, Fish Fish: a Ponsonby central fixture that serves up classing chips and sustainably fished kai moana. She was also selected to be a ambassador for Jaguar last year, no biggie.
But success didn't come easily. Mimi Gilmour may be young, but she had a share of both accomplishments and failures on her way her present sweet spot. She worked her butt off in Sydney, first as a receptionist, and then an account manager at an ad agency; then doing marketing for Appetite for Excellence; then running the chef programme at Taste of Sydney. Then Gilmour came back to Auckland to put on Taste of New Zealand at the Cloud for Rugby World Cup, working 5am until midnight for three months straight, while co-running District Dining in Sydney, and opening another one in Auckland. Needless to say, Mimi isn't afraid of hard work. Throw in a marriage break up and a couple of businesses going up in flames in there (one quite literally so) and you've got a few crazy years. As, she so put it, "If you aren't spinning 20 plates on your head, while talking on two phones, in a pair of stilettos — you won't change the world." Mimi Gilmour's secret is: hard work, a superior talent for multitasking, plenty of gratitude, a great family, staying humble, and, well, more hard work.
"We Do Not Have Control Over Our Brands Anymore"
These days "everything is emotionally driven" in relation to brands, according to Chris Fjelddahl, the co-founder of Eight. "People trust other people like them more than they trust corporations," which means that a brand's meaning is created between consumers through the dialogue they have about it. "We do not have control over our brands anymore," said Fjelddahl. "We're no longer telling consumers what to think [about our brands]," nowadays "it's about influencing them."
The way that is done is through how people feel about a brand – its products, its spaces, the entire emotional experience of the brand. More than ever, design (across all platforms) is the emotional "lever that influences how people experience the brand". According Fjelddahl, design across the customer's experience of the brand needs to be coherent in order to create a consistent feeling and experience. "Branding isn't about logos and advertising campaigns, it's about being clear on your philosophy and drawing it into everything you do – product design, interior design, advertising etc."
Doubt and Uncertainty Are Key to Creativity
Tea Uglow's talk was by far the most surprising and full of gems of wisdom. Uglow is the Creative Director of Google's Creative Lab in Sydney, where, according to her, she draws on whiteboards a lot, while "trying to imagine a future that's not in VR." Her sparkling, inquisitive mind took us on a windy journey through the history of doubt. I am not sure I have ever heard a talk, or lecture, that has wound its way through so many corners of knowledge. Beginning with Santa Claus, Uglow set off on her quest to convince the audience that nothing is quite as certain as it seems. Some stopovers following Santa included (but weren't limited to): Socrates, to Descartes, De Montaigne, cognitive bias, quantum physics, Alfous Huxley, Hamlet and Einstein. By the end, everyone was doubting the very nature of existence. This was Uglow's intention all along, for she believes that, "This miracle, that we doubt that we exist is the reason for creativity."
Uglow also dipped into some personal experiences that caused major doubt in her life. The first was ten years ago, when she realised that she had prosopagnosia — the inability to recognise faces. It was something that bothered her her entire life, and yet, it wasn't until her mum came across the diagnosis and passed it on that all those awkward meetings made sense. The second moment was much bigger in scale. Two years ago Tea, then Tom, realised that she was a woman. Uglow's transgender experience has certainly given her a special insight into what's it's like to experience real, ground shaking doubt. But doubt and uncertainty are something we can all embrace more of in our lives. As Tea Uglow notes, "Without doubt, we can't begin."
Entertain or Die
"There is only one way to survive out here and that is being liked." In an amazing breakdown of the history of consumerism and advertising, Rebecca Carsco from the Australasian division of Facebook's Creative Shop said that we've reached the end of a cushy advertising era of "dehumanising people through calling them consumers and then treating them badly."
Carsco said that today brands have to actively earn people's time instead of just channelling an 'optimal' amount of "obnoxious, loud and incessant consumption messages" at them in order to make them buy their products. "Nobody is sitting at the edge of their chair waiting to watch advertising."
How exactly to be that likeable brand that people engage with is another question which might never have a satisfying answer. "There is no textbook in town that has the answer and the minute a correct answer is reduced into a formula it stops working."
Write Your Own Job Description
Maria Scileppi comes from an advertising background and is now blissfully settled in her dream job of directing 72U, a creative residency supported by L.A. agency 72andSunny. Her talk traced the path that had brought her to this point. Scileppi left her Art Director position at Y&R in New York, resigning via cupcakes (do take note if you have been feeling disgruntled with your job) and ending a four year relationship. Lost and uncertain, Scileppi moved to Chicago, her home city. There she directed Chicago Portfolio School and embarked upon her epic project of making a year each day for a year. Exhausting, but surely worth it.
After a few years, she decided it was time for another change. So, she saved up some cash, packed up her dreamy loft apartment, moved in with a bunch of artists, and took a year long sabbatical. A move highly recommended to anyone feeling stuck in a corporate environment. Scileppi is a risk taker and lover of change, believing that "failure is information." This attitude has let her pursue her dreams and leave situations when they were getting stale. She is also a super hard worker, a recurring trend amongst the successful it seems. The audience got a bit of a dressing down for daring to think that we might have no time for developing side projects. "You make time for for what you make time for," is a mantra Scileppi has stayed true to, working on her artwork at the crack of dawn and in the evenings after getting home from her full time job. Now, that's inspiration if I ever saw it.
One of her many great tips was to write your own dream job description to help identify what it is you really want and usher it into your life. Hopefully, for some, the dream and current job descriptions come close. If not, then it may be time to follow in Maria Schlepp's footsteps and bake some cupcakes.
All works and other images shown are those of the speakers or affiliated with the speakers' businesses.