Design Thinkers

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy and the onset of the impending Nor’easter, I boarded a Porter Bombardier turboprop aircraft (best airline ever!) from New Jersey and headed up north to Toronto last Wednesday to present at the Design Thinkers Conference. This annual event, organized by the Association of Registered Graphic Designers (RGD), was a top-shelf affair featuring keynote speakers Stefan Sagmeister, Sean Adams, Noreen Morioka, Harry Pearce, David Butler Chris Hacker and others—as well as a variety of presentations and workshops. I was honored to be a part of such a prestigious event.

Being both a presenter and an attendee at a conference is a bonus! Not only do I love sharing my insights and passion on a variety of topics, but I catch a high fidelity buzz from the infusion of ideas coming at me from different angles—from interactions with other presenters and attendees to the thought-provoking experiences from well-respected design leaders.

My presentations went off without a hitch and were both well-received. I was also part of a lively panel discussion on in-house design issues with riCardo Crespo, Senior VP, Global Creative Chief for Twentieth Century Fox, and Julia Hoffman, Creative Director at the Museum of Modern Art. And, to top it off, I was befriended by a Canadian design student who secretly confessed I was the subject of his upcoming school project. Please stop me before my head gets too big!

Pentagram’s Harry Pearce gave an emotionally engaging and inspirational account of how his organic approach to design informs his life—especially those social issues he is most passionate about. WITNESS, an organization founded by musician Peter Gabriel that empowers people to share personal stories of abuse by using video to expose human rights violations, is one such passion. He has collaborated with Gabriel over the years and shared chilling accounts of oppression where his work was used to bring hope and change to truly make a difference.

Johnson & Johnson’s Chief Design Officer, Chris Hacker, shared his company’s sustainability efforts that have been a part of its DNA since 1941. In one particular case study, he showed how an excess inventory of 200,000 empty plastic lipstick cases were recycled and reused to create a series of artistic panels eventually displayed at J&J’s corporate offices. This was one of many examples that showed the company’s commitment to corporate responsibility is an integral part of doing business.

What can I say about Stefan Sagmeister that hasn’t already been said? He closed the conference with more excerpts from his full-length feature film, “The Happy Film,” which documents his personal experiments with meditation, cognitive therapy and drugs to reach a heightened state of happiness. His thoughtfulness, vulnerability and humor endeared him to the audience as he continued to show how his life and work are inseparable, pushing him further into areas of self-realization and discovery.

For me, conferences always inject a powerful cocktail of exploration, inspiration and revelation into my system, keeping me curious and motivated. So if you’re a regular attendee to conferences organized by HOW, AIGA or DMI, add the Design Thinkers conference to your list. You won’t be disappointed.

Glenn John Arnowitz is Director of Global Creative Services for Pfizer and co-founder of InSource. He is a designer, musician, composer, writer, actor and speaker, always looking for new ways to scratch that insatiable creative itch.