Designers are driven by an intense desire to make stuff. Creating something new is our passion. Making those things even better is our obsession. We live with projects around the clock so our everyday activities become opportunities for discovery and inspiration for the work.
Now, if you’re like artist Joshua Davis who believes that work and play are words that actually describe the same thing, that means the world around us is just one giant, exciting playground. And that’s pretty cool.
Davis, an early pioneer in the creation of computer-generated art using Flash, was one of 28 design titans who shared their insights on play, creativity and technology at the international design conference, TYPO, which made its U.S. debut in San Francisco last week. I joined more than 600 designers from around the world for two days of talks held at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and got the opportunity to connect with the brightest in the business.
Davis was part of an impressive lineup of powerhouse speakers that included Tina Roth Eisenberg, founder of swissmiss; Khoi Vinh, the former design director at NYTimes.com and Jessica Hische, a letterer/illustrator who gained prominence in the design world through the success of her side projects such as The Daily Drop Cap. While each designer described their own unique path that got him or her to where they were today, all emphasized the significance of collaboration in the creative process. In fact, some of their most inventive work came as a result of a close collaboration with colleagues or were built on the idea of collaboration itself.
One of Eisenberg’s first collaborations was with her studio mate, Fictive Kin, and together they created the popular to-do app, TeuxDeux. Currently, her latest venture, Tattly, sells fun and modern temporary tattoos designed by the site’s community of artists. Likewise, after leaving NYT.com, Vinh developed his own creative platform—an innovative social art making app, Mixel, which allows people to create collages out of images from anywhere or remix other’s work for something entirely new. Hische, a superstar in the design world, regularly collaborates with other artists to create unique visuals for brands, editorial and even film (you can see her work in Wes Anderson’s upcoming Moonrise Kingdom). As Davis pointed out, one of the great benefits of embracing collaboration is that it helps us step away from ego and this can positively affect the quality of the end product.
Other notable TYPO presenters included Pentagram’s Michel Bierut, who said that for designers, “mistakes can be the best thing you can make.” He would know—he demonstrated how he was able to turn his own so-called mistakes into highly successful projects for Saks Fifth Avenue, The New York Times and The Yale School of Architecture.
Perhaps one of the most poignant talks came on day two from the inimitable Neville Brody. Founder of Research Studios, Brody has had a long and celebrated career. Among his many achievements was the creation of FUSE, an experimental type and design publication he started in 1991, which remains a relevant inspiration for designers.
As the current Head of the Communication Art & Design department at the Royal College of Art in London, Brody is now shaping a whole new generation of thinkers in the digital age. In response to what he sees as an increasing conformity in design today, Brody encourages his students to treat school as a laboratory for experimentation. He suggests they move beyond the easy solutions and dare the unexpected in order to innovate with a unique point of view in all the things they make now and into the future.
Photographs by Amber Gregory.