FUSE 2011 Day Three: Randomness and Themes

The third and final day of FUSE is now a memory, but today didn't seem to have a theme. Or rather, a single theme. Today was indeed the hodgepodge day.

Listeners at this morning's sessions might have been confused about which conference they were attending. To begin, we heard from Luke Williams of Frog Design, on how we can disrupt existing markets, rather than just innovate incrementally with subtle changes. Our next few speakers would seem very unlikely to attend the same conference, let alone to present in sequence. Jochen Eisenbrand showed us some of the many interesting artists working in Europe on eye-opening projects and exhibits. I don't think he even mentioned the word "brand" once. Doogie Horner reminded us how light-hearted our profession can be in his creation of the book "Everything Explained Through Flowcharts." Following him, Ian Schrager shared the insight of his many years about his work — and philosophy — working in the hotel sector. So why not end the morning with Jonathan Harris, who bills himself as an Anthropologist, but who I would sooner describe as a camera-wielding wanderer.

The theme, therefore, was randomness. Bringing together seemingly unrelated or disconnected concepts and disciplines is important to continual growth. It helps us empathize with our clients and connect with our audiences. I would argue that being multidimensional and thinking laterally is more important than the ability to drill super-deep, or to master the obscure, so I welcome the randomness.

The afternoon sessions seemed to be a series of case studies. I always find these of great interest because there is always something to be borrowed. If not the overall process, we can learn from the mistake made, be alerted to new pitfalls, consider channels or outlets we wouldn't otherwise explore, and find new inspiration in our own practice. And who doesn't love a bit of show and tell for a cool project. The theme of the afternoon's case studies appear to be the need for collective research. Designer can't simply dive into their sketchbooks and emerge with something 'cool', we've got to look wider, see what's out there in the world, delve into the past, question cultural relevance, and synthesize everything we find. The result, we hope is likewise 'cool'.

There were a few recurring themes for the conference as a whole which I would not mind adopting in the slightest. There is an apparent discontent (or perhaps a disconnect) with the hotel industry. Yes, I appreciate the irony that the entire conference took place in a traditional hotel, but everyone was talking about how to fix it, how these big brands which have been operating essentially in the same manner for 40+ years can connect with travelers. It's pretty easy to be better, just do the opposite of everything you see around you.

Boldness is another over-arching theme. Not merely in the actual design of artifacts, but in how we position a brand and how we communicate. Respect these days is earned by big moves, not by waffling between indistinguishable options. And yet somehow the boldest moves are also the simplest, committed by brands having the courage to go against the decades-old instinct to evolve very slowly. Forget about adding tail-fins to this year's model, it's time to build the jet-pack. Y'know what I mean.

So as we retire to our native cities and back to our offices and business-as-usual, we must be mindful of this year's themes. Think beyond traditional design, even to science and medicine. Look for inspiration in everyday things and the small adventures we all take part in. Dig deep for meaning in our research, don't just go for this year's trend. Be bold, above all. Be smart, be simple, and destroy your existing models. Courage gets noticed, following doesn't. It will be interesting to see what progress we can make next year. Who will bring stories of battles won and minds changed? Who will have a case study of a new course being charted? Who will be able to say, honestly, they are smarter than a year ago?

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