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Mike Madsen

We arrived in New York City on Thursday afternoon. After checking into our hotel, we ate dinner at one of New York’s most famous pizzerias and then went to the Museum of Arts & Design to see a special exhibit called Dead or Alive. (The identity for the museum was designed by Michael Beirut of Pentagram.)

The conference began the next day around 7a.m. with a continental breakfast and networking. The first speaker was John Maeda, the president of RISD, the Rhode Island School of Design. It was interesting to hear him speak of comparing his experience of leading a major art and design school to a large art installation. He also said that people don’t fail enough, that failure is integral to learning, and that it is unfortunate that it is so commonly viewed as a weakness.

Next was a group of industrial designers called New Deal Design. Their most daring concept was to create LED road solar panels that automatically direct traffic. Cars, upon entering the city limits, would switch to automatic control, thus allowing them to drive in close-knit “packs” and decrease traffic congestion. The sidewalks and roads would contract and expand to allow for pedestrian traffic.

Another enticing speech came from Robert Hammond of Friends of the High Line. They were a group of concerned citizens of New York that tried to preserve the High Line, a historic railway in the city that had fallen into disrepair and was about to be torn down. (Paula Scher from Pentagram designed the identity.)

The best speaker on Friday was probably Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa, the creator of a comic series called The 99 to rival the Marvel franchise in the West. There were 99 heroes, and each had a power to only help others. At the end of the evening there was a reception and networking opportunities.

The next day started with the opening speaker Erica Eden. She was one of the co-founders of Femme Den, a group seeking to effectively market to the female market but to resist common stereotypes in typical “girl design.”

The best speaker of the entire conference spoke on Saturday—Jonathan Harris. He is a programmer/information designer/artist and all-around technical and visual savant. He spoke of the limits our technology puts on our thought process and on our humanity. He explained a project about dating websites that he created for the MoMA, and showed how the search for a mate was often synonymous with the search for identity. He was trying to search for an internet space that truly connected people instead of creating more distance.

Also on Saturday, Soraya Darabi spoke. She was the head of Foodspotting, a food design business. She was not a cook or a restaurant designer, but designed “food environments” and the form the food took. One of her most noteworthy projects was a “reverse tablecloth” that acted as a curtain, obscuring all but the head and hands of those sitting at the table. The dishes were arranged so that people were encouraged to share and communicate, in order to rectify a strange eating situation.

The last speaker was Australian advertiser David Droga, head of advertising firm, Droga 5. He showcased his provocative and creative campaigns, one of which was a fake video of Marc Ecko tagging Air Force One.

The conference closed with a celebration and tour at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. The exhibit “National Design Triennial: Why Design Now?” presented the most innovative designs at the center of contemporary culture.

Mike Madsen
Senior graphic design major from Coshocton, Ohio