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Bethany Schreck

AIGA, The Professional Association for Design, welcomed professionals from all backgrounds to New York City for their biannual Gain conference. This year’s theme was “Design (Re)invents” and the program focused on the relationship between business and design. I felt blessed to be in the presence and have the opportunity to interact with and listen to some of the countries most accomplished and strategic innovators on sustainability, branding, technology, philanthropy and beyond.

There were three overlapping and golden insights I gained while in New York City. They have helped to reinvent my own theories on the power of design and will further enhance my actions as a young designer.

Lift “The Veil of Indifference”: Jeffrey Seller presented this term in a lecture about the campaign for the revival of West Side Story. It struck me with great force. We live in an oversaturated environment—not in the amount of communications, but in the amount that look identical. Curt Schreiber, the creative servicer for IBM, discussed how “safe” design cripples progress. A company’s brand—their very character—must be articulated with confidence. In attempts to remain familiar or sustain loyalty, organizations will often preserve their tired look or merely change to what is “mainstream.” Milton Glaser, an American master of design, agrees that both history and society, past and present, are fine raw materials from which to draw inspiration. What is raw, however, must be cut, spiced, cooked and uniquely repositioned in a context that moves beyond bland and intrigues an audience to truly taste. Indifference can be but a thin barrier if you push forth to empathetically connect with and stir your viewers.

Ideas need to get at a goal: Jonathan Harris, an extraordinary mixture of a computer scientist and artist, noted that our culture is obsessed with ideas. They are essential and often profitable—ideas are advertised as many brand’s main offerings. However, he stressed that ideas need to get at a goal, or they remain intangible thoughts.

Robert Hammond, a citizen of West Manhattan, had the idea of converting The High Line, an abandoned elevated rail, into a public park. His design efforts and collected support has led to the creation of the most “highly praised green spaces in the world.” Harris advised us as the design community, to prototype, to improve upon initial visions and to look past the sexiness of an idea so as to confirm if it accomplishes anything. He advised us as people to make bettering others and their lives our goal.

Move beyond creating “things” and do begin orchestrating experiences: This directive has been a building block for beginning my senior capstone project. My belief that designers must be curators of interactions more so than makers of objects was strongly confirmed at Gain. The quality of the experience around selecting an object or finding information is what measures true success. The Client, Willy Wong of NYC & Company, and the Creative, Jake Barton of the firm Local Projects, discussed the strategy behind the new NYC Information center. The center was once a “bat cave” of disposable brochures, and the identified flaw of this set-up was that it did not allow visitors to explore their options. They were confined paper brochures that did not build for them an enticing itinerary without much time and effort on their part.

The solution was a clean and visible structure, and inside were a series of tables with screens as the tabletops. The technology was developed so that the screens showcased an interactive and moving map of the city. The tables held disks that one could use as a remote to pick and pull venues, and then catalogue them. Visitors could then print or save the list electronically as a formal and personalized guide to New York City’s offerings. The Information Center has received rave reviews and an increase in patrons. The design solution championed the core idea of the NYC brand—New York holds a story that belongs to everyone. When orchestrating an experience, you are not only considering the form, function and meaning of the space or the resources being used, but also how they affect and impact socialization and each individual’s participation. A designer must remember that an item is only as valuable as the response of he who uses it. Empathy and a heightened consideration of people are the concluding factors of this third and final insight.

The Gain conference was a phenomenal experience, and it provided exceptional evidence that not only is design a partner to business, but a bettering agent to life. As a senior, I am inspired to not only to better understand my chosen profession, but also to recognize it as a true opportunity for me to impact the world.

Bethany Schreck
Senior advertising design major from Bethel Park, Pennsylvania