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“Design in art, is a recognition of the relation between various things, various elements in the creative flux. You can't invent a design. You recognize it, in the fourth dimension. That is, with your blood and your bones, as well as with your eyes.” - David Herbert Lawrence

Five Things “Gained” From the 2008 AIGA Gain Conference

At the intersection of business and design, what innovative approaches do business and design leaders take in creating “a greater return on investment, fostering emotional connections and providing positive brand experiences for customers,” all while keeping their users/customers in mind? The AIGA Gain conference attempted to answer just that with a wide rage of presentations, from creative directors and scientists to authors and marketers. Now as I try to summarize my findings from the incredible event, I find that the things that I can take back with me are:

  1. Inspiration
  2. Insight
  3. Ideas
  4. Appreciation
  5. Slew of business cards: self explanatory, I hope


The 2008 AIGA Gain Conference had a stellar list of speakers, all of whom delivered amazing yet unique presentations. By far, the most inspirational speakers for me were Tom Kelley, general manager of IDEO, Brian Collins, chief creative officer and chairman of COLLINS and Michael Jager, founder and creative director of Jager DiPaola Kemp.

Tom Kelly is a great orator and seasoned innovation practitioner. Tom took a few moments to familiarize us with the basic concept of the “Red Queen Effect,” from Lewis Carroll’s sequel to Alice In Wonderland, Through The Looking Glass. The basic story and idea is that Alice is running on a chess board and comes to the realization that she can’t seem to move forward. The Red Queen’s response is “that in order to move ahead you need to move twice as fast.” He cited Sony and Samsung as an example and showed us a graph which demonstrated this principle.

Sony was the clear leader in the early 2000’s but because Sony slowed its pace of innovation they allowed Samsung to become the market leader.

Brian Collins, founded “Designism: Design for Social Change,” an annual forum to inspire young creative people to take active roles in social causes. His presentation focused on meta-narratives, the framework in which we tell stories that change the future.” In the 1960’s, the Russians launched Sputnik, sent a man into space, and the country became paranoid and freaked out. In 1962, “President Kennedy gave a speech to Congress in which he framed the story as: “The eyes of the world now look into space, and we choose to go to the moon.” He framed the opportunity as one of imagination, hope, and destiny. This perspective allows people to participate and creates it as not just one man going to the moon but rather, the entire country.” Fast forward to September 11, 2001. President Bush gives a speech in which he framed the story as revenge and hate. Bush then framed the opportunity to lead us into war because of fear and panic.

Michael Jager focused on the importance and complex nature of the word “collaboration” by deconstructing and dissecting the word with graphics and linguistics. Many of his points were illustrated by examining the root words within that word: “lab,” “ratio,” “rat,” and even “Borat.” The most memorable part for me was a one-man band that led the crowd in a folk song about “the collaboration nation.”


Malcolm Gladwell spoke about his forthcoming book “Outliers: The Story of Success,” which looks at where successful people are from—that is, the kinds of backgrounds, environments and cultures that produce extraordinary achievement.” He spoke of the necessity to work long and hard and that to become excellent at anything requires about 10,000 hours of work. Gladwell cited examples of Fleetwood Mac’s rise to the top of the charts with their hit album “Rumors” after 16 previous albums failures and Andrew Wiles’s solution to Fermat’s theorem after dedicating himself for 10 years, or approximately 10,000 hours. 4 hours a day for 5 day a week.

20/20 presentations This year at “Gain,” 20 designers responded to one of the following questions, from their unique perspective and in their own way, in just 60 seconds: How do design and business intersect in your practice? What is your secret to success? How have you sustained your practice in a competitive marketplace? How do you win business? What is one most important business practice you could share?


Chris Bower, Retail Strategist for Saturn & Udaya Patnaik, Principal Jump Associates spoke about “Reinventing car retail.” In trying to create an experience for Saturn and its customers Jump Associates thought of ways to make to make it relevant, empowering, simple, engaging and fun. Based on their research of Saturn’s customers, they crafted the retail experience as a theatrical plays, with a cast, costumes, sets, props and a script. Jump Associates are big believers in space and how you can make tremendous changes in behaviors by moving things around. They empowered customers by creating community tables where the dealer and customer could talk in an area that is no longer associate with a salesperson’s domain. Empowerment was extend to them playing and interacting with objects like Magnetic paint swatches to place on cars.


As the conference came to a close and I packed my bags to go to the airport I was truly grateful to be able to work in an environment that fosters innovation by allowing me to participate in such events.


Born in Africa, raised in North Carolina, and of Indian decent, I am a cultural smorgasbord. For the last 7 years, I have worked in San Francisco at agencies that focus on user centered design such as Hot Studio, Creative B'stro and Noise 13 and have had the privilege of working with clients such as eBay, NEC, Johson & Johnson, Symantec, Roku, Zone Alarm, SOMA Magazine and Mezzanine.

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