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Dori in Beijing: Commercialism Communist Style

Beijing is fascinating with its contradictions. A Chinese speaker at the conference, Zu Dake, stated that China is torn between two value systems: the authoritarianism of the pre-reform Communist China and the commercialism of contemporary China. This was made most evident when I toured the City a few days ago. While the tour took you to the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, and Summer Palace, it also took you to visit government silk, pearl, and tea shops. If you combined a Billy May's infomercial with the sense that if you don't buy something you will not be allowed to leave the country, you would understand the feeling of visiting a Chinese government shop.

They begin with a product demonstration of how silk,  fresh water pearls, and tea are made. 

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Then they escort you into the show room with your personal sales assistant, who will offer you various incentives to buy products. "The regular price is 3900 RMB, but for you I give special 40% discount, because we are friends." It's like they took a crash course in aggressive sales techniques by watching Al Pacino in Glen Garry Glen Ross. 


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When you leave the government shops, there are hawkers at the door to offer you good price on products that you could have bought inside.


Dori in Beijing, first 24 hours

After three fabulous days at the DMI conference in Boston, I am now in Beijing, China for the ICOGRADA conference. No jet lag yet, I did the wonderful thing of getting at traditional Thai massage last evening. I could feel my Yin/Yang channels opening as Nan worked my acupuncture points and aching muscles. I did not sleep at all on the flight to Beijing, but did finish reading two books: Roger Martin's The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking Is the Next Competitive Advantage, who I saw present at AIGA's National Conference the week before, and Stieg Larsson's the Girl Who Played with Fire. Both were excellent ways to spend the flight.

Travel has not been seamless, but everything has worked out in the end. The airline did not have my vegetarian meal, but I had brought snacks just in case. I had given the Hotel car pickup my wrong flight number. I gave the one from LAX to SFO instead of SFO to PEK. While the car service guys was on the phone with the Hotel, I saw my name as his sheets of names slid out of his hands and thus found him. Students and staff at the hotel are very friendly, but it is difficult to community due to language barriers.

The drive from the airport to the City was striking with all the new construction. I don't think any of the trees were more than 5-10 years old. I was surprised by how few vehicles there were on the road until we got closer to the City and the traffic increased. There seems to be a lot of  toll roads from the airport to the City.

The City itself is immerse with its high rise towers. Le Sorbusier's model cities are alive in Beijing. I have not had the opportunity to explore, but will later this afternoon.

Today, I am attending the General Assembly. Or at least the first half of it, the second half I need to take a tour of the Summer Palace. Since Educational members don't vote on Professional member agenda's, it is going to be okay to miss it. I am supposed to take a  full day tour tomorrow, but I may miss it and just take one when the Conference is in full run.

I had a great Chinese breakfast today of vegetable bun, steamed rice in bamboo, peas with picked radish, and boiled egg in tea. I thought I would try the favors of Chinese cuisine before eating the usual yogurt and cereal.

I have to go register now, so more in the evening.


AIGA Make | Think: Jill Greenberg

Jill Greenberg portraiture... did a photoshoot and decided not to do business as usual. Got a call to shoot John McCain by the Atlantic. Was dressed up to distract John McCain. The assignment was to make a heroic portrait. Did the shoot for expenses only and she owned her pictures. She made a photo of McCain saying "I am a bloodthirsty warmonger." She called photo district news to see the photographs.

She has a series of unflattering images with John Cain. I cannot believe this is how they ended the conference with this, which is so mean spirited. Even if I did not like McCain.

Post conference contemplation: I still can't believe how juvenile the presentation was. Perhaps three years ago, it would have been more resonate, but today. It took me 15 minutes to even understand what the controversy was about.


AIGA Make | Think: David Butler

David Butler, VP of Global Design at Coca Cola. Oversees 450 different brands. On average 25% of people on earth drinks one of his brands everyday. Overseen redesign of cans, etc.

Business conference are not intimidating, Design conferences are intimidating. Don't like the preciousness of design. In 1999, I opted out of "Design." Structure > Behavior > Results is what changed his mind. This is the Sapient influence. Holistic way of systems thinking changed the way he thought. Coke called in 2004. There was so much opportunity. 13 billion dollar brands: 450 total brands, 206 countries, 700K employees, 50 million retailers, 160 million customers, 68 billion dollars. How can we leverage design to double value by 2020?

He is providing a global perspective on today and tomorrow (10 years from today). World will be more complex tomorrow. Think/Do approach is how we think at Coke.

Elite to Open Source, Art and Design to Design and innovation, designing thinks to designing systems, create ideas to create value, national blogs,to national policy, lineal problems to wicked problems, the world of design to the design of the world.

It's not about me or Coca Cola, but about WE. 

Post conference contemplation: There was a major controversy about his talk because of the fact that he works for Coca Cola. There is some incongruence between the sustainable and holistic vision he presented and the company he works for. I am more ambivalent. Meaning, Coca Cola does tend to be responsive to its market and if we pressure them, they respond. I thought it was interesting that he did not say anything about Sapient, because I am sure the holistic vision of design that he has comes from that experience. Highlight of his talk was the shout out he gave to me for missing meeting me to talk about the U.S. National Design Policy Initiative.

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AIGA Make | Think: Command X Round 03 near final

Ryan, Allison, and Amina are the final three contestants. They are competing for $1000 cash, Adobe CS4. Punc't posters, iphone, type, and glory. Challenge was to make a statement about Civil Rights that would inspire other people and medium was open. Who will win?

Contestant 01 Ryan: Felt awkward as young white male. His solution was to ask more question and use viral nature of video to ask more questions. "When will we get there?" When will you look me in the eyes?" Beautiful black and white video of people asking when will people learn to see them as human. The questions is how do you incorporate history. He answers that you can tell story online as well. Inspiration was booklet from NAACP was "What are you looking for?" Black and white was mostly to cover the lighting.

Contestant 02 Allison: This was by far the most emotionally charged challenge. Civic Rights is not just a moment in mid-century African American history. Read a poem, asked God how to find enough blankets for the Selma March that was rolled up in a pocket: "the patchwork mountain of rolled-up trust." Created a message that ask you to "Take this risk." Take away says, "You can trust me." Asking you to think about what trust means and how to share it. Website of collection of things that you can trust.

Contestant 03 Amina: Was inspired and moved. civilrightsandme.org...people in here generation. This is what civil rights mean to them. Tags of issues that people care about. View images that people. To treat all human beings with respect, decency and equality. And get responses on a website.

It pisses me off that the judges didn't really address the concept that actually addressed the brief. WTF!

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AIGA Make | Think: Chuck Harrison and Ethan Bodnar

Chuck Harrison, illustrious industrial designer, recounts his life. He glosses over the difficulty of finding a job where the job was satisfactorily filled whenever he came to apply. He has traveled around the world. Last couple of years have been riding the crust of the wave, got awards from IDSA, and Cooper Hewitt. Where is life right now...education.

Challenge in education is two groups. Those who walk the walk: make good design to perform with skill and knowledge. And those who can talk the talk: those who can recognize and discuss good design, but not executive. Need to, especially ID, have balance between business, art, and science. It is important that we recognize the global shift where things are outside of the US. Lights his fire to see things in nature.

Ethan Bodnar, young designer from Connecticut. He is speaking/reading too fast to capture his thoughts. Parents were designers and marketers. Met community of designers online, then now have formal education in graphic design in college. Informal education are self initiated. Internet is significant part of his life. Book he compiled is Creative Grab Bag from artist around the world. Changes in education proposed are more history, criticism, and research; culture through liberal arts, social design for human good; informal education, and environmentally-friendly design.

This is a missed opportunity for me because could have had a real discussion about diversity in design, but structured it about age and generations in lives that actually have no connection.

Post Conference contemplation: This was my true What the Fuck!! moment in the conference. Comparing the career of Chuck Harrison to that of Ethan Bodnar was completely disrespectful to Chuck. Chuck has had to carve out an extremely successful career out of an era of racism. He could not get a job because he was black. Ethan Bodnar is a nice kid, but it is key that his Mom and Dad have given him a life of privilege as it relates to a career in design. There were no points of comparison in their careers. What most pissed me off was the disrespect shown by Kurt Andersen to Chuck. His line of questioning "everyone experiences obstacles" was a major WTF!. As long as Kurt is the host of the AIGA conference, I will never attend again. 

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AIGA Make | Think: Nick Law

Nick Law is from Australia. Was a designer in Sydney and learned how to hate advertising. Went on walkabout in England. Learned to hate advertising. Hated graphic designers because thought helvetica was a concept and made more money than he did. He is funny. Came to US and worked in Interactive with lots of men with food in their beards. Joined R/GA since 2001.

Has production company history so very good at making. Company where practice comes first and theory falls out. Then moved more into strategic thinking. Ended up in advertising more than design. The most important technology is TV, which is about ability to tell a story. They became good story teller because of format. Art director and copywriter would hand off (conceptual) story to someone else to develop. Then moved to system, which they are doing is more like designers. You generally don't have people who can do both. 

Grid X is story --- system  Grid Y is think | make. The interesting place is think system quadrant. All the quadrants are important.

Nike Plus platform is something which is a new media based on understanding of human behavior. It is a design way of thinking. Bring together runners through multiple interactive media, Human Race, is to push people into platform. Use campaign to nourish the platform. It is the interplay of advertising and design. The future is not in silos. Challenges are culture and choreography of talent.

Talked about campaign, thatsnotcool.com. a digital platform to deal with digital stalking and sexting.

He was great and funny in the Aussie way. It was good to see interactive media on the main stage.

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AIGA Make | Think: Stefan Bucher

Stefan Bucher, only designer not from New York. =)

Started with film sequence of his work. Beautiful animation of his life work that felt very Monty Python-esque

More on the make side of the man/think scale. In reality, he is much more on the think side, which is unfortunate for him because it is like being an alcoholic. Starts out as a good idea. Treats his brain like cranky hyperactive pitbull, take it to the park and wear it out. Tired out, he can tell it what to do. Why he works by himself and incorporated as 344. Company is respectibility force field for his own thought process. He can control the overhead of his company. Being debt free allows him to say no to clients he do not want and yes to projects he want. Harder to do that when you are responsible for someone's salary or someone is over him.

So many of the presentations are show and tell of designers work, which seems less inspiring for me than other conferences which seemed more about ideas and values of design. This reflects my lesser interest in the making side than the thinking side.

Stefan is discussing his Superbowl poster which is hilarious for much of the audience. =) He is a super cool nerd. Star Trek, Star Wars, Dungeons and Dragons, Team logos, binary code, etc.

Echo Park Time Travel Mark: Convenient store that serves the needs of time traveler. Mammoth Chunks. TK brand: Anti-Robert Fluend, Time-Freezy Hyper Slush. He designed store as well as all the products.

100 Days of Monsters Book. Great process of starting with a ink blot and then drawing a monster from the blot. His presentation is greatly interactive between him and the screen. 

He did a segment of monsters on The Electric Company on PBS. He makes great letter forms.

New book: The Graphic Eye of photos by graphic designers from around the world.

Stefan is very funny. There needs to be more humor in the conference.