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Tom Fisher, Dean of the University of Minnesota College of Design introduced the half-day Disruptive Effects conference by stating that we are facing “wicked problems that engage multiple stakeholders and will require iterative solutions.” There was a time not long ago when words like these spoken at a design conference would have been considered a bit dramatic. After all, we’re just the ones who make it all look pretty, right? In fact, Fisher was setting up an afternoon of vigorous, inspiring discussions in which designers were being called on to contribute at the highest level of social discourse. Three speakers, including game design guru Jane McGonigal, IBM interaction designer Tom Erickson , and U of M researcher Nora Paul challenged the couple hundred attendees to step out of our comfort zone as we begin to envision this new role for designers.

Jane McGonigal made the most profound case for this by taking us through a simulated game that resulted in a growing list of more than 200 ideas for how a “World Without Oil” might function.

Here’s a clip of Jane McGonigal’s recent presentation at TED:

Below are my—somewhat cryptic—notes from Jane McGonigal’s. For more notes, links, and commentary, check out the very active Twitter hashtag: #disruptfx Read the rest of this entry »

Covering a remarkably diverse body of work from his decade+ design career, Peter Buchanan-Smith discussed the many personal connections and inspirations—positive and negative—at the roots of his work Tuesday evening at the Walker Art Center/AIGA Minnesota Insights lecture series. The Toronto native who currently lives and works in New York City openly discussed his recent divorce and the subsequent life transition that has fueled his current project: Best Made Co., a small design and manufacturing operation that specializes in axes. The beautifully designed and constructed objects provided a fitting backdrop—and rich metaphor—for his presentation.

Buchanan-Smith has found prominence in the design world through his work as design director for the now-defunct PAPER magazine, as well as designing the Maira Kalman-illustrated Elements of Style. He also created the brilliant Wilco Book and the resonant packaging for Wilco’s Ghost is Born CD. But it was the story of Best Made Co. that took this presentation out of the realm of the standard portfolio slide show. Partnering with his childhood buddy Graeme Cameron, Buchanan-Smith admitted to plunging into the Best Made venture with no business plan, drawing a parallel to the experience of starting a rock band, “you really need to follow that  momentum before you stop and figure out where you want it to go.”

I think there is an important lesson here for designers considering an entrepreneurial venture, and it ties into the discussion of business planning that has been an ongoing theme of this blog. Yes, there is a time when serious planning is critical, but it’s also important not to interrupt that surge of creativity and energy that happens at the onset of any business idea.

As Buchanan-Smith told the almost-full house at the Walker, “the axes are flying out the door.”

Incidentally, the Walker does a great job of sharing all of their content, and this lecture will be posted to their design page soon. Check here to view all of the Insights lectures.

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