Humanity Wins: a preview of Design Week Portland 2019
Design Week Portland has ballooned into a 350-event festival since its inception in 2012.
In fact, the "week" is now a festival within a larger organization, Design Portland, which launched this year. Design Portland is an online community and membership organization for keeping up on all things design-y in the Portland area. Director Tsilli Pines, who is also head of creative at the digital agency Instrument, promises it will also be the place to track events from the likes of Creative Mornings, the American Institute of Architects and the itinerant Design Museum Portland, as well as read original D.P. content.
According to Pines, "It's a time of year when everyone can lift their head up out of their practice and see what everyone else is up to. And year after year, we get attention from people outside the design community who are just intrigued by design, especially as society is becoming more aware of the role of design and the impact a lot of the decisions that are made by people in the design field have on everyday life."
Pines is talking about more than just design thinking, which is a process for making things using research and testing phases. "There's an awareness that decisions that get made when people build products, digital or physical, really have an impact on daily life. They determine the access people have to certain things, and they can shift major world events, and now even the average lay person is aware that something is happening and that there are small numbers of people in rooms somewhere that make things happen."
She says 2018 was the year that people who are not really plugged in or tecchies started realizing that design is having a major impact on the way things are happening in the world.
She says different designers are interested in each other's work, across disciplines, such as graphic design and architecture.
"User experience is similar in those to disciplines, but the craft is very different," says Pines. Things like "customer touch points" and "customer journey" from digital design is similar to what architects think about.
"Digital designers are being asked to think in three dimensions, and a lot of the architectural best practices are starting to become more relevant in the lives of people designing in two dimensions," Pines says.
The easiest way to choose from among the events that will be held April 6-13 is to go to DesignPortland.org (members can save their itineraries). The Business Tribune looked at a few of the highlights and talked to some of the participants.
Show don't tell
What makes Portland different is people here are addressing philosophical issues about things such as machine learning and mixed reality.
"There's a lot of on-the-ground tactical thinking about what these tools can do. Apply it to a cultural or an educational or civic space," says Pines.
This year Instrument is hosting a talk show about "feels," on which Thomas Wester is talking about his and Ben Purdy's new studio Glowbox. "It's really prospecting in VR, looking for new applications that aren't in the commercial space and well-worn commercial space. So, they're partnering with cultural institutions, and with NASA, and doing data visualization through VR. There's a lot of open-minded thinking in this space in Portland, a rich space of smart and talented people trying to create projects and tools, by trying things."
Another example is on Wednesday, April 10 when Crystal Rutland, who last year talked about Empathy and Artificial Intelligence, is doing a presentation about how transportation is shifting in the new landscape of AI. Another is Open Signal, the community media nonprofit, hosting a talk called "Democratizing VR for more livable cities".
Portland's design community is now at a critical mass. There are enough people that they can come together serendipitously, have an idea, execute it and also find an audience.
Dawn Moothart, founder of Portland Apparel Lab, is putting on a mod-themed fashion show on April 12 called "A Nod to Mod: Moto-inspired Fashion." Moothart rides a periwinkle blue 2019, 150cc Vespa Primavera, the modern, automatic version of the scooter of choice of British hipsters in 1969. She met Andrew Callaci, manager of Vespa Portland, whose first machine was also a Primavera. Part of Generation Instagram, his knack has been in enticing people into the scooter showroom. Together they hatched Nod to Mod for Design Week and put the word out for drawings.
Portland Apparel Lab is a brick-and-mortar space that offers aspiring designers and seamstresses a place to use industrial sewing machines and a community.
The Mod show doesn't have to be off the wall, "just inspired by scooter culture."
Some items are accessories such as a decorated helmet, and some are clothing. "Lots of different things have come in, from lovely finished sketches to a few scribbles," says Moothart.
She herself hasn't designed anything for the show, she's been busy organizing.
"I wrangle designers in real life," she says.
Most of her designers were already familiar with Design Week. "A few of the events are really informative, but I can't imagine going to a whole week of panel discussion. I need something a little more visually engaging."
Woonwinkel is a downtown Portland store that thrives on tourists buying the cute homewares it sells: a plastic pineapple lamp, a rubber baby toy that looks like an origami boat, a $700 mirror.
Founder and owner Kristin Van Buskirk is hosting an April 8 panel discussion, "The Power of Color in Design," which will also launch a chapter of the Berkeley nonprofit Project Color Corps the in Portland.
Van Buskirk spent 23 years working in color design for Nike, but it was only after running Woonwinkel for a few years that she realized the colorful items sold best. And that re-energized her whole approach to business.
"Color is symbolic, even if we don't recognize it, the underlying connotations. What's new is that social media has made color ever more important. Our technology is dots of RGB, it's all we're looking at now. All colors look larger than life if backlit on a screen."
She says color is more important in business too, and we should embrace it.
The evening will be a talk followed by a "color activity. We'll think about the power of color and how it can impact people," she says. The point is to help designers and business people to understand and harness color, because it is so powerful.
"When we look at something, we make a judgment within 90 seconds and up to 90 percent of that assessment is based on color alone," says Van Buskirk.
Project Color Corps is about color as a change agent, usually by painting inner city neighborhoods with colors and patterns that impart positive messages of optimism and hope. Not guerrilla action, more parks and schools.
The neon "color color color" sign in the window of Woonwinkel, Van Buskirk says, is "a racy promise in a town that for so long has embraced workwear trends."
The store has one pink wall and one green wall.
"If your bottom line depends on getting a color right, hire a professional. But there are a lot of things a business can do on their own. They can use color strategically. Ultimately, color is emotional, it affects you physiologically."
It's complicated. She says academic studies have shown that sports teams in red tend to win more often than teams wearing other colors. "But exposure to red can lead to avoidance of a task.
She adds, "Many businesses use color as an afterthought. But everything — the surroundings, the logo, the website — they're all opportunities to get an instant positive association through color."
In art school she learned that in the Renaissance period, yellow was a difficult paint color to make and stabilize. It was somewhat scandalous. "Now it's accepted, and the brighter the better. Look at the volt yellow Nike used at the Olympics to contrast with the blue track. And now that construction worker yellow has become the symbol of revolution and resistance in Paris with the yellow jackets."
Van Buskirk hails Portland's creative community for being collaborative and supportive. "It's just the values that people are attracted to Portland for." For example, she collaborated with a neighbor shop, The Yo! Store on Northwest 19th Avenue, on overlap in their products and they came to an agreement about who should stock what.
"That makes for a really rich fabric of businesses here."
Walk through writing
Chacha Sands, founder of Crib Design House and the Beacon Quarterly magazine, is hosting an event on April 11 called Beacon Quarterly Presents No. 8: Nail Biter.
The idea is to make some of the magazine content like an immersive interactive experience. The event, for 300 people, features a panel on the music industry. The writers are working with designers and fabricators to bring their work to an immersive experience. "We're going beyond just a magazine. I've noticed in fashion it's more involved than looking at the clothes."
Sands says as the digital tools of design have become easier to get ahold of, there is still a need to master them, and a specific medium, to make a living. She also works with musicians to make stage shows with more than the usual lights and props. For instance, a song with a tropical vibe might need a full selection of topical plants, and even a scent machine that pumps out tropical smells. She has worked a lot with local artist Blossom, but Beyonce is the gold standard for this type of multi-sensory experience.
Vidya Spandana is an innovation consultant. Usually she works as a consultant in startups, helping them get big enough (to scale) where they can compete. In this case she is working to bring nonprofits and designers together. The U.S. Census Bureau uses nonprofits to get the word about the April 2020 census out to populations who might not normally be counted, such as indigenous people.
The April 11 Design Week event is called Creatives for the Count.
"Anybody who is making things digitally is welcome to come. It's a make-a-thon (like a hackathon). Show up with your laptop. We'll have speakers saying why the census is relevant."
So, it's the equivalent of a poster-making workshop for a protest: very hands on, very equitable.
"We want to put together some more creative, more relevant, more relatable content assets that local nonprofits can use to reach these hard to reach populations. The idea is to make something that's easy to make in three hours with a group of friends."
Assets are all the things you see on your phone — images, gifs, memes — that can bring a social media post to life.
"This is what they need. Alternatively, they have pdfs, giant documents and videos that aren't very compelling."
Portland is a test bed, because they want to see if this type of relationship building can scale across the country. The Census Open Innovation Lab is to build these partnerships. They are also launching a toolkit for designers, with a few non-profit messages, so they can make things and upload them for use around the country. "It's another way of testing out if we can scale this program."
You walk through
Karim Hassanein, who is in marketing at Bora Architects and on the board at Open Signal, the community media project that teaches people to make modern media, has helped pull together an April 9 nevent called "Democratizing VR for Livable Cities."
He and others have noticed that VR and AR tools are still mainly in the hands of the affluent, and could make a big change in the lives of people who are affected by new building developments. For instance, the public meeting at which architects gather opinions from the general public are not that accessible for people who work evenings or can't get childcare. But a VR model could not only show people what a new shopping mall or community center may look like, it could also record people's movements as they virtually walk through the space. This would be valuable data to designers.
"Open Signal is already offering courses in immersive media," Hassanein told the Business Tribune. The panelists have a big goal.
"We're hoping this will kickstart a broader consideration among designers and nonprofits about how these tools are used. We're inviting folks from the city, the planners. We're asking how can Open Signal and mixed media contribute to the design review process?"
Design Portland is wrestling with some big questions. Watching it happen in real time is one of the unique selling points of this city.
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