IDSA 2010 International Conference – DIY Design: Threat or Opportunity?
Ziba’s founder and president, Sohrab Vossoughi, was asked to chair the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) International Conference in 2010. In order to design the total experience, Ziba committed to defining the theme, and planning and implementing every detail of the conference including the website, speakers, parties, conference swag, physical environment and all touchpoints in between.
The Ziba team was tasked with creating an event relevant to the current generation of Industrial Designers, to attract strong attendance and reinforce IDSA’s role as the premier organization within the industry.
How did The Industrial Designers Society of America initially reach out to you?
Sohrab has been a thought leader in the industrial design (ID) industry for years, and IDSA’s executive director asked him to host the 2010 conference three years in advance. He agreed to host the conference and donate Ziba’s services pro-bono.
When IDSA selected Portland as the conference host city, Ziba was quick to propose DIY Design as a theme. The Portland Hilton was booked, and we began assembling a multi-disciplinary design team to help with the planning. Ziba’s home base of Portland, Oregon boasts one of the nation’s most active DIY communities, so it made a natural venue for hosting the IDSA 2010 Conference, and exploring this upheaval.
How did you (your team) approach the creative process?
We identified the overarching goal of a successful conference very early on, and also ensured that every decision we made was relevant to an Industrial Designer. We were very fortunate to have a large group of our target user sitting in our building and we checked in with them often! We also made sure that we stayed focused. IDSA had a list of “must have” touchpoints that we knew we had to do really well (website, speaker selection, relevant theme, engaging environment, parties, swag) and anything else we are able to do, given our allotted resources, was icing on the cake. We also stayed true to Portland and focused on the theme of DIY Design. Every element had a DIY and/or Portland angle.
What was your inspiration?
Design conferences typically center on a series of high-profile designers presenting their latest, most inspirational work, but we realized that the 2010 conference would have to be different to be relevant. What we envisioned instead was a cross-craft discussion: a speaking schedule designed to bring together a more diverse spectrum of creators than ever before, from formally trained designers to garage-based entrepreneurs and artists from far outside the ID community. Not only would the discussion be new, but every touchpoint of the conference had to reflect this shift. The end result needed to celebrate Portland, celebrate the surge of modern invention, and resonate powerfully with young designers in a rapidly changing field.
Can you briefly describe how the user would interact with each element?
The DIY imperative of using familiar objects in creative ways drove the design, resulting in a lo-fi/high-design tension that permeated the conference venue. Wherever we could, we designed assets and signage that encouraged attendees to modify them. At its simplest, this meant graphics that were obviously temporary, from magnetic decorations on the escalators to vinyl clings on the framed artwork of the conference center. At its most elaborate, it meant an 8? × 60? Pixel Wall made of painted boxes slotted into a Fome-Cor grid, forming custom icons depicting the “threat” and “opportunity” aspects of the DIY resurgence. In the months before the conference, we hinted at this hackability by building opportunities for customization into the publicity initiatives and website. The “Participate” section on the conference microsite included a downloadable file of assets for creating custom posters, a gallery of DIY project images driven by an open Flickr group, and a “Mad Libs”-style letter that readers could download, complete and submit to their managers to ask permission to attend the conference.
What were the challenges with the project and how did you overcome them?
When planning began for the 2010 IDSA Conference, it was clear that these annual events were starting to lose relevance. Attendance was flat and online discussions pointed to a disparity between conference content and the changing realities of the design profession. As an organization, IDSA was also losing relevance and needed a strong conference experience to reconnect with their membership.
Budget was also a big challenge. Though Ziba donated design and project management services, IDSA had a fairly small budget to get physical items produced. The DIY Design theme helped us design great solutions that were inexpensive to produce and more impactful than many spendy alternatives.
As designers, we were also our own worst enemy. There were so many touchpoints that we wanted to control for a total conference experience, but the reality of any project is there is only so much you can do and still stay within scope, so it was a good constraint and a challenge for our team to stay focused.
What are you most satisfied with about the project?
We were most proud of the attendance we helped IDSA attract, the inspiring speakers we were able to book, and the team’s amazing ability to ensure that each part of the total experience was relevant to the theme of DIY Design, Portland and our ID target user.
Was the project effective and how?
The success of the conference can be measured by its reach, which was considerable. True to their design intent, the conference graphics and assets were tweaked and repurposed by attendees from the very first day. Magnets showed up on cars parked outside, and pixels migrated across the Pixel Wall, distorting the icons. Attending firms and individuals seized upon the DIY theme and brought their own contributions. Lunar Design arrived from the Bay Area with entry forms for an impromptu design competition that they designed and screenprinted themselves. Wieden + Kennedy featured local independent food vendors at its IDSA rooftop party, serving from hand-built plywood replicas of their carts down on the street. A visiting furniture designer carted homemade lounge chairs built from shipping pallets into the main ballroom, inviting attendees to use them instead of the provided seating.
More importantly, the discussions sparked by the conference, both intentional and incidental, were more substantial than at any conference in recent memory. Reactions from Metropolis, Fast Company, Monocle and other publications were overwhelmingly positive, reporting not just on speakers and panels, but reflecting on the growing role of amateur and independent design in the professional world. More broadly, the ongoing discussion on independent blogs, discussion boards and local media channels has been rigorous, suggesting a conference that was timely, appropriate and open-ended enough to advance the crucial design conversation of the next decade.
Why are you a member of AIGA Portland?
Ziba feels a great responsibility to not only belong to AIGA, but also give back to the organization at a local and national level whenever we can. AIGA is an organization that remains relevant to the challenges and opportunities that today’s designers face, and certainly a brand that Ziba appreciates being associated with.
Credit (other people/roles):
Creative Director, Industrial Designer – Paul Backett
Art Director, Lead Designer – Jessica Vollendorf
Communication Designer – Heather Cummings
Environments Designer – Jeremy Webber
Interaction Designer – AJ Austinson
Writer – Carl Alviani
Production Designer – CJ DeWaal
Model Makers, Installation Team – Bruce Willey, Paul Petri
Project Manager – Julia Carpenter
Communication Design Director – Chelsea Vandiver
Ziba Founder and President, IDSA 2010 Conference Chair – Sohrab Vossoughi