When in doubt, doubt everything: Semi Permanent 2016
I was lucky enough to attend the Semi Permanent design conference in Auckland last weekend. Thanks Timely! I'm leaking from the ears with all the new things I've learned, and buzzing with excitement.
I’ve never been to a design conference before, and as a writer, I was a little worried about the workshops and talks going over my head. My artistic skills are limited, to put it politely. But I came away from Semi Permanent 2016 with a completely different perspective on design, on content, on Timely, on my whole life. You can’t ask for much more than that from a weekend of professional development!
Plus, I got to participate in a pheromone speed-dating experiment courtesy of Bompas & Parr, which is not a sentence I ever thought I’d type. The photo below is from before smelling 15 armpits.
There is no after photo.
Although there wasn’t an official theme or topic for Semi Permanent, a very strong thread emerged throughout all the speakers, workshops and seminars: doubt. Tea Uglow of Google Creative Labs was the first speaker to put a name to it, but almost every single person touched on the importance of questioning, doubting, pushing further, not taking anything for granted.
As creatives – whether you’re a designer, a writer, a stylist, an artist – our job is to push the boundaries by questioning what people tell us. Are we doing something because it’s really what we want to do, or because we’ve always done it that way?
Does your client really want blonde highlights, or was she just told by someone years ago that it would suit her and she’s never considered anything else?
It’s hard to encompass everything about Semi Permanent without writing 10,000 words or just writing “amazing” “so good” and “omg” over and over. So I’ve selected a few treasures from some of the speakers to share with you.
I hope you find some inspiration to take back to your day.
Super Nature, Interactive Public Art
Why do you pick up a stone at a beach? You just like it, you’re not analyzing.
This was a fantastic way to start the seminars. Super Nature’s work isn’t close to anything that Timely does, but the guiding principle Yeoh Guan Hong shared with us was that we like what we like. You can’t rationalize a human into liking something; you have to do the best work you can and let their gut reactions guide them.
Andy Stevens, Politics of Design
Ask your client: why do you want to change? Without a reason or a goal, you’ll just end up going in circles.
Andy, one of the founders of Graphic Thought Facility, spoke about working with clients and managing expectations in creative situations, something that many of us have encountered. He touched on the importance of figuring out what the client really wants, and not just settling for what they say they want. Often, if you ask enough questions, the conversation turns into a very different one.
Cleo Wade, Getting Good at Love
What makes you feel best? Choose that every day.
Cleo read one of her poems at an event hosted by Women’s Collective and had the room in tears by the end. She and Damaris of Coco’s Cantina led an intimate, hilarious and beautiful conversation about life and love and trying to make yourself better. Not better than anyone else, but better than you were yesterday. I was so hooked that I didn’t take many notes, but it’s all seared into my brain!
I loved the idea of asking yourself why. Why are you doing the things you’re doing? Are you being kind to yourself, to others? Instead of beating yourself up, ask “Okay. And?” every time you say something cruel to yourself.
“I keep dating the wrong people.”
We so often don’t give ourselves room to grow and fail and learn and get better. Cleo’s talks made me want to ‘design my best self’, which means getting to know myself and taking care of myself.
Paul Stafford, Working with the World Watching
There’s always the shock of the new. Be prepared.
I came away from this talk strangely comforted. Paul and his company DesignStudio redesigned the AirBnB logo and the Premier League logo and got a lot of flack for both. He said that sometimes, you just have to weather the storm and wait until people get used to the new thing you’re offering.
Although I doubt I’ll ever have to deal with that kind of global backlash (fingers crossed), it was a good reminder to stand firm for what you believe. If you’ve put in the research and done due diligence, let your work speak for itself. Always a timely reminder for a creative.
Tea Uglow, The Joy of Doubt
Doubt is the heart of enquiry; enquiry is the start of creativity.
Although Tea, the Creative Director of Google Creative Labs in Sydney, called herself “a karaoke physicist”, I might call her a tech philosopher. Her talk made me feel like I was back in University, but in the best possible way!
Doubt has been at the heart of all advances in our civilization, whether in technology, science or design. If you find yourself in a weird, uncomfortable, uncertain place in your life, take heart! 1) We’ve all been there and 2) Those moments are the ones that set you up to progress and change.
Peter Briggs, The Future of Business
Your only competitive advantage is your team culture.
This really resonated with Dave and me as fans of the #timelylife. Business culture is slowly shifting, and companies who don’t recognize that will be less and less able to attract talent. If you offer a similar salary and job description as your competitor, how are you going to get and retain awesome staff? You have to be awesome. You have to make work an awesome place to be.
Cecelia Herbert, The Future of Business
As the Diversity and Inclusion Manager at Google, Cecelia brought a very different (and 100% necessary) perspective to the conversation. Of course, I fully believe in the importance of diversity in the workplace, but her talk made me realize that diversity in and of itself is not enough.
It’s not who is on your team that really counts, it’s how they interact with each other. Do they feel safe to be vulnerable in front of each other?
If you’re hiring a diverse staff without breaking down the barriers and making them feel safe and valued, you’re not doing the work and you won’t see the results.
Mimi Gilmour, Burger Burger
Business is personal. You put your heart and soul into it, why wouldn’t it be?
Mimi’s talk about her journey from uninterested student to successful restauranteur and businesswoman was a great insight into the struggles (and joys) of being an entrepreneur. And as she said at the end of her talk, why shouldn’t she take business personally? She pours her everything into her business, and she believes (as does Timely) that a job should be something that respects your personal life and allows you freedom to grow, learn and create.
Maria Scileppi, 72U
Conquer fear by embracing change.
Maria’s talk had so many takeaways that I nearly couldn’t keep up writing. She told us about her professional and personal journey, from New York to Chicago to Los Angeles, from creative director to full-time artist to Founding Director of 72U. She pretty much gave us the recipe for a successful life. (Which I will be sharing with you in a future blog post – it’s too good to keep to myself!)
She emphasized the fact that every day is a choice, and not making a choice is also a choice. We wake up every morning and choose to stay in our jobs instead of quitting and finding a new one. We choose to stay where we are every day. And if you acknowledge that fact, then you’ll start looking a lot more closely at what you choose (or choose not) to do.
Duncan Shand, The Future of Content
Authenticity is everything; without it, nothing works. With it, even mistakes are fixable.
Honestly, pretty much everyone could use this reminder. This applies to literally every form of communication. We’re all humans and we just want to feel connected with the world; the more honest and vulnerable you are, the more people will want to listen to your message and invite you into their world.
Your content (whether it’s a blog, a social media post, or an email) should make people happy they gave you time out of their day.
Wesley Grubbs, Pitch Interactive
Focus on the journey, not the summit. If you don’t succeed in your goal but learned something from the process, then it’s still valuable.
Wes is the founder of Pitch Interactive, a data visualization company. As a words gal, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get much from his talk. Boy, was I wrong. His above quote was another one of the themes of Semi Permanent – the idea that learning is the most important thing we can do.
Defining success as “lots of money” or “finishing the project” overlooks everything you gain from screwing up.
Be kind to your creativity
Aside from the professional (and personal) insights from the conference, I was reminded of how important it is to nurture our creative brains.
Creativity doesn’t come from nowhere. It comes from us, from our minds and our bodies, and we need to remember to take care of ourselves. Timely is all about that self-care life, but it can be easy to forget when there’s always just one more thing to get done.
I encourage everyone to think about professional development and creative down-time not as a luxury, but a necessity. Getting outside of your daily life and your own brain is marvellous. Talking to others in our industry gave me a wider perspective and made me so hyped up to get back to Timely and infuse everyone with my new energy. (Get ready, team!)
Go to conferences and Expos if you can, and if you can’t, try meeting up with business people in your city. Meet up for coffee once a month and talk about what you love about your jobs, what you hate, and how you can change.
It reminded us why we love what we do. It made us even more excited about what we do.