Industrial Design Society of America’s conference collateral and environmental graphics
Industrial Design Society of America’s conference collateral and environmental graphics
Industrial Design Society of America’s conference collateral and environmental graphics
Industrial Design Society of America’s conference collateral and environmental graphics
Industrial Design Society of America’s conference collateral and environmental graphics
Industrial Design Society of America’s conference collateral and environmental graphics
Industrial Design Society of America’s conference collateral and environmental graphics
Industrial Design Society of America’s conference collateral and environmental graphics

Industrial Design Society of America’s conference collateral and environmental graphics

Ziba Design, Portland, Oregon, Dulles, Virginia, 2010


Project brief: The Industrial Designers Society of America is the nation’s premier gathering point for the men and women who create the next generation of things: cars, electronic gadgets, athletic shoes—almost anything mass-produced. For decades, the IDSA’s annual International Conference has been well attended, though typical in format. Around 600 designers gather once a year in a hotel or convention center to get inspired, exchange business cards and portfolios, talk to vendors and bestow awards.

When planning began for the 2010 IDSA Conference, it was clear that the event was losing relevance. Attendance was flat, and discussions on ID community websites complained of disparity between conference content and the changing design profession. Many creative fields suffer generational gaps, but industrial design is at a particularly volatile moment. A burgeoning DIY ethos, paired with cheap, powerful tools for small-scale design and manufacturing are changing the ways objects get created, and the expectations consumers have of them. We examine what we buy with new scrutiny and demand a deeper understanding of where it came from. Emerging communities of makers, crafters and DIY enthusiasts are creating for each other and themselves what they might once have bought.

The 2010 conference had to not only acknowledge this new reality but also address its implications for the industrial-design profession. As a nonprofit professional organization, the IDSA would have to do so on a minimal budget: $4,000 for environmental designs, $8,000 for printed collateral and $10,000 for attendee gifts. For a projected attendance of more than 600, this would require a flexible and creative approach from the design team, not only to hit the budget and schedule but also to design an experience saturated with the DIY ethic.

Approach: The conference design team was tasked with addressing this shift head on. The IDSA did its part by selecting the uniquely appropriate conference venue of Portland, Oregon, home of one of the nation’s most vibrant DIY communities. The team had to design a conference that explicitly acknowledged DIY’s influence in a thought-provoking way and took advantage of Portland’s singular culture of craft and creation.

The conference team consisted of graphic and environmental designers; production designers; a copywriter; a web designer; a creative director to ensure consistency of vision; a project manager; and a marketing director to coordinate efforts with the IDSA national board in Virginia. With only seven months to prepare, they had to define an identity for the conference that announced its new relevance, then express it through dozens of different attendee touch points.

At its core, this meant selecting, inviting and coordinating more than 30 speakers from across North America, then organizing their talks into a coherent schedule. Because of the cross-craft nature of the event, speakers were drawn from fields far beyond industrial design: chefs, musicians, glass artists, entrepreneurs, bloggers and other experts in fields significant to the DIY movement but tangent to ID. On the ground, we also had to design and execute all environmental graphics in the conference venue, printed assets such as maps, schedules and speaker guides, and conference gifts including custom-printed T-shirts and bags.

To spark interest in the conference and provide information context for attendees, we built a WordPress website and filled it with frequently updated content about speakers, events and news items. We also wrote and curated a blog exploring aspects of the conference theme for two months leading up to the conference, and used it to collect media coverage of the event afterward.

All visual assets, from web to print to environment to publicity, expressed a consistent visual language, based on low-res pixel art depicting the positive and negative potential impact of the DIY movement on the design professions. As much as possible, these assets were made to be hacked: a large “pixel wall” depicted icons using small colored boxes, which could be moved to change the picture; decorative signage was replaced with magnets and vinyl clings so that attendees could steal, move and manipulate them from day to day.

Effectiveness: The greatest indicator of success in a DIY-oriented project is when participants step up and add to the experience without being pressured or cajoled. By this metric, IDSA 2010 was an unqualified victory. One speaker opened his presentation with a live jazz band, another rolled an electric motorcycle onto the stage. Two designers in the audience brought their own seating, built by hand the day before from salvaged shipping pallets. A studio from the Bay Area showed up with hand-screen-printed posters announcing an impromptu student competition. In each case, participants cited the DIY theme of the conference as inspiration and expressed their own excitement at the opportunity to indulge in craft.

Participation from the local creative community was noticeably higher than at previous conferences, with design-driven companies such as Nike, Wieden+Kennedy, Intel and Core77 contributing speakers and hosting their own supplemental events. Media response was overwhelmingly positive, with major publications including Metropolis, Fast Company and Monocle reporting on speakers and panels and reflecting thoughtfully on the growing role of amateur and independent design. This shift from describing the event itself to commenting on its content is unusual for a professional conference, and a strong indication of the theme’s relevance and clarity.

Perhaps most encouraging were personal responses from the client organization:

“We absolutely needed this and you and your team delivered! I believe this conference will be memorable for its quality and smart approach for some time to come. We now have a new benchmark!” —Eric Anderson, IDSA president

“What an amazing job you and the team did for the conference. There were so many details from the obvious (15-foot?) robot to the new lectern, tables for the gallery, the stage carpeting, well-put-together guides of the city and so, so much more. You have done Portland proud. Many people commented on what a cool place it is. Many were there for the first time. I received a lot of great comments about the presentations and the content. Things like, ‘I can’t believe we got the mayor of Portland to be at the opening of an IDSA conference’ and ‘I learned more from that musical instrument maker than I have learned from any designer.’ The breadth of positive comments was huge. I heard a number of corporate designers comment on the fact that after the first morning of keynotes, they totally understood how DIY applied to them.” —Clive Roux, IDSA CEO One great advantage of a DIY approach is that it’s an inherently tolerant aesthetic. Sophisticated materials and treatments matter less than creativity and clever reuse, opening up a range of low-cost options. Common shop and office materials such as Fome-Cor, cardboard, binder clips and sawhorses show up in display fixtures and dimensional graphics, modified to serve their role but unabashed about their origins. Constructing the majority of the physical assets in Ziba’s own shop—often with the help of the design team to cut, paint and assemble—reduced costs further.

The low-fi aesthetic manifested in printed assets as well, including customized Scout Books as conference and city guides. Created by local printer Pinball Publishing, this standardized notebook format offered an inexpensive, sustainable alternative to the typical high-gloss attendee packet, while hewing closely to the conference theme.

Pre-conference engagement centered around the conference website. In addition to speaker and conference information, it included a blog with open comments, highlighting presenters and aspects of the conference theme and serving as a center point for social-media efforts.

After the event, discussions sparked by IDSA 2010 were more substantial than at any design conference in recent memory. In addition to major media coverage, ongoing discussion on independent blogs, discussion boards and local media channels has been thoughtful and rigorous, suggesting a conference that was more than just timely and appropriate, but open-ended enough to advance the crucial design conversation of the coming decade.

While not externally mandated, minimizing environmental impact was a priority for the conference design team. Publicity was conducted almost entirely through electronic means, and the use of repurposed shop and office materials in display systems reduced the need for custom fabrication, helping to minimize energy and material waste.

Several unusual treatments of signage and graphics helped reduce waste while amplifying the DIY theme. Schedules and posters were mounted on unfinished cardboard honeycomb, easily recycled at the end of the event. Environmental graphics printed on vinyl clings and magnets made a large visual impact in the venue with minimal material. The sketchbook, city guide and conference guide each attendee received were printed on 100-percent recycled stock, and distributed in conference-branded reusable nylon shopping bags.

Connecting the industrial-design community with the broader culture of crafters, makers and DIY enthusiasts was a primary goal of the conference. Because of this diversity, it created connections and exposed parallels between ID and other more craft-oriented pursuits. Wry commentary in publications not normally associated with industrial design (Eater, Design*Sponge, Monocle, etc.) point to an impact far beyond the normal conference crowd.

Juror Notes

The success of this program was in its ability to highlight a friction that existed within the industrial-design community—the DIY movement—bringing it to the forefront to be celebrated, discussed and reflected upon.

Collections: AIGA 365: Design Effectiveness (2011)
Repository: Denver Art Museum
Discipline: Environmental graphic design
Format: Exhibit, Artifact