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conversations on design

Updated: Jun 15, 2019

This afternoon I attended a really interesting lecture, Conversations on Design, where I listened to the stories and advice of Stuart Wells, Nicole Crentsil and Henrietta Thompson. As all of them are NTU graduates, I already felt connected to them as they were all once in my shoes in the past. However, it was the advice they all gave which made me feel most inspired and excited to get stuck in and more involved in my projects.

Stuart spoke first; I was really interested to find out that he was part of some of the most memorable adverts from my childhood, specifically the Snickers TV advertisements with Mr. T such as this one:

In my memories these adverts were really funny, but as Stuart said, adverts like this just aren't relevant now: they don't fit with the changes in attitudes of sexism, male mental health and 'manliness'- I'm quite sure that if these adverts were brought out now, there would be a much bigger backlash against them. Stuart described how in advertising the key is to understand the culture of the time, and therefore the opinions of the audience and what is appropriate to them. This definitely struck a chord with me and reminded me to go back in my current project and think about whether my visual communication and style is appropriate for the audience it is meant for (I think I need to make a few adjustments). Stuart also described the project he led for Nokia: push snowboarding. It utilised Nokia's N8 phone as a way to record snowboarding statistics like speed and the user's heart rate. Although I'm not really interested in sport, I found this project really inspiring as it showed me that marketing and advertising isn't always just a tv or social media advert; it can in fact become a whole project leading to developing new technologies and targeting really niche audiences, allowing you to have more fun and a wider overall experience that isn't the traditional image of design or marketing. Now, Stuart heads up the marketing of Adidas's outdoor range, Terrex, with his latest project being a collaboration with Diplo:

Stuart described how the collaboration came about: he and his team were trying to come up with a way to connect with their audience that wasn't solely about hiking. Clearly, only people interested in hiking would also be interested in these hiking trainers- but what else may the audience be interested in? And how could the two interests connect? Stuart described how someone in his team had seen Diplo posting about hiking on social media- this was the connection they needed. A figure who is very well known for his work in the music industry, particularly on social media, with the interest their product is based on. I loved how casually Stuart mentioned the decision to include Diplo in the campaign- this, I think, is one of the massive advantages to working for such a big brand like Adidas- involving figures like this is much easier than it would be for smaller agencies or brands. It was incredibly inspiring to see someone originally from NTU go forward and work on such large projects like this. Stuart's main piece of advice for us was to be confident, network and push yourself even through difficult times. It was especially inspiring to hear how he bounced back from the sudden end of his push snowboarding project and ended up in a better position because of it.

Next to speak was Nicole. She was incredibly inspiring right off the bat due to the multi faceted nature of her work. When describing what she does, Nicole had a list about as long as my arm, though she is best known for setting up the Black Girl Fest in London. Nicole described how since graduating a few years ago she has achieved a lot: from working at Dezeen magazine (which she described as a really surreal experience, working and talking to the people who inspired her during university), to curating exhibitions, managing in branding and e-commerce, and now developing her own yearly festival with her best friend Paula. Black Girl Fest is the first UK festival to celebrate black women, and has received a lot of coverage from news outlets and large organisations.

Originally an idea wished about over a phone call and then dismissed, the women were really excited when a venue offered to hold the festival when in talks with Nicole over a different project. Nicole then described how they organised and held the first Black Girl Fest in 2017 over the course of 7 weeks. This sounded absolutely crazy to me, and made me realise how much more I could achieve in short spaces of time. It proved what you can do when you work harder and push your ideas further, even if they seem completely impossible at first. Something which really struck a chord with me was when Nicole spoke about her experiences during university; how, on a Product Design course, she felt a little different to other students- she felt that she wouldn't actually be just a product designer, or even a product designer at all. Other students on her course knew the direction they were going in, whereas Nicole felt that she wanted to do something more. Often becoming bored, by pursuing so many creative paths she feels fulfilled while gaining more experiences and networking within many different circles. During her talk, Nicole explained how skills learned during a degree course are often transferrable, allowing you to have a lot of doors open; and that we as students shouldn't feel pressured to stick to the realms of our courses after graduation. This really helped my own personal anxieties and confusion over what career path I'd like to choose in the future, as there are a lot of things I enjoy doing and would like to continue doing: editorial and book design, illustration, character and game design, animation and motion graphics- which is sometimes a bit overwhelming. Nicole's talk helped me to see that I could do all of those things with my degree, and that if I think I could do something I should definitely have a crack at it.

Last to speak was Henrietta. She spoke about her experiences in journalism, writing and editing for Wallpaper* magazine, setting up her own company, and then going on to pursue her own platform named Harth. She described how she managed to work her way up from writing about fashion in OK Magazine to becoming editor at large for Wallpaper*. She also gave some really great advice: don't blag. Often it just leads to embarrassing stories (such as when she pretended to know everything about fighter jets when working for an engineering magazine, when she in fact knew nothing)- and people will respect you much more if you admit that you don't actually know all the answers. She also described some feelings that are really relatable for me: feeling the pressure to contribute something useful. She described this experience in a Wallpaper* meeting about a piece on China; she suggested wallpapering over the Great Wall of China, to which the editor said "make it happen". So sometimes, ideas created under pressure do work. Henrietta's current venture is the Harth platform:

It's based on the core idea of renting furniture, particularly designer or statement art pieces to and from other people. This was a concept which sounded really interesting yet difficult to actually implement, but the platform is already in its beta stage with 500 members. This was really inspiring to me as again, Henrietta isn't defining herself by what she is already known for; instead, she's taking a leap to something totally different, which is so admirable. The speakers gave advice on how this can actually be an advantage- as someone with other (but related) skills, often times this allows them to have unique viewpoints that others may not see.

Something which all of the speakers shared was a clear self confidence and ability to see the potential in new ideas that other people may not agree with; which takes a lot of resilience. I definitely aspire to having the same level of confidence and hope that as I gain more experience, it will come over time. Overall, I loved the Conversations on Design talk; it was very engaging, useful and inspiring, giving me a new perspective on my own direction. I hope there are more of these talks in the future, as I will definitely be attending!

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