Delightful Americana on display
Persistence pays off! Months of angling to score a trip to the USA, and I line up three weeks in Miami and Texas, with brief stops in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Miami was host to this year’s annual IDSA conference – a meeting of minds and bodies from the Industrial Design Society of America. I expected great things – the finest brains in the industry, a broad cross-section of consultancies, in-housers and orbiting services, and five days in one of the most cosmopolitan style-spots in the Americas. The scene was set for some challenging debate about the future of the industry, questions around our changing roles as creative thinkers, and reflection on some of the global macro-trends shaping the planet.
But before all that, a brief Architectural interlude:
In order to at least slightly offset some of the crushing 12-hour jetlag, I arrived a day early, and set about taking in as much of the delightful Art-Deco district as possible. In their infinite wisdom, the area narrowly escaped complete destruction in the 80s at the hands of imaginative hotel developers, and we are today left with a superb slice of kitsch Americana that cannot fail to warm the soul in its bright hopefulness.
Add into the mix a large Latino population (fronted by our own Cuban-Miamian, Pedro), large quantities of aerospace-grade silicon, 22-inch rimmed cruisers and loud loud music … and you have yourself a rather efficient distraction from the more mundane activities at the conference.
I did also see the place in the daytime, honest.
Several of the hotels kept classic cars on-hand to tempt gullible photographers into stopping for over-priced coffees. Which, worked just great.
Heydays in the sun
There were new Camaros and Mustangs everywhere, but none of them challenges the considered delicacy of the original, if you ask me. The new ones just seem like they were designed as toys, and scaled up accordingly, which may have been true.
The style extends to the interior of the local restaurants, which in many cases seem untouched from the 50s.
But enough of the tourist attractions – back to the conference, and some man-sized debate about … oh … everyone is by the pool?
A theme emerges. Perhaps different from the one envisaged by the organisers.
Friday night Ocean Drive showmanship.
In the first days of the conference, I endeavoured to attend as many sessions as I could, constructing a buffet of strategy, techniques and more out-there subjects like how the Human Genome Project could effect design. I have to say, however, that I had a sinking realisation that the sessions were not as meaty as I was expecting, and that in actual fact, the people that I wanted to meet, and the people that I wanted to spend more time with were all creating their own buffet, and only dipping into the sessions that most piqued their interest.
And indeed, the most memorable events were those extra-curricular activities that had Pedro leading us a merry- dance through the back streets of Miami, ending up one night at a most delightful little bistro in Little Haiti. A Jamaican restaurant. Run by a pair of Indians. Cooking Indian-Jamaican fusion food out the back of a local store; complete with riot screen, security cameras and cans of Red Stripe to wash it down with.
Roti + Jerk Chicken = Yum
Washed down with some delicious glucose-delivery syrups
The tips jar was in no danger of walking off
Pedro bonds with the locals
Time to leave.
So what of the conference? I went expecting to professionally broaden my mind. For that, I was disappointed. The dialogue I expected to see – the rise of China, commoditisation of design, the role user-interface and software design, the notions around Design Thinking – simply were not successfully addressed; at least in the main sessions. There was a faint whiff in the air of self-congratulatory 1980s excess, and a blissful ignorance of the realities that face our profession. John Kolko of Frog Design pretty much nailed it in his article “End of an Era”, which sums up many of my own thoughts. You have to take it with a grain of salt – if there is one thing Frog seems able to do, it is talk the big talk. Indeed, Frog, Smart, Ideo and others are positioning themselves ‘above’ basic ID, and aligning themselves alongside the Andersons and McKinseys of the world, which I am not totally convinced by yet. I find it interesting that the ‘conversation’ that is driving ID is one of business, rather than a more philosophical skew, as-per architecture.
Above and beyond this, however, I met up with colleagues and old friends, made new friends and contacts, and took away some great memories.