If you think of Harley Davidson, no doubt the first images that leap to mind are of bikes, blokes, beers and bust-ups. It’s hard to believe that this iconic brand was on the brink of disaster some 20 years ago, when it had, not unlike some of its nastier followers over the years, seemingly lost its way. So it was a delight to hear the man responsible for bringing the brand back to its former glory, Dana Arnett, begin the 2012 agideas conference with the revealing statement, “form follows emotion”. Only someone like Dana, who was obsessive about the brand growing up as a teenager, could bring the level of commitment needed to reinvigorate the brand and give ownership back to the millions of people who cared for it just as much as himself.
It was a fitting start to what was to be another successful and inspiring gathering of the now 21 year old Melbourne conference. Initially designed as a platform for sharing ideas and aimed primarily at students, the agideas conference has grown from its modest beginnings to a conference of over nearly five thousand participants from around the globe, with an international cast of speakers from the very famous to the not-so-well-known. The juxtaposition of a giant like Art Paul (made famous for his role in the conception and art direction of Playboy magazine) with the likes of relatively unknown Australian furniture maker Ross Didier, made for an all encompassing, all engrossing saturation of inspiration.
Highlights included Australian illustrator Shaun Tan, Canadian designer David Berman, London studio MadeThought, South African Illustrator Ree Treweer, and graphic designer Marain Bantjes.
I was fortunate enough to meet many of these speakers, including Alex Stitt, best known for his ‘Life, Be in it’ illustrations of the late 1970’s, the incomparable Ken Cato, David Berman, silversmith Johannes Kuhnen, and Marita Leuver to name a few. This networking aspect of the conference is always the most memorable, particularly due to the fact that the chosen speakers rarely smack of industry royalty, and are willing to share their insights and stories with those who seek them out.
Following in a similarly open and inviting vein was the studio access night, whereby I had the opportunity to visit Cato Purnell Partners and spend an evening speaking with designers and creative directors who were as interested in de.co’s work as I was in theirs. A few beers and pizza’s later, and some colleagues were being granted 9am interviews the very next day!
Not all was smooth sailing though, and there were a number of moments when the price of the ticket ($300+ for students, $450+ for designers/public) was brought into question. No lunch was served this year, which took many by surprise, and given its prior reputation for being meagre anyway seemed unnecessarily cruel to deny us. There were also disappointing reports of some studios whose access nights were just as lean on the catering, and even some of the speakers had people heading for the doors with disgruntlement written all over their faces. One cannot help but mention Russian designer Vladimir Chaika, whose repetitious arch-icon entitled ‘He’, was as Ken Cato allegedly described, one of those designs that split the audience down the middle. It certainly split the audience numbers in half, and by the time his presentation was drawing to a close, those who persisted found no respite, not least because of his lack of spoken explanation. To many, it called into question the necessity of flying him over to ‘speak’ in the first place.
There were other speakers with similarly questionable presentations, but the overwhelming majority delivered to a high standard. The structure, organisation and running of the event were of an equally high standard, and congratulations should be offered to all the student volunteers and professionals who made the event run as smoothly as it did.
Agideas is getting better with age, and is essential creative fodder for the budding student’s early career. For those of us already out there in the field, it is of course harder to get to, but if you’re like me, and you negotiate your annual leave around this not to be missed event, you will be highly rewarded with perspective on the industry that feeds you, both financially and creatively.
But a word of caution to those of you that attend the after party next year- if you let form follow emotion when you’ve had enough wine, you might just end up spilling some all over a nearby speaker. Bad form.
You can check out the agideas website here, or see the highlights from the 2011 conference below.