In a recent article in AIGA’s Journal of Design author Ralph Caplan notes the peculiar tendency for design conferences to feature speakers from areas other than design, less for the purpose of cross-fertilizing ideas than merely for show.
Designers have a long tradition of holding conferences featuring speakers chosen for their achievements in fields other than design. In 1957, at the annual meeting of the American Society of Industrial Designers, the principal speakers were a chemist, a biologist, and a psychologist. This past October, the Industrial Designers Society of America’s annual conference featured a debate between a professor of molecular biology and a specialist in technology policy. The program organizers reasoned that “designers think too much about design and not enough about anything else,” which was the same rationale used 50 years earlier.
That is still valid as rationale, but disingenuous as motive. Certainly design practitioners need the wisdom of specialists from many different fields. They provide breadth and depth not always found within the professions. But our reliance on stars from other galaxies has always been powered by an element of show-biz aspiration. Speakers purportedly invited because of their relevance were really sought as much for their gate appeal and outré glamour. One of the best of them, the great scientific humanist J. Brownowski, complained of being “dragged on stage to perform like a trained seal” at design conferences all over the world.
(Thanks CT. Yodels!)