DesignThinkers TO: Day Two

I just saw Michael Bierut speak on the main stage at the Sony Entertainment Centre in Toronto, Canada. Michael is a partner at Pentagon, a design firm in the US consisting of 22 partners. He has worked on some large campaigns, but the one I was most interested to hear about was the heavily criticized but delightfully simple, Hillary Clinton logo. As he spoke about the experience working with her, followed by the obvious outcome of the election, I teared up. As a Canadian, I wanted so badly for Hillary to win. And now hearing him talk about the experience really moved me. He didn’t just design a logo because she was a paying client; he designed it because he believes in her. I will always remember this presentation.


Let’s rewind a touch! Before Michael Bierut, Julian Brown of On the Chase took the stage for a Lightning Talk on office spaces or more specifically, not working in an office. His keynote was so engaging that I hardly took notes, but I certainly took a lot of photos! It was punchy and fun and really drove home the message that we’re moving more and more towards a time where an office isn’t always the ideal working situation.


I do love working from home!

Fast forward to the end of the day.

Since I was attending the conference with my Discover Charlottetown hat on, the next presentation was of interest to me. Kemp Atwood’s inspirational keynote, “Interactions speak louder than words: the role of storytelling in user interface design”. Atwood showed and explained work that he’s completed for Pentagram, Quartz, Harvard, and Barnes Foundation. I definitely took a few things away from this. UI is another type of storytelling – you provide a setting by creating a sense of place, a theme, and a plot that moves the user forward. Instantly I could envision how to use this during the redesign of the Discover Charlottetown website. All along we’re telling the user to plan a vacation, but we don’t provide them with an actual method to do so outside of booking a hotel. I’m excited to explore this idea further.


The rest of the afternoon I attended talks from Alison Garnett RGD and Carolina Soderholm of Field Trip & Co – “Change your view and the view will change you”, Tosh Hall of JKR Global – “Kinko’s and Crying”, Jean-Pierre Lacroix – “The irrational customer and brand desire”, Anthony Burrill – “Ask more questions”, Erin Sarofsky‘s Lightning Talk – “The truth about clients”, and finally lettering artist and author, Jessica Hische – “Finding yourself over, and over again”.

I took so much away from all of these presentations.

Field Trip & Co taught me that getting out of the office and experiencing the business that you’re working with first-hand with open your mind to ideas that you’d never dream of while scrolling through the pages of Pinterest. I admired their work on The Bentway and Fogo Island Inn. I’ll have to research these later.


Tosh Hall was an excellent presenter – he was snappy and funny. I could have listened to him all day. He’s worked for some high calibre clients but his keynote was relatable, grounded, and really drove home a message that great designs are created by everyday people.

A few lessons learned:

  • Use gifs in keynotes (haha)
  • Your career is a marathon, not a sprint
  • Grow slowly
  • Surround yourself with talented people
  • If you meet your design equivalent of Thelma to your Louise – work with them!


For Jean-Pierre Lacroix RGD’s keynote, we headed over to the Bluma Appel Theatre. Jean-Pierre talked about changing customers needs to desire, such as when they need a toothbrush, sell them a sonic toothbrush. Create a brand that they want to be a part of, one they want to be associated with – one that defines them. A brand should represent their personal aspirations and who they want to be or look like.


You may recognize the poster pictured above. It’s been replicated, parodied, and ripped off (are those just synonyms?) over and over again. Anthony Burrill, while soft-spoken, showed some very impactful work inspired by protest and letterpress posters of days gone by. And he continued to be surprising as he displayed his peaceful, minimalist, carefully designed studio space followed immediately by some edgy electronic music he put out on record recently. It really was a perfect example of how diverse you can be in your career.

Eric Sarofsky then took the stage for her Lightning Talk, “The truth about clients” and boy did she cram a boatload of information into that time. Some lessons:

  1. All clients are created equal and all require a lot of your time (I question some of this lol)
  2. Create boundaries
  3. Be generous but don’t be a pushover
  4. Document everything – recap calls in a followup email
  5. Listen to them
  6. Design is an opinion. They’re going to have one too but it’s your job to explain yours.
  7. Be honest. Ask for time and feedback if you need it
  8. Acknowledge their good ideas by telling them. Also, make your ideas their ideas too. Say something along the lines of “Remember when you said that awesome thing the other day? Well, it lead me to this idea – thank you for that!”
  9. Poisonous patterns. Recognize them.
  10. It’s you, not them (I wish I remembered more context to this – because that’s too one-sided)
  11. It’s not your baby
  12. Remember. Nobody is going to die. Let them have their way sometimes.

I have a lot of questions on these points – but they definitely make you think!




Finally, Jessica Hische took the stage! She’s so friggin’ lovely. I honestly stepped away from her presentation at the end feeling like I actually got to know her better. Also, I NEED her book for my nephew. NEED. Some key points that I took away were:

  • Who you are now is not who you will always be, so stop fixating of “Who am I?”
  • Identify your strengths and how you can leverage them.
  • What do you truly love to do? Do that.

I’m definitely going to change a few things I’ve been doing as a result of today’s speakers. I’m feeling refreshed and ready for whatever comes next!


Ashley Green and Michael Bierut
We met Michael Bierut and we had a glorious exchange about Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the current leader of the US. Also – his glasses were cooler than mine.