Looking Back: DesignThinkers 2003 Branding with Pylon Design
We caught up with Scott Christie RGD, Creative Director & Partner at BLVD Agency Inc. (previously Founder/Partner at Pylon), to reflect back on Pylon's branding for DesignThinkers 2003.
What did taking on the DesignThinkers conference branding mean to you and your team at the time?
Terrifying, exciting, oh my god yes, we’ll do it. Oh, shit now what, how are we going to do the best idea yet? These are the thoughts that went through my head following the call from RGD asking if we’d like to design their 2003 conference marketing materials.
How could we say no! We were following in the footsteps of people and studios we admired, people who had done some terrific ideas before us. Vanessa’s telegraph wires come to mind (DT 2002 branding by Blok Design)—I absolutely loved that idea and approach. We felt this project would put us on the map, not only would our local peers recognize we were selected, but the international guests and the speakers themselves would see and come in contact with our contribution. Pylon would be a known name.
So… back to… crap, now what? How the hell are we going to come up with a great idea for ‘innovation’ of all things! ‘Think Innovation’ was the theme of that year's Design Thinkers conference.
Explain your concept and how you and your team got there?
The big idea was Einstein. Represent every speaker at the conference as Einstein and, in turn, enable attendees to be Einstein for a day or two. Using Einstein's photographic image in place of the speaker's image would be odd, it would make you look twice, make the show memorable. Imagine it, Paula Scher, Simon Waterfall, Dr. John Kao - to name a few - all represented in the marketing materials as a version of Einstein instead of themselves. Why not? He is considered the most universally recognized innovative figure of our time, and a genius to boot. It also worked nicely with the brand colours of RGD, which was another request: “make it unmistakably RGD branded.”
Like all projects that came into the studio—the best idea wins. I don’t entirely recall the ideas presented, but you can be sure there were plenty of light bulbs, glowing boxes, even a sponge (absorb the knowledge) etc. Something had to be done. I recall going to Starbucks for 5 hours and immersing myself in the challenge. When I had my ah-ha moment, the first thing I did was call my confidant Dom (Dominic Ayre) to see if it worked. I think it was George Lois that said: “If you can’t explain your idea over the phone you ain’t got nothing.” Or was it Bob Gill?
What was your biggest challenge being the Design Partner for DesignThinkers?
Working with Hilary and RGD was easy; they are lovely people. The real challenge was getting the rights to use Einstein’s image. In 2003 he had only been dead 48 years, which meant you needed the Estate to grant permission to use any reproducible version of him. I think 50 years was the cut off at the time. Stubborn as I am, I got to work writing and calling the people in charge - the people who could have killed the idea and did initially. I’m a little fuzzy on the details, but I think either RGD or Pylon or maybe both of us split paying a usage fee.
How did it feel to present your work to a bunch of designers? And then see your work live during the event and witness people's reactions to it?
The conference back in 2003 was still relatively new, there wasn’t a budget or even space to print lavish banners, bags or t-shirts. We were given one ad placement in Applied Arts, attendee name badges, the show booklet and some directional signage - that was about it. Nevertheless the whole team at Pylon was proud of our contribution; it was a big deal for what it was.
What are you most proud of from your own experience? Is there anything you would have done differently?
Looking back through the lens of today, I wish we did have more platforms to promote the idea across. Hell, social media didn’t even exist, but t-shirts, buttons, face masks and large cut-outs could have been a lot of fun, and they would have provided vehicles for expansion of the idea. I bet every designer thinks this in retrospect. It was just such a great experience to see it in the public domain and have my peers use, earmark and scribble on the booklet, use the name tags etc. A sea of Einstein’s all in one location - what more could I ask for.
What has been your favourite DesignThinkers branding, besides your own, and why?
Besides Blok’s communication wires, I believe Zulu Alpha Kilo's Speak the Truth was a good idea, and of course, I recall the B-movie marketing that Dominic from Hambly & Woolley spent hours and hours creating hand drawn fonts for.
Stay tuned for more insights into DesignThinkers branding from the past 20 years.