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A Recap of DesignThinkers 2013

Co-authored with Lindsay Auchinachie


The DesignThinkers 2013 conference took place in early November in Toronto. With previous speakers such as art designer George Lois, as well as a wide-reaching studio crawl, DesignThinkers promised to gather some of the best and brightest in Toronto’s design scene. While we couldn’t attend every session, we did want to share some of our favorite talks.

Designing Patagonia’s Brand Experience

Dmitri Siegel (VP of E-commerce & Executive Creative Director, Patagonia) is in charge of the retailer’s user experience, growing traffic both domestically and abroad, and creating value for Patagonia’s growing customer base across all of Patagonia’s digital platforms. Much of Patagonia’s messaging revolves around rock-climbing and engaging with the ”funhogging” personality of its consumers and staff. Siegel spoke about designing Patagonia’s brand experience.

Siegel began the process by doing heavy research into the founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard. They also use many in-depth interviews to better understand the audience and potential consumers. This research helped inform the team about the core, and spirit, of the brand. His key principles: reflect your culture, tell awesome stories, showcase customer content, and practice minimalism.

These tenets are fundamental to Patagonia’s initiatives. For example, Patagonia has a section of their website entitled The Footprint Chronicles. This page is dedicated to showing Patagonia’s supply chain process and keeps them accountable to reducing adverse social and environmental impacts on an industrial scale. Patagonia is incredibly transparent in their sharing of manufacturer details and locations.

Patagonia had been crowdsourcing photos for their printed catalogues for years before it became popular digitally; this allowed for the perfect opportunity to have users contribute via social media, using the hashtag #funhogging. They still created their own content by hiring a social media “athlete” to document Patagonia athletes’ trips. They host and distribute their own content and crowdsourced photos through their Tumblr site. They also share more specific, interesting content to specific niches: here are Tumblr microblogs for fly fishing, snow-related sports, and surfing.

The majority of this content is user generated, and Patagonia leaves it unedited and unfiltered. One of its recent campaigns, Better than New, doesn’t promote its new items; instead, it tries persuading people to swap their used clothes and submit photos to its blog, Worn Wear. They made another unusual move of telling people not to buy their jackets in an advertisement, and to pledge money to the environment instead. (Their sales proceeded to increase almost one-third.) Standing up for the things they believe in has paid off.

Nicholas Felton and Data Collection

When infographic designer Nicholas Felton (also known as “Feltron”) wanted to experiment with his craft, his curiosity drove him to catalogue his entire summer playcation. His challenge was figuring out how to collect and code the solution appropriately.

In order to visualize his work, Felton used a program called Processing. Users can input code and values into Processing, which then churns out visual data. Users can control what visual graphics get produced and randomizes when certain integers and variables are tweaked.

He used to collect all the data via Google Calendar: who he was talking to, what he ate, what activity, and the such. As he continued experimenting, he built an app called Reporter to help him keep track of the data. Reporter frequently prompts Felton to input the information into a device, and then enables him to export the information into a spreadsheet format. This could be a great method to perform exploratory research on audience samples and recognize pain points throughout the day.

Felton took the experiment even further; in order to track his mood, he enlists the help of other people. His business card features a code and everyone can input data based on their encounter with him; he was concerned that his own perception of his mood wasn’t an appropriate indicator, and wanted to see where it stood relative to the world.

While Felton’s methods are a bit unusual, there’s no denying his pursuit of obtaining valid data. This information could come in extremely handy in designing all types of solutions, whether it be infographics or entire mobile apps.

Alex Trochut

One of Spain’s up-and-coming typeface designers, Alex Trochut, shared some insights into his design process. Rather than starting his designs from scratch, he typically starts off with a base typeface and works on top of it. This was especially interesting to us because UI/UX designers do something similar: there are mobile patterns that serve as foundations to build on top of. These are, essentially, the building blocks or the formulas that we start off with.

During the presentation, he talked about where he got his inspiration from and what his end result is. He referred to Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist and Clive Thompson’s Smarter Than You Think. Rather than stealing, when he appropriates people’s ideas he calls it remixing. Trochut emphasized that it’s not about where you take things from, but where you take them to. Copy, transform, and combine things. Take the skeleton of something and add onto or remove from it.

Trochut also affirmed that, “Old is cool,” and uses geometric shapes to bring order to his illustrations; he ensures his illustrations and typography use the same weights to produce a more cohesive look. He left us with one of Joan Miro’s thoughts: “The only thing you can decide is to work hard.”


Morag Myerscough, “Belonging”

Matteo Bologna, “Branding from a Type Nerd Point of View”

Closing Thoughts

Aside from James Griffin’s usability testing lab and the experiments he is performing with eye tracking, DesignThinkers mostly featured print-related work and focused less on UI/UX. Yet there was still much inspiration, because typographers’ design processes can also be applied to UI/UX design. To our delight, the CEO of MEC was awarded “DesignThinker of the Year” at the conference (we worked on their mobile app!). All in all, DesignThinkers proved to be an educational experience that provided an insightful look into the world of print design and visuals, and the intersection of design and commerce.


Connect with Jackie and Lindsay on LinkedIn.

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