AIGA Design Camp 2009, Day 2: DJ Stout, Ellen Lupton, and famous feedback

October 6th, 2009

After a rousing night of karaoke at the Northwoods Pub, (I must say, my fellow Design Campers have both talent and guts. Mostly guts.) I rushed over to listen to DJ Stout’s speech the next morning, unfortunately missing breakfast. My recollections may be a little spotty as a result.

Stout started by talking about some of the agricultural industry magazines he has redesigned for Pentagram, including such page-turners as American Quarterhorse Journal, Dairy Herd Management, and the periodical that I remember him for, Dairy Today. Instead of having poorly conceived, ultra-literal cover designs like so many of these magazines do, Stout opted to instead feature portraits of individual cows. As a result to this unique approach, Dairy Today moved from third to most popular dairy industry rag. Another example of what good design can do.

The next project he covered was a mag for another industry, this time hydroponics. (Remember that college roommate you had that would grow weed in his closet? That’s actually called hydroponics.) Originally, the book was called Bigger Buds, and featured some random attractive woman on the cover. “Is there a story or some kind of feature or story about her inside?” Stout inquired. “No,” the client said, “she’s just hot.” This was clearly going to be an uphill battle. Showing us that the designer-client relationship is really a negotiation, he coaxed the client into renaming it Rosebud, and featuring actor Justin Kirk from the show “Weeds” on the cover, miraculously transforming it from trashy to somewhat respectable.

Stout then moved on to some of the identities he has developed, including the city of Lexington, Kentucky, Popeye’s (for which they designed over 200 logos), Chicken NOW (for which they were able to use a logo originally designed for Popeye’s), and the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. He also spoke a little bit on how things work at Pentagram Design, which actually is a conglomeration of 16 partners in different locations, Stout being located in Austin, Texas. Even though he is a principal partner, he handles all aspects of the business, like concepting, pitching, designing, and even account-side stuff. Sounds like it has the feel of a small startup design firm, like, I don’t know, mine.

After some much needed lunch and a brief powernap, I headed to the workshop I was most looking forward to: Social Media 101, taught by Nancy Lyons and Meghan Wilker, of Geek Girls Guide fame. It was all about what social media is and how to best utilize it (even that damn Twitter all the cool kids are talking about). They noted that 60% of Americans use social media, making it the #1 activity on the web. (#2 is porn, and #3 is a combination of the first two: craigslist) Though it is a relatively new way to engage your audience, the approach should be the same as it is with any medium: define goals and strategy, set benchmarks, and create processes and policies to manage content.

Another point they made was that your brand isn’t what you say it is, it’s what they say it is. The following quote was made by one of the presenters, though neither of them would own up to it (can’t imagine why):

The Internet is like Herpes. It doesn’t go away.


If someone trashes your brand, it’s out there forever. Instead of trying to remove a bad review or whatever, (which can prove disastrous) let your “brand evangelists” defend you. If you have a quality product and a brand people believe in, then you have nothing to worry about.

Finally, they gave three rules to live by:

  • Be authentic.
  • Be relevant.
  • Provide value.

After the workshop, I briefly spoke with Wilker about utilizing Twitter as a way to display your expertise, and she had some great points about being consistent in voice and content and getting in on hashtag events, even if you are not actually there. (Edit: Geek Girls Guide just posted a podcast about that very subject here.) Then I told her about my previous blog post responding to her article about the proliferation of “nontent,” describing my post as “Stating a lot of obvious stuff, and then basically agreeing with you at the end.” Brilliant.

At this point I’m running on empty, and Ellen Lupton was the perfect way to keep things interesting. Her main theme was all the stupidest questions she has received during other speaking engagements, such as:

  • “Why are there no men on this panel?” (asked during a panel for working moms)
  • “Are you a workaholic?”
  • “Is there a cure for procrastination?”
  • “Where is the bathroom?” (Apparently this was a signage problem, more on this later)
  • “Do you look good naked?”
  • “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done for a presentation?”

The content from her presentation can actually be found in her book, Design Your Life. I highly suggest you pick that up.

Later that night at an after party, somehow DJ Stout got my business card in his hand. I can only assume this was perhaps the work of fate or magic, because I am not that good of a networker. He saw the bsmalls-Be Huge reversal thing going, and said it was “cute.” It was a shining moment, something to always remember in an already unforgettable weekend–until he gave my card back to me instead of keeping it. Damn.

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