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Design = Story

Posted June 12, 2012 in Classes & PresentationsEvents

Design. It can be found in the most unlikely of places. It can repurpose something old, or create something entirely new. But most of all, design must tell a story.

(Apologies for the blurry photos—the camera wasn’t cooperating!)

Primo Orpilla and Verda Alexander

Our Tuesday began with the second NeoCon keynote speakers, Primo Orpilla and Verda Alexander, Distinguished “Designers of the Year 2011” from Studio O+A, a San Francisco-based interior design firm. Tech companies thrive in Silicon Valley where the two principles have created amazing office spaces that reflect the innovative spirit of companies ranging from startups, such as Square, Inc., to growing social media giant Facebook, as well as AOL, seeking to find its way back to the top of the Internet heap.

They made an interesting partnership: She is a fine artist, organized, and admits to seeing the glass as half empty. He is a designer who works in organized chaos, and sees the glass as brimming over the top. Together they approach design from the perspective of problem solving, yet always leaving room for their clients to utilize design and architecture to tell their story as well as create innovative workspaces.

And those workspaces reflect the changing way people are learning and working alone and working together. Wireless access to the Internet gives everyone immediate access to a wealth of information. It also allows workers to roam the workplace to gather in groups, or to simply hunker down in a different setting.

But one thing hasn’t changed as drastically as anticipated, and that is telecommuting. Not as many of us are working from home in our bunny slippers. Instead, we continue to gather around the coffee station, pool table or snack bar to exchange information and ideas in an environment that conforms to the needs of its users, instead of users adapting to the architecture of the space.

Then it was off to the Gleacher Center at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business to hear from some more creative minds.

Erich “Deeg” Snyder

Our first presenter was Erich “Deeg” Snyder, Senior Associate, from the Chicago office of Gensler, a global architecture, design, planning and consulting firm with 2500+ professionals in more than 30 locations. Gensler focuses on large corporate clients with a multi-national focus, such as McDonalds. “Consistency is the key,” said Snyder. “We want customers who visit a store in India to have the same corporate brand experience as customers in California.”

Like O+A, Gensler approaches architecture as a branding experience. But before they put color on the walls, they dig deep to discover why consumers are so passionate about the brand that they would be willing to permanently ink its logo into their skin. What kind of emotion and inspiration does it evoke? Then, Snyder turns that loyalty into a story that exemplifies the branding experience for car buyers or motorcycle aficionados, sports enthusiasts and NFL fans. He uses color, texture, graphics and more to create an immersive experience for all.

And speaking of color, Laura Guido-Clark, Principlel, Laura Guido-Clark Design in Berkeley, California is a huge fan.

Laura Guido-Clark

Her trademarked process, Climatology, is a design method that focuses less on current color trends, and more on the reason why such trends exist. By exploring the political, social, emotional and economic influences that affect our lives and experiences, she creates design solutions that resonate with corporations and consumers alike. Her passion for color and its effect has lead to her founding Project Color Corps, a non-profit dedicated to improving urban neighborhoods with color and texture designed to lift the spirit.

Our last speaker, Greg Samata, a partner at the design firm smbolic in Dundee, Illinois shook up many students with his pronouncement, “Graphic design is dead.”

Greg Samata

Back in the 1970s, when Samata opened his design firm, he was just that: a designer. The company won countless awards for the annual reports it produced over a 20-year span. “But no one does just print anymore,” he elaborated. “Today a designer must also be a researcher, brand consultant, film producer, content creator, database programmer and web developer.” 


He illustrated his point with a drawing that showed how today’s designers must be able to master several disciplines if they want to be marketable in the rapidly changing digital world. He challenged our students, saying, “It was up to us to prove that design can make a difference. Now it’s up to you to show that difference.”

Although our Gleacher Center speakers came from different aspects of design, they all had similar words of advice for students:

  • Turn the answer around 180 degrees. (Samata)
  • Turn it upside down and inside out. (Guido-Clark)
  • Take it apart, and then put it back together differently. (Snyder)

And lastly, immerse yourself in the clients’ business or the consumers’ experience. Do your research. And don’t simply take the client’s word for it. Find out yourself. That's what makes a good storyteller and great design.

Chicago Skyline

Our day ended with the traditional Chicago architectural boat tour on the Chicago River. A beautiful, fun and relaxing end to an information-packed day.


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