Lessons from Semi Permanent 2018

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In many ways, Semi Permanent 2018 was the culmination of a vision set in motion over 16 years. Across the opening weekend of Vivid, at Carriageworks in Sydney, a collection of the world's best minds in design, technology and creativity (including those in the crowd) gathered to talk about their ideas for a future we can live in. Here’s a few things we learnt. 

The future is optimistic
When using creative tension as inspiration, being an optimist certainly has its advantages. In one of the highlights of the weekend, AKQA founder Ajaz Ahmed discussed serendipitous moments of generosity and unconditional love that influenced what is now one of the biggest creative agencies on the planet. Airbnb head of design Alex Schleiffer talked about why designing for trust is one of the most valuable things your company can do (pointing to their ratings and Airbnb+ services as a method by which they do this). And in one of the more impressive turnarounds we heard, stuntman-turned-film director Nash Edgerton explained how he lost and found funding for his new film ‘Gringo’ in the space of 20 minutes while at Amazon Studios. 
Oh, and Paula Scher kicked off the event with a talk spanning her 50+ year career as the world's best graphic designer (yeah, we said it). If that didn't leave you optimistic for your own career path, then you just weren't listening.

If you have a passion, you may also have more personal insight. That will lead you down a path to not only be a creative but a futuristic problem solver.

Tinker Hatfield, Nike

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Photo: Toby Peet
In the darkness, there is light
Using creative tension as inspiration is both a long and short-term methodology; it's taking those moments of unsurety as a launchpad for that one creative idea that obliterates self-doubt. Over the three days, we saw many examples of this: from Joyce N. Ho directing the event titles with ten other collaborators (!) through Dropbox; David Campbell, Mona senior designer, who found humour in the macabre museum's collection; or internationally renowned photographer Scott Serfas who has built a career going further then anyone else in the quest for the perfect frame.
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Godfrey Dadich Partners and National Geographic. Photo: Toby Peet
In discussing the redesign of National Geographic, Nat Geo creative director Emmet Smith spoke of a need to facilitate deeper learning and exploration amongst a generation who couldn't engage with its current format. The end result, a complete editorial and visual redesign led by Godfrey Dadich Partners, just launched their major 'Planet or Plastic' campaign, gaining accolades from all around the world. It's the perfect example of tension as inspiration, and certainly creates a strong case for creativity in adversity. 

You’re not selling an idea to a client, you’re teaching them to understand it.

Paula Scher, Pentagram

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Paula Scher. Photo: Toby Peet
...but you can have some fun along the way.
Using creative tension as inspiration means your effect on the world can be monumental, and fun. In a far-reaching conversation with Patrick Godfrey and Scott Dadich, Tinker Hatfield gave context to a career that has spanned forty years, culminating in his crowning as the most influential footwear designer on the globe. Whether it be taking his workflow from pen and paper to digital means, designing for the athlete of the future, or pursuing his ideas in the face of corporate shock and outrage; his discussion (held from the inside of a Winnebago in his Portland, Oregon studio) was an invaluable peak into his world. The Mind Gamers and Wonderwalls VR experiences with Oculus also proved VR as powerful a medium as ever, with Daniel Stricker and collaborators at the helm of a fantastic journey into sound and consciousness on one end, and Wonderwalls offering graffiti artists the chance to try their hand in the digital space. And Lisha Tan and Elizabeth Newman of The Mill showed us how animation can be fun, exciting, terrifying and harrowing at the same time. 

There is no such thing as brave. It's either creative or not.

Susan Hoffman, Wieden + Kennedy

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Left: Susan Hoffman.
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Right: The Studio by Dropbox. Photo: Toby Peet
The impact of design is more powerful than ever
Using creative tension as inspiration requires tenacity and a willingness to push through uncontrollable forces. No other firm made that clear more than Godfrey Dadich Partners, whose co-founders Patrick Godfrey and Scott Dadich risked it all to work with some of the most important organisations on the planet. Whether it be re-designing a matter of record with National Geographic, designing the future of A.I with IBM Watson, or working with Barack and Michelle Obama to launch The Obama Foundation, they discussed a process by which talking to real humans, gathering real insights (and throwing in some killer graphic, web and motion design) can have extreme real-world impact. In an intimate workshop following her keynote talk, Paula Scher described how her work for the likes of The High Line in New York, Planned Parenthood and The National Centre of Civil Rights has defined entire neighbourhoods, if not suburbs, for affirmative action. And Susan Hoffman of Wieden + Kennedy made it clear that your ad isn't brave, just creative (or not). 
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The Mind Gamers VR Experience. Photo: Toby Peet
The future of design is thoroughly human
Using creative tension as inspiration requires a cerebral connection. In another SP highlight, Danielle Krettek (founder of the Google Empathy Lab), spoke about the need for AI to be deeply and thoroughly human to be effective, drawing from a range of sources from Jane Goodall's ecological studies to the famed 'Move 37' played in Go by an AI program to prove her point. This was less about the 'will AI take our jobs' question, and more the 'how can AI be truly accessible to humans?' one. Would humans want that? What questions do we need to ask now in order to be prepared? Do we know enough about human emotion to understand robotic ones? These are the big questions Danielle has to ask on a daily basis, so spare a thought. 

People prefer something that feels better, rather than something that does more.

Danielle Krettek, Google

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Left: Danielle Krettek (Google)
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left: books! Photo: Toby Peet
In a new type of talk for Semi Permanent, multi-disciplinary artist Jonathan Zawada spoke on a series of randomly selected pieces, weaving together a portrait of an artist who has faced success, adversity and everything in between. From the obsessive scientific nature of his work, to grappling with his son's diagnosis of a rare genetic disorder, to the triumph and pitfalls of designing this year's Opera House Sails for Vivid, his story was a far-reaching and emotional one that all comes down to love; of family, of art and of your work. It was the perfect end to the event and a notion of emergency from the creative tension we'd set ourselves on from day one. 

Surprise and delight your clients through uncovering, curating and developing the advances that define the future.

Scott Dadich, Godfrey Dadich Partners

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Patrick Godfrey and Scott Dadich. Photo: Toby Peet
As a community of designers, artists, photographers, typographers, thinkers and beyond, we can take the tension offered to us in the world and use it as a platform for better. In fact, it's the only thing we can do. Perhaps a good lesson can be taken from Paula Scher, who, when asked what she would save if her house was on fire, responded 'burn it all to the ground'.
A huge thank you to the brilliant minds in the crowd, on the stage and behind the scenes for another beautiful and life-affirming weekend. Let's do it again sometime.
The Semi Permanent Team
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Left: Paula Scher.
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Right: Host Gemma O'Brien and Murray Bell. Photo: Toby Peet

If people don’t either love or hate your work, then you just haven’t done all that much.

Tinker Hatfield, NIke

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VIP styling by Autumn Co, The Woodsters and Living Edge. Photo: Toby Peet
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Photo: Toby Peet
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Photo: Toby Peet

Statistics date. Stories don’t.

Ajaz Ahmed, AKQA 

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Event styling by Autumn Co. and The Woodsters. Photo: Toby Peet
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Photo: Toby Peet
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Ironlak interactive space. Photo: Toby Peet
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Launch night. Photo: Toby Peet
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Ajaz Ahmed, AKQA. Photo: Toby Peet
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Jonathan Zawada and Murray Bell. Photo: Toby Peet
Keynote Talks