A Word From Arianna Orland

The quote is from Picasso and I first encountered it in the book MTIV: Process, Inspiration and Practice for the New Media Designer by my dear friend and mentor Hillman Curtis. The words of Picasso settled into my subconscious like an answer waiting for a question but we’ll get back to that in a minute.

Published in 2002, Curtis explains explains his approach to working in new media which at the time was very new, and very hot. The book is as much a step by step guide to process as it is a trove of inspiration filled with personal stories and wisdom drawn from artists, writers, filmmakers and musicians. By addressing both the practical and the personal Curtis outlines a path to the profession and serves as the ultimate mentor for how to be a whole creative person.

The MTIV in the title is an acronym that refers to “Making the Invisible Visible”. In other words, as designers, artists and creators our superpower is the ability to forge ideas into the world and to go on the journey that it takes to make that incredible act of creativity, vision, skill and technique happen.

Looking back over the last 20 years as a practicing designer I realize early on I fell in love with the creative process. Whether it’s leading cross functional teams through complexity or rolling up my sleeves and designing solo, I absolutely love design. And over the years I’ve come to recognize my participation in the creative process as an act of courage. It takes courage to coalesce ambiguity, it takes courage to navigate complexity and it takes courage to create artifacts that represent a diverse set of influences and ideas and have those artifacts judged by teammates and users.

When I really think about the creative process, I realize even the term is a vast oversimplification of the rich and verdant world where I’ve spent countless hours. And it’s only recently that I’ve taken on the task of asking why? Why am I so fascinated, dare I say enchanted by this world? What does the creative process actually look like?
Is there an art to design? Can the alchemy of craft, intuition, research, collaboration, luck, time, talent, data, and ideas be explained? Or made repeatable by a formula? What can we learn from the road traveled by others?

This area of inquiry cannot be tackled alone. That’s why I’m thrilled to share the launch of In/Visible Talks with all of you, a conference about the creative process.

In/Visible Talks is a conference for designers and creative thinkers working across a range of mediums to engage in conversation about the art of design. In/Visible showcases both process and practice design, celebrating the ups and downs, the mistakes-turned-success, the unintentional inspiration and the unexpected connections that occur along the way.

And now we’ve come full circle, back to Picasso. “I start with an idea, and then it becomes something else.” Picasso offers one of many answers to the question, what does the creative process look like? His answer speaks to both the creative spark and the journey from nascent idea to becoming. Please consider joining me for In/Visible talks, I look forward to hearing yours.

Introducing: The In/Visible Project

This, my friends, is the In/Visible Project: an idea born from the minds of two long-time Bay Area designers, a community open to anyone interested in the creative process, and a series of events celebrating the twists and turns, mistakes turned successes, and learning moments that are part of the journey. In/Visible Talks, the conference arm of the In/Visible Project, is happening in San Francisco on January 11, 2018, at The Pearl in the Dogpatch neighborhood.

Described as “a conference for designers and creative thinkers working across a range of mediums to engage in conversation about the art of design,” the Talks promise not only impactful keynote speeches, but also an experience.

I sat down with founders Dava Guthmiller and Arianna Orland to find out more about what’s on the bill, what attendees can expect to take away, and what’s up with the paint-dipped teeth.

1. First of all, what are the In/Visible Talks? What is the In/Visible Project? Where did the inspiration for this come from?
AO: In/Visible Talks is the conference arm of the In/Visible Project, our overall mission is to bring people together through conversation about the art of design. The conference is equal parts inspiration, frank discussion and healthy dose of courage.

The creative process isn’t always a linear one and we think there’s much to be gained by hearing about how others have navigated the rich and variegated landscape of people, ideas, deadlines and passion. We want attendees to come away from the day with a greater understanding of the practice and each other.

The inspiration for the event came from our own personal desire to keep learning, to stay inspired and our genuine love of design. In/Visible is a shorthand way of saying Invisible Visible. That’s what we as artists, creators, designers and makers do. We make artifacts and experiences that allow people to see and engage with the world differently. And that is a truly beautiful thing.

2. How do you see In/Visible Talks as differing from other design conferences?
DG: Our goal is to have a collection of both speakers and attendees from multiple creative fields. We think the insights and stories that are shared about the process, challenges and inspiration behind the final works of our speakers will hold valuable lessons for creatives across any industry.

We also chose the date to tie into two big art & design shows that happen that same week in San Francisco. This cross over of design, creativity and art should make for a very visual and inspiring week.

3. Tell me more about your backgrounds- you’ve both been in the design industry across a couple decades, but like everything else mentioned here, I know it wasn’t a linear or simple journey for either of you.
DG: My background started with Interior Design and fine art in high school and junior college. Then I studied Graphic Design at the Academy of Art. After working with 2 other small studios while in school, I quit to open Noise 13 in 2000. My background did not come with big name agencies or clients, so I have had to learn everything about running a studio while still doing design for clients.

Currently I sit more in the CEO/Creative Director role, as well as on the strategy projects. About two years ago, I started back on fine art as well and have a studio at 1890 Bryant where I paint when I can.

AO: I’m a self-taught graphic designer who has learned almost everything I know by trying and doing, and I’ve used curiosity along the way as fuel to overcome the unknown.

I didn’t go to design school, but very early on in my career I realized I wanted to be a designer. I studied photography in college and was good with computers. After working for an architecture firm for quite some time, I was lucky enough to land a job at Studio Archetype, a boutique design agency in San Francisco that was influential in the definition of the fields of UI and UX we know today. As a junior designer there I learned how to deconstruct, reconstruct and extend the work of others which taught me how to design from the inside out.

I’ve been in the industry for just shy of 20 years now and consult for startups and Fortune 500 companies where I focus on brand building and experience design. The projects I like most are the ones that allow for systems thinking at the intersection of people and technology.

4. How have you seen things evolve and felt yourselves evolve along the way?
AO: Over the years, the industry has exploded in scale, the tools have evolved and we keep changing what we call ourselves. But many of the challenges we face as designers are exactly the same as they were 20 years ago. How can we locate truth and authenticity in the work? How can we organize a group of people and co create with them? And with the pace of work accelerating all the time, how can we find time to nurture our creative selves?

I believe it’s just as important to be able to do good work as it is to cultivate intuition, to be able to see what others cannot, and to convince a room full of people of the path to get there. Our hope is that though hearing the stories of others who face these same challenges we’ll walk away inspired and with a renewed perspective on how we approach the next creative challenge.

DG: As design and branding have become more uniform and more template based, I encourage my team to push their creativity and find relevance for the clients we partner with. Being able to both solve the design needs for a client and find inspiration beyond just data and what everyone else is doing is really important.

5. Back to In/Visible: these overarching ideas of art and design have obviously influenced your plans for the conference. What’s your goal of bringing the creative process to forefront? And does it have anything to do with the stuff dipped in paint?
AO: Both Dava and myself have 20 years of experience in the industry as practicing designers, that’s 40 years combined. We’ve seen the creative process unfold many, many times. Each time it’s different and each time we learn something new.

Putting together the conference itself has been an unfolding. Take the objects dipped in paint we’ve used for the branding. The reason we did it? We were drawn to the idea on an aesthetic level and thought, if this is going to be a conference about the creative process, let’s give voice to our intuition. We went from should we try dipping things in paint? To what do we want to dip in paint? To what can’t we dip in paint? So look out for some big surprises on that front.

In addition to the talks, we’re working on a couple exciting partnerships where attendees will be able to see the creative process unfold live at the event. We will also have a pop up shop with physical and experiential items available for purchase. Think private docent tour of Untitled Art Fair and custom paint dipped objects from some of our speakers.

6. Who needs to be attending In/Visible? Talk to me about what people stand to learn and benefit?
DG: In-house teams, independent creatives and students who are looking to push their work away from templates and be inspired by something new or learn from other’s challenges. The Talks are for all us to find ways to keep our work relevant and valuable to ourselves and to our clients. Creatives are hired for their ideas as well as the execution. As technology allows for the execution to be done by anyone, the thought process, deeper insights and creative outcomes that can only come from the human mind are more and more valuable. Our goal is to bring together both those working at this high level of creativity, and those who are striving toward it.

AO: In/Visible Talks is for anyone who is interested in a discussion about the creative journey. It’s for designers, artists, photographers, writers, students, really anyone who is interested in what it takes to navigate the sometimes choppy and always fascinating waters of the creative/design process.

7. What’s on the agenda so far?
DG: The agenda is a single day, one track conference that includes shorter 20 min talks, keynote and panels. We’ll have lunch on the roof deck, and the shop will be open all day. Attendees will be able to continue the weekend with a VIP pass to the Untitled Art Fair on Thursday night and a weekend of art with both Untitled and FOG.

AO: Our first confirmed speaker is Kelli Anderson, Brooklyn based artist and designer. She’s absolutely incredible. She’s a designer, programmer and paper person. Her work is heavily informed by both analog scientific contraptions and good old fashioned paper. She says that when she first embarks on a new project often times the paper will lead her.

Jesse Genet will also be joining us, founder of Lumi. Jesse is an industrial designer turned startup founder with a self described “dorky curiosity” that led her to make a ton of mistakes and some great big successes with Lumi. Sharing the lessons she’s learned is part of their company’s DNA and we can’t wait to hear her insights.

We have several more speakers to be announced in the coming weeks — stay tuned!