May 19, 2008

Serious Play at Art Center

Henrik Olsen's picture
Henrik Olsen
Principal, Executive Creative Director

Earlier this month we (Henrik, Maria, and Laura) were lucky enough to attend the Art Center Design Conference, which was entitled 'Serious Play.' There was an superb set of presenters, and many wise and playful things were discussed. But, we had our favorites. Tim Brown, CEO of the design firm IDEO, shared his processes for encouraging spontaneous experimentation by his designers. Filling their studios with miscellaneous materials like legos, play-doh, pipe-wire, tape, balloons, toothbrushes, and endless piles of structural goodness.

Another highlight was a presentation by our good friend Dr. Stuart Brown. Stuart founded The National Institute for Play, an organization the studies and promotes the incorporation of play into all aspects of our professional and personal lives. Particularly powerful, was his sharing of photographs that showed a tethered husky that avoided its' demise by initiating a play session with an approaching full grown polar bear. These beautiful photographs showed how the instinct to play over powered the bears initial plans of making the dog into his evening snack. This dog v. polar bear scene illustrated the term 'neoteny' perfectly.

The design work of architect Liz Diller, of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, on the transformation of New York City's Highline elevated railroad into an exceptionally inspired 1.5 miles of community outdoor and cultural space was another truly inspiring moment of the conference. Liz's work is an exquisite example of how play can be integrated into what was once a mundane urban environment.

Understanding our humble place in the great universe was the result of the presentation by UC Berkeley Professor George Smoot. Mr. Smoot won the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work with the Hubble satellite. Sharing images from 2 billion light-years into space, looking back at planet earth, within the context of trillions of galaxies, one can't help but sense the urgency for us to better protect our home. With a smile, it was suggested that there have once been hospitable plants way out there, over the past billions of years, but given the state of time and space travel, we're pretty much all alone.

Other particularly brilliant speakers included the amazing Paula Scher, the puppet master—but not quite so modest—Michael Curry, and the delightfully tall, exceptionally beautiful athlete/artist/model Aimee Mullins. For us humble Hotties, it was a divine play of inspiration for three cool days in Pasadena.

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