Creativity, risk and madness debated at The Edge

Designers Erik Spiekermann, Oliviero Toscani and Michael Wolff debated themes of risk and creativity at The Edge conference in London yesterday, while neuroscientist Baroness Susan Greenfield explored the link between madness and creativity.

The inaugural Edge conference, organised by the Design Business Association, took place at Circus Space in London’s East End. The event saw delegates invited to take part in circus-skills classes including trapeze-flying and stilt-walking as part of its risk theme.

During her presentation, Greenfield informed the audience that creativity often occurs in people with impaired or lower cognitive functioning. She cited children, dementia-sufferers, schizophrenics and people on drugs as showing heightened creativity.

During a panel discussion about the nature of success, the typographer Spiekermann and photographer Toscani clashed over the design and the applied arts business. Toscani objected to the use of the word ‘client’ and to implications that designers take risks.

‘We don’t work down mines – we are a bunch of privileged people who decided to be designers,’ said Toscani.

Wolff raised the point that designers can risk ‘other peoples’ money’, while Spiekermann added that he feels responsible for paying his staff’s wages every month.

Said Spiekermann, ‘You occasionally worry that no one will come to your door to offer you work ever again’, to which Toscani replied, ‘If you don’t have enough clients it is because you are not good enough.’

Richard Seymour of Seymour Powell closed the conference, recommending that designers ‘break out’ of presenting with laptops and Powerpoint, and return to drawing and painting.

He said, ‘I presented a large-scale watercolour of a dashboard to Ford and the client asked me what “cool software” I had used to do it. He was amazed and impressed when I told him I had done it by hand. It makes people realise that there is no button marked “design” on a computer keyboard.’

Seymour also recommended that designers ignore research and instead video people using products or services.

He said, ‘At least three quarters of my job is trying to find the truth in a brief. If I can really work out what the problem is, the solution designs itself. Don’t base your design on expensive and poorly executed research – watch the person instead.’

Hide Comments (10)Show Comments (10)
  • Cherie Lebbon November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    What does Semour think videoing people is if it’s not research – we visually analyse the content of the film – it maybe intuitive but it is still research!

    Also there are risks associated with this – the risk of legal action for instance or poor interpretation, thereby not providing good background to designers or high quality evidence to clients,

    I do agree about about the break away from computers tho’.

  • Adam Fennelow November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I think Richard might have been making a distinction between the “survey type” of research where people have to articulate what they do/think as opposed to what they ACTUALLY do. He gave an example of a man signing the praises of a stairlift, but by watching the footage you could see that he actually found it very difficult to use.

  • Martin Underwood November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    What he was saying is that… don’t ask people for the answer, watch people and they will give the answer without them even trying. He gave some really compelling evidence to back the story. One example was an old man being asked “what is the best thing about your stair lift?” he answered “the lock, to stop my gandchildren from playing on it.” with that, he proceeded to show how he uses the lock, and because of the arthritis in his hands and partial sight he had huge issues with the tiny locking key. So to sum up, the idea was great, but it wasn’t designed for the age of the person using it. So although he thought it was the best thing, it wasn’t, because it didn’t work!

    He had asked specific people for comments, in a focus group as opposed to filming randoms… so I cant see any legal issues.

    It was an amazing day and the guys put some real hard work into it getting it right. for sure!

  • Jack Peterson November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Why can’t people be bothered to spell a person’s name properly? Richurd Semour of Semour Powill

  • MU November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I think you’ll find it’s…
    Richard Seymour of seymourpowell


  • Narjas Mehdi, Inklings November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    IS there a link between creativity and madness?! What a wonderful idea. Something we’ve probably all wondered once or twice before, as creatives. (I know I have!)

    Perhaps lower cognitive functioning (or impairment thereof) means that our ‘thinking filter’ stops getting in the way of our more broadminded subconscious flow of ideas.

    I also rate Baroness Susan Greenfield’s book: The Private Life of the Brain (2002), which took me on a curiosity-satisfying account of how our brains – as mere lumps of meat – gain their sense of consciousness. Fascinating stuff.

    Wish I could’ve been at The Edge yesterday – what risky fabulously important discussions we are broaching nowadays: paving the way for more open-mindedness in society and a return to ‘old’ values.

    Maybe the recession helps, too!

  • Tico November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am
  • Tico November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am
  • Sue Turner November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    A lot of people seem to have a lot to say (not just on this topic, but generally) but seem very reluctant to put their name to their words. People pay you for your opinions. remember that.

  • da bishop November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    RE: we don’t work down mines –

    Well in the 1920s typesetters did indeed work in horrid conditions, they had an average life expectancy of 27, and worked all the hours in a day.

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