An Inside Look at Bloomberg Businessweek Design 2013


Every once in a while, right about the time we’re shipping our most recent issue, my juices run clear. My clever words abandon me, my idea factory loses power, and all I want to do is curl up on the couch with some mindless magazines/television/binge eating materials. I’m cooked. But yesterday’s Bloomberg Businessweek Design 2013 at San Francisco’s deYoung Museum was an inspiring affair that stimulated some fresh firings in my worn-out synapses.

Palm trees despite the cold outside the deYoung museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

In a series of 15-minutes talks and moderated discussions, design headliners including starchitect (and MacArthur “genius” grant recipient) Jeannie Gang, Patricia Urquiola, New York Times graphics editor Steve Duenes (of Snow Fall and election-recap fame) and 3D Systems founder Scott Summit shared insights on their creative processes. The entire event was pretty hush-hush, with a minimum of publicity and an invite-only guest list that grew via word of mouth to a small group of 200 or so. It was a curated crowd of architects, designers, writers and business leaders, and considering the high-powered list of speakers and attendees (Path co-founders Dave Morin, Wired founder Louis Rossetto and TechShop CEO Mark Hatch, to name a few), it was awesomely low-key and friendly.

The OUYA system has been heavily anticipated for game- and design-nerds everywhere.

San Francisco’s Yves Behar unveiled the development model of his highly anticipated Ouya, the $99 Android-based gaming console that blew past its Kickstarter goal by nearly 100 percent and earned more than $8 million dollars for development. He also dropped news of his redesign for Nivea, with the so-obvious-it’s-invisible stamping of the famous cream’s blue tin circle onto the brand.

San Francisco’s Yves Behar unveiled his new Nivea logo redesign.

Another surprise was the talk by Janette Sadik-Khan, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation. ”You can paint the city you want to see,” she said (after walking out in a killer three-quarter sleeve leather dress, might I add). She showed image after image of her transformable streets, where bike lanes and pedestrian gathering places sprang up overnight with a coat of paint and carefully placed planters. “Everywhere we created a plaza, people materialized,” says Sadik-Khan, which makes them attractive locations for businesses and also helps renew lost neighborhoods.

Madison Square gets a people-friendly facelift. Courtesy of the New York Department of Transportation.


The event had so many highlights, but here are a few more of my favorites:

Do you mean Greenville, South Carolina?  

Architect Jeannie Gang’s favorite towns to work in are Tokyo and Greenville, South Carolina.


“I needed a time machine”

Patricia Urquiola once designed a fly-shaped time machine, she says, “because there was no time machine.”


Founders crash on couches

Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky slept on member couches to figure out whether his user experience was well-designed.


Pixar can be scary

Michael B. Johnson, the story pipeline supervisor at Pixar, showed a few disturbing movie scenes that didn’t make it off the storyboard.


People like robots that are like people

Leila Takayama of Willow Garage showed us how robots that are programmed to “look sad” after failing a task are much more likeable. If it weren’t just a video, I would have cuddled that sad, failing robot.


Japanese disaster relief is so (so) smart

Villagers made homeless by the Fukushima disaster were placed in temporary housing that mimicked the layout of their home village—neighbors next to neighbors. “Designing with humanity,” IDEO chief creative officer Paul Bennett called it.


Designers hang out with Kanye West

Es Devlin, stage and costume designer who created the London Olympics opening ceremony design, has worked with ‘Ye for seven years. 

Es Devlin’s design for Kanye West and Jay-Z’s Watch the Throne tour.

If design seems a little off-topic for the business weekly, editor Josh Tyrangiel explained the stretch. “Every week, I’m basically hosting a cocktail party in your home,” he told me of carefully selecting what to publish and cover in his pages. Design might be an extension of their normal beat, but deciding to pursue what was missing inspired this event. And while the deYoung was an ideal venue for the small-scale design gathering, Tyrangiel is already eyeing Chicago for next year’s repeat performance. 

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