NEW YORK 2010 4.14.2010
Piers Fawkes, founder of the trends research and innovation company, opened the 4th annual
conference with PSFK‟s mission: to provide inspiration to make things better.
The day would unfold with a number of 20 minute “Good Ideas” talks that fall into 4 broad
categories: Storytelling, Creative Refocus, Changemaking and Disruption.
Keynote speaker Rob Walker, national columnist for the New York Times magazine and
author of Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are, kicked off
the event. Walker recently began an experiment called Significant Objects, recruiting writers to
invent stories about items picked up at thrift stores and yard sales for less than $4. Their theory,
which has been proven with eBay auctions, was that even imaginary narratives could add
measurable value to „worthless‟ objects. Walker took this on as a side project, and admitted that
at the beginning it seemed totally hopeless. According to Walker, though, some of the best
projects seemed hopeless from the start, like Art Speigleman‟s Maus or Laurie Anderson‟s
United States Live. Luckily, Significant Objects has been very successful and has run three
separate times, raising thousands of dollars for charities and organizations that support young
writers. Significant Objects has even sparked side projects like Fictionaut‟s Why They Cried,
and one object will be featured in an art gallery in California.
Steve Powers, a graffiti artist known as ESPO from Philly who once volunteered his time to
renew the old hand painted signs in Coney Island, spoke about his project: A Love Letter for
You, a legal commissioned city-wide mural series of brick valentines on the Philly skyline.
Drawing input, inspiration and work from the community, Powers created a letter to and from
west Philadelphia with the help of the skilled hands of 20 of the finest spray painters in America.
Ouigi Theodore, founder of up-and-coming men‟s fashion label Brooklyn Circus, spoke on
using what you have to get what you want. Utilizing local talent from craigslist to help with
design, participating in the community (both geographic and digital) and using his website (a
readership of 200,000), Brooklyn Circus has made their way into the iron-tight fashion business.
Nick Felton, showed the world that thousands of seamlessly tedious and useless points of
data could not only be easily understood, but could also become beautiful works of art. A few
years ago Felton began to quantify everything in his life and found a way to take those clusters
of data and measurements and turn them into the Feltron Reports: 5 years worth of infographic
art that helps that breaks down his entire world. Nick has created another site, Daytum, which
is a free service that helps you collect, categorize and communicate your everyday data. By
using this site and contributing data in a real and usable way, people can better understand
themselves by recognizing their own patterns and trends and well as taking a look at the bigger
picture see these measurements, trends and shifts of a macro scale.
Andy Spade and Anthony Sperduti of Partners & Spade shop and consultancy
showed us that advertising stories can be told in many ways, not all of which involving TV, radio,
print or even digital. When J. Crew wanted to overcome the “preppy, khacki and baby blue”
sterotype for their men‟s line, these guys created The Liquor Store: a J. Crew men‟s storefront
in Tribeca built into an old bar. The space includes everything from a Strands book corner
selling Kerouac and Hemingway to luggage and accessories from other brands that J. Crew
admires. Spade and Sperduti believe in “Thinking Small”. They tell clients that the bigger your
company gets, the smaller you should act. In other words, for every accountant you hire, hire an
artist. By acting small, brands garner the attention of influential thinkers and the media. They
enable employees to take ownership and act on their own intuition, and they change consumer
perception and appeal to a new demographic.
Swissmiss is a wildly popular design inspiration blog started by Tina Roth Eisenberg, a
Swiss designer based out of DUMBO, Brooklyn. Tina started the blog in 2005 as a personal
visual archive, and she now has 900,000 monthly visitors globally. Her content comes from four
sources: reader submissions, referring sites, Twitter and her personal collection of favorite blogs
and sites. She has worked on the Visual Thesaurus (a great brainstorming tool), designs for
MoMa, and the world‟s most beautiful online organization tool: Teux Deux.
Reinvention was the theme of Erin Proulx’s talk. From the hundreds of stories he gathered
during and after the making of his film, “Lemonade,” Eric shared what he‟s learned about
starting over. “Lemonade” follows a group of advertising people who were laid off and used it as
an opportunity to work on their true passions, whether it be making coffee or teaching yoga.
Adam Wells is an industrial designer who uses products and spaces to create an
experience. He spoke about creating real value in an experience through what can only be
described as experiential content – making the interaction with an object or space impactful
enough to the consumer to derive emotion from them and provide the best encounter possible.
Working with companies like Virgin Atlantic and Dyson, Adam is helping to refocus industrial
design to produce interaction with spaces and products that add to the brand, creating one
aspect of the content (often in a tangible realm) of an entire marketing campaign.
Essentially just a big kid, Shantell Martin is redefining how people experience and
perceive art. Expanding conventional definitions of drawing and pioneering an area that
combines improvised live illustrations with music, Shantell is helping to ad new dimension to the
way people interact and experience art. Most notably, Shantell teams up with DJ‟s, designers,
and musicians and provides live performances with a digital tablet, allowing her to project live
drawings on walls and the audience. Interacting with the music, the audience and the art allows
Shantell creates a new environment that is all her own and can be utilized to create something
bigger than its individual pieces.
Colin Beavin (aka No Impact Man) started off his presentation with a question “If we keep
creating the same thing (say for example cooler cell phones) year after year, is that really
progress? Or is it just more of the same?” His point was to help get us as individuals and
businesses back on the right track, not just in what we consume, but in what we create as well.
Colin started his search for “more good” in 2006 when he launched a year-long project in which
he and his family went off the grid and attempted to live in the middle of New York City with as
little environmental impact as possible, cutting out all electricity and even toilet paper. He took
what he learned and is now trying to preach the word through his book, website, and consulting.
Colin has a firm grasp on marketing and consumerism and works with individuals and
companies on one simple equations: less bad more good. He tries to encourage individuals
and companies alike to be more proactive in their conservation efforts.
Andrew Hoppin was appointed the first ever Chief Information Officer for the New York
State Senate in February 2009. His mission is to dramatically improve government
transparency, citizen participation and operational efficiency using technology. Check out
nysenate.gov to see how easy it can be to interact with government right from your computer.
NYU‟s Interactive Telecommunications Program has a “Designing for Unicef” class that made
the leap from academia to action in disaster relief zones recently. John Dimatos, a resident
researcher, oversees the student projects that were kicked into action to support Unicef‟s efforts
Zach Lieberman focused the majority of his talk on the concept of interaction. Definitely
the most popular of all the speakers at PSFK, Zach showed us a few great pieces of technology
and frameworks that are helping people and machines interact better. Using a combination of
creativity, community, software, and empathy, Zach showed the audience a few incredible ideas
that he helped bring to life. Firstly, he showed us the work he did with Toyota in helping to
create their own font for the launch of their new car. Second, he showed us the EyeWriter
Project, which is an ongoing collaborative research effort to empower people who are suffering
from ALS with creative technologies. EyeWriter is new software that helps people that have lost
most if not all motor facilities retain their creative talents with the use of a specially designed
camera that tracks the movement of your eye to draw and create on a digital canvas. Finally,
Zach spoke on openframeworks.cc which is essentially a giant community of developers that
have archived all of their coding in open source, meaning anyone and everyone has access to
thousands of lines of code to help them in their creative endeavors and in pushing software
development and creativity even further. Zach envisions a world where software is like the
subconscious, and interactivity with machines is as intuitive as breathing. The biggest take-
away we got from Zach is his revision of the DIY movement, which he changed to DIWO (Doing
it with others)-- people coming together in an open environment where progress and empathy
reign, creating beautiful works or art as well as meaningful and impactful technology.
Peter Weijmarshausen has created an interesting digital marketplace centering on 3D
printing. At shapeways.com, those familiar with 3D software (such as CAD) can upload their
plans to Shapeways and have their products both printed and sold online in their marketplace.
Those looking for unique and interesting gifts and products can also take advantage of the
marketplace and purchase the products that were all created using 3D printers.
Grant McCracken, author of the recently published Chief Culture Officer, spoke about how
the corporation can become more skilled in finding the opportunities and avoiding the perils that
come from culture.
Avner Ronen is the founder of Boxee, a multi-media browser which combines the worlds of
the Internet and Television. Avner, on the forefront of mixed media gave a few insights and
conjectures into what sort of world our media will live in over the next few years. Avner foresees
a world where access and content will be sold separately. Where artificial barriers such as cable
and premium channel subscriptions will be taken down, and building value within each entity
(program) will be a necessity to drive subscriptions and profit. He believes that the discovery of
new entertainment will remain mostly passive, meaning that there will remain a lot of room for
innovation in how we discover what sort of media we will consume. This could have major
relevance in how we advertise in the future. As well, audience fragmentation will get much
worse, and platforms will grow to become audience aggregators more so than anything else.
While these are all conjectures, Avner sees these shifts in consumption to be great catalysts for
good in how we produce, consume, and utilize media.
Naveen Selvadurai is the co-founder of the up-and-coming mobile service foursquare,
which helps people connect and interact with the world around them. Naveen, along with his
partner Dennis Crowley, wanted to make a way for people to motivate themselves to try new
things and meet new people. Within social networking (besides the big players
facebook/myspace/etc.) people didn‟t have enough friends to make these small programs
viable. A network with only 5-10 friends wasn‟t engaging enough. To counteract this problem,
Naveen introduced game mechanics into the social realm to help challenge people and create a
more interactive experience. Hence, foursquare was born and phenomenon of personal gaming
and content tracking was born. More than anything else, foursquare is helping people do three
things: connect, challenge and track. It helps connect people through interactivity within their
social realm, it challenges them to explore new places and try new things, and it helps them
track what they are doing. Imagine the power of know every single time you went to the gym last
year, or all the restaurants you ate at, or number of times you did any activity. Naveen and
foursquare are helping us to understand that the more we know about what we have done, the
more we know about ourselves, which is often less than we think.