Six Themes of Awesomeness from Semi Permanent 2015

Full disclosure, I freaking love Semi Perm. It’s on my list of ‘must do’ events every year and I never fail to walk away with a big smile on my face and a head full of motivation/inspiration and sometimes confusion. This year was no different and luckily enough for all of you who weren’t there, I have collated a list of six key lessons I gained from the two-day event.

Semi Permanent Lesson One:  Follow Your Passions

Whether it was James Brown from MASH advocating we dose up with Peyote ‘It is like having a $4,000 Canon lens on your eyes’, or Jessica Walsh pointedly saying ‘do personal projects’, the message was loud and clear - follow your passions. This is not to say that if your passion is hand-carved wax reliefs you will find a lucrative role that will allow you to do that and only that. Your day-to-day role may well keep the roof over your head, and your passion project will keep your… well… passion. Making sure to do the things that make you happy or keep you curious allows you to have the room to execute ideas fully, stretch your skill-set or simply tick a few things off your bucket list. I dunno, what you want to do but I’d implore you to do whatever idea (within reason) that is stuck inside your noggin. If you really need a starting point, check out Elle Luna - queen of choosing passion always.

Semi Permanent Lesson Two:  Shit Is Hard (so be supportive)

Who would have thought, an entire set of jobs that are about a) juggling the wishes of your bosses with b) the wishes of the client c) keeping the work to a level where you are OK even putting your name to it d) bringing it all in under budget and e) doing it quickly - could be so tricky. Not to mention what the stuff.co.nz commentors will make of it once it goes live…

Design and agency life is hard, and no one at Semi Permanent this year was pretending otherwise, from crazy people in their underwear barking orders at James Brown through to Michael Bierut having to face the fact that the client wasn’t wrong his work sometimes was just a bit shit and Andrew Gordon grappling with imposter syndrome - it isn’t all roses. Most speakers showed examples of where they went wrong, pointed out flaws in their own thinking or examples of where they learnt through failure. All in all - it felt like a much more honest representation of living and working in design. Honesty is freeing, and I hope this is something we can embrace as an industry. So let the feels out guys and together we might be able to problem solve solutions (or just create a list of clients none of us should ever work with). 

Semi Permanent Lesson Three: People Matter

Chris Doyle was easily my favourite speaker, as soon as he said the following “you don’t work with work. When you work, you work with people. People are the sole reason we create work…” it spoke to the core of what we do here at BizDojo.  This paired with Michael Bierut’s battle cry to listen to your clients, Senneps harnessing of nostalgia for emotive connection or even Evan Roth’s call for folks to get involved in the internet instead of being simply users all pointed to a rather nice (but oft forgotten) fact - it’s not just about the work, people matter. There were countless examples of how speakers worked with their teams to empower them to make choices and be part of the decision making process, an emphasis on user lead design, inclusivity and ways to continue the conversation.

If you are making beautiful work for your book, maybe it’s time to consider another way - as Chris Doyle says ‘fuck the folio, its about people’.

Semi Permanent Lesson Four: Do R&D

Hear ye, hear ye, all managers, business owners or freelancers who ‘don’t have time or budget for research and development’ - the message from Semi Perm is clear, so kindly check yourself before you wreck yourselves. The amount of times that the phrase ‘this started as a little R&D project and then [enter successful outcome here]’ occurred was pretty ridiculous. Everything from beautiful works of art, through to award winning campaigns right through to commercially successful apps all started as inhouse R&D. Not only does R&D allow yourself (and/or your team) to flex their brain muscles, it also gives space for new opportunities to make themselves present. Sennep’s highly successful game OLO? Began as R&D. So throw a little money, time or space at your team (or yourself) to get that research happening.

Semi Permanent Lesson Five: Shut Up And ____

Shut up and listen to your clients. Shut up and go outside. Just get off the computer and make shit. Stop working so much and play. Don’t focus on the budget focus on the outcome. Fuck the folio - people matter. Don’t be passive, do stuff.

Essentially, be active. Do things. Question stuff. Shake up your practice. Get uncomfortable.

Semi Permanent Lesson Six: No More Singular Titles

Gone are the days of ‘illustrator’ or ‘designer’, ‘graphic designer’ or ‘UX designer’. Yes, today you should expect to have a core discipline - but a working understanding (or curiosity to explore) other disciplines is essential, especially in a world where these disciplines are increasingly blurred. Look at it as a way to expand your learning rather than have your main passion encroached upon. Imagine the holistic elegant solutions you can create if you have some basic understanding of code, a good idea of strategy and willingness to dip your toes into the world of the suits.

Anya is the Brand & Communications wrangler over at GridAKL. You can follow her ramblings (and conference live tweeting) by finding her on twitter here.