​​​​​​​San Francisco Design Week…glimpses into Silicon Valley design culture.

San Francisco Design Week is a celebration of all things design and creative in the Bay Area. The event is produced by AIGA SF, the professional association for those engaged in the discipline, practice and culture of designing. I had the absolute privilege of meeting the fearless leader of AIGA SF, Dawn Zidonis, in Melbourne in 2015, when we asked her to bring Bay Area designers in Amina Horozic, Mia Blume and Miki Setlur to Melbourne to take part in Melbourne International Design Week and our Ideas on Design events.  

Poster series for 2017 San Francisco Design Week (Image Credit:  Owen Geronimo , via  SFDW Facebook )

Poster series for 2017 San Francisco Design Week (Image Credit: Owen Geronimo, via SFDW Facebook)

It was great to see the hard work and dedication of Dawn and her team realised through the opening night of San Francisco Design Week. Held at the spectacular Pier 27, the opening night showcased a number of local exhibitors and installations. Notable highlights included Airbnb’s custom installation ‘Shadow to Light’ – a unique reminder of the power of design to impact current world issues. The installation ‘prompted attendees to recognise their biases, grapple with their limitations, and ask questions that challenged their perspectives’ (Airbnb Design). Inspired by the diverse narratives of five refugees featured in Refugees Deeply series, where News Deeply journalists asked displaced individuals what they packed in their bags when they undertook the dangerous journey in search of safety. Find out more in this Behind the Scenes article.

Airbnb's 'Shadow to Light' Installation (Photo:  Airbnb )

Airbnb's 'Shadow to Light' Installation (Photo: Airbnb)


Whilst I only managed to hear a few talks on Thursday at The-Hub – it was interesting discussion about the power of design to solve social problems and impact social change. Miki Setlur provided insight into the thinking behind the efforts of Facebook’s public engagement team during the 2016 General Election. The power that design can play in providing people with the necessarily knowledge and information to cast their vote and impact the world in a positive way. It was a clear considered strategy that was well executed and had a dramatic result on the public’s interest and awareness in the 2016 General election.

Google Design.

My first official SFDW event was 'An Evening with Google Design' which was made up of a series of lightning talks with designers from various facets of Google Design. The panel each discussed their roles, careers paths, process and creative endeavours. A common thread was the notion of ‘design for scale’ – both Sungmin Arena (Visual Designer, Google Maps) and Jay Runquist (Visual Designer, Google Search) spoke about how often there is a challenge in bringing beautifully crafted design outcomes to an organisation with thousands of employees that implement and use your design which is then seen by millions of users. Jeremiah’s Shaw’s (Visual Designer, Kids Apps) energy and passion for his craft was infectious – and it was great to talk to him over a drink and hear from a self-taught designer that applied himself to perfecting and refining his craft, and always sees learning as a great opportunity to develop. The dark horse of the night – only by my sheer lack of thought and consideration in the field – was Margaret Urban a VUI designer for the Google Assistant. It was fascinating to hear from a linguistic exploring how we can create seamless experiences through voice interaction – an emerging space that can truly benefit from through consideration and design. 


I was privileged to be one of the few that were welcomed into Frog Design’s San Francisco office. Frog are a global design and strategy firm with offices all over the world. They “partner with clients to anticipate the future, evolve organisations and advance the human experience” (Frog). Their Principal Design Director, Christine Todorovich, gave an incredibly engaging talk that explored our modern relationship with time, and how time can be leveraged as a formal design element in order to create meaningful user experiences. Her seven pieces of advice for how to tackle this new element as we design for interaction were:

  1. Design for flow (instead of screens) – the moments in between should be designed and provide an opportunity to create a better experience
  2. Create a language of time for your product.
  3. Make time a core part of the value proposition
  4. Give people perspective by orientating them in time
  5. Augment the reality of time
  6. Solve for syncopation
  7. Design for lifespan

She ended with a quote from Abraham Joshua Heschel:

It’s not a thing that lends significance to a moment, it’s a moment that lends significance to things.
— Abraham Joshua Heschel

Todorovich suggests that as interaction designers – we are becoming the shaper of moments – and this is a responsibility that should be taken up with careful consideration.

During the Q&A session at frog – the question was raised as to how we can create digital products that aim to ‘last forever’. Todorovich’s perspective is similar to that of those Sungmin Arena and Jay Runquist at Google Design in that you should strive to create a system that is deeply rooted in the values that you set out for your product/service/brand, as a system rooted in those values can transcend time....or at least stand the test of time. 


After a restful weekend, enjoying a spectacular hike through Muir Woods, ‘Good Morning, We Are Elephant’ was the next event on my agenda – with beautifully crafted event description copy – I was excited! Elephant was originally created to service their biggest client in Apple. Working with Apple, a large majority of their work can’t be discussed, and so it was super interesting to get a sense of the work they do, without having any idea of the work they have done!

Our custom name badges, created by the amazing Jil at Elephant (Image:  Facebook )

Our custom name badges, created by the amazing Jil at Elephant (Image: Facebook)


My final event at Method provided an insightful panel conversation about building and fostering good design teams. It was interesting to hear from the panel about the ‘shift in making something to making something happen’ and how you need to be equipped to use design to help lead a team of designers who actually make the design. A leader is an advocate for the why in the design process – and being an advocate for the client and the users' problems.

Wrapping Up.

I can’t remember who said it, and at what event – but I loved the sentiment. “Typography – “it’s the most simple and effective way to communicate your brand”…and I couldn’t finish this blog post without mentioning it!

Well, that’s a wrap for #SFDW17 – I enjoyed immersing myself in Bay Area design and gaining insight into some of these incredible studios producing incredible work. Can't wait to be back!