Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Lessons from my TEDx Naperville experience

On Friday, November 6th, I participated in a creative experiment at TEDx Naperville. Arthur Zards, founder of TEDx Naperville, had challenged me to create flag designs for the event. The flag designs were to be modeled after each presenter's speech. On the surface, this sounds like another graphic recorder assignment until I learned that there are very specific principles that have been established by the International Vexollological Association, an organization whose sole existence is the scientifically study the art of the flag. Like Urban Sketchers, the Vexollological Association has many many chapters across Europe, Asia and North America and abide by some basic governing principles. Sound familiar? 

Here is the TED Talk shared with me to help inspire my flag designs. https://www.ted.com/talks/roman_mars_why_city_flags_may_be_the_worst_designed_thing_you_ve_never_noticed?language=en
Spoiler alert: Urban Sketchers Chicago, the flag for our great City of Chicago is upheld as the best designed city flag of all time!

The biggest principles that changed my approach were to simplify the design to its essence and that no lettering was allowed. What? I could only use pictures or symbols to capture 18 minutes of content. Was this possible? By the end of the day, not only was it possible, it was empowering.

Here are my takeaways from this experience that will now play into all of my future design efforts (with a slight variation on the flag design principles):

1. Keep it simple. In the flag design world, as well as company logos and user interface icons alike, it should be so simple that it can quickly be scribbled and understood in a game of "Pictionary."

2. Limiting your color palette is actually stronger than having an arsenal of paints, pencils and markers. Besides, any Urban Sketcher will tell you that drawing on location forces you to make some tough decisions about "how much of your home art studio do you really want to schlep around with you all day?" Decide what kind of sketching you will do that day and just grab those tools. Andrew Banks may only bring his ink pen while Don Colley will carry 5 grey markers and one black liner pen. 

3. Boil the sketch down to only it's essential elements. Leave out the parts that do not help the viewer see what you want them to see. Sometimes a drawing of a gas meter or fire hydrant is more captivating than an entire landscape (and it will take less time to complete over your lunch break).

4. Be distinctive and relevant. In urban sketching, there is a wide range of styles that are both impressive and personal to the artist who created them. Embrace your style and own it. As I once heard author and public speaker Seth Godin say, "Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken."

Here are the final flag designs I created during each of the TED Talks, applying the above principles: