DesignThinkers: George Lois

The first full day of the DesignThinkers conference in Toronto's Metro Convention Centre has wrapped (though I'm certain that many attendees are living it up at the conference party—my style was sushi with Glen and Finley and now back at the hotel). I have heard such great things about the Design Thinkers conference over the years and the first day did not disappoint. Thank you so much to the Alberta Magazine Publishers Association for the bursary that has facilitated this trip out east.

To promote UPPERCASE magazine, I donated 500 magazines and copies of Work/Life 2 to the event. For a small indie publisher, to give away this quantity of merchandise is a very big deal so I was happy to see so many scoop them up—they were gone so quickly! I hope people will be inspired enough by experiencing the magazine in person that they will be inclined to support future issues and subscribe. Thank you to Hilary, Michelle and the helpers at the event for helping to coordinate this giveaway and for lugging boxes!

The day's keynote presentations were bookended by some "elder statesment" from design and advertising's wild teenage years of the sixties and punctuated with younger generations for whom social media marketing is the new currency.



image from Electrric Bloom

Much to his dislike, George Lois is often introduced as "the original mad man" in reference to the popular television program. Lois was indeed a driving creative force of Madison Avenue advertising and design in the sixties; his official bio calling him "a pioneer of the landmark Creative Revolution in American Advertising." His iconic Esquire covers set the benchmark for all art directors who followed him. His phrase "I want my MTV" helped launch a new era in broadcasting. The success of his professional output merits the accolades. Time (and ego) have bestowed a reverence towards him. And perhaps this also entitles him to be an opinionated curmudgeon—the persona makes for an entertaining presentation. When an old guy swears and calls people "schmucks", it gets laughs.

Some George Lois words of wisdom, paraphrased from my notes:

  • be a graphic communicator: create big ideas not just designs
  • if there is no meaning to your work there is no meaning to your life
  • treat words with reverence: equate words and design to the words and music in a song
  • using a computer does not equal a big idea
  • intuition can be more important than intellect
  • strive to defeat habit; originality should win
  • there's a big idea in everything you do

(Read his books for his own way with words.)

Lois' presentation ended with a rant about Mad Men that was originally published in an issue of Playboy:

[Mad Men] is nothing more than a soap opera set in a glamorous office where stylish fools hump their appreciative, coiffured secretaries, suck up martinis and smoke themselves to death as they produce dumb, lifeless advertising – oblivious to the inspiring civil rights movement, the burgeoning women’s lib movement, the evil Vietnam war and other seismic events of the turbulent, roller-coaster 1960s that altered America forever. The heroic movers and shakers of the Creative Revolution…bear no resemblance to the cast of characters on Mad Men. The more I think and write about Mad Men, the more I take the show as a personal insult. So f*ck you, Mad Men, you phony gray-flannel-suit, male-chauvinist, no-talent, WASP, white-shirted, racist, anti-Semitic Republican SOBs!

Lois relished delivering this rant (one would assume that he has had the opportunity to deliver it on many occasions) and it elicited much glee from the audience. He ended it with a photo composition of his younger self and Don Draper, proclaiming, "Besides, I was much better looking."