Design Week Is Coming

The festival of workshops, forums, open houses, and parties takes an open-source approach to showcasing Portland design.

By Zach Dundas October 1, 2013

Design Week Portland blows up all over town next week, celebrating our design industries with interdisciplinary swagger—just about every genre of design shows up somewhere—and inclusivity that promise inspiration and threaten exhaustion. (There are about 180 different events. Hydrate.)

And fittingly enough, DWP (October 7-12) is, itself, a sort of design experiment. Launched last year, this meta-mega-event took initial inspiration from the wealth of high-quality design programming Portland already offered. “We looked around and saw Designspeaks, we saw Creative Mornings, at We Make, at PSU’s Show & Tell,” says DWP cofounder Eric Hillerns, a designer and brand strategist. “We figured if we could get similar 10 events together, it’s a Design Week.”

So Hillerns and codirector Tsilli Pines—incidentally, possessor of one of Portland’s best names—decided to set up an open source-ish model: not so much a festival as a platform, a rallying point, a theme, a viral idea.

Something like that, anyway.

Basically, Portland design professionals and organizations (like AIGA Portland, which is hosting a "curated exploration of the future of interaction," at right) are encouraged to throw an event into the Design Week stew, an approach the organizers hope breeds just enough chaos to reflect the city’s creative ferment.

“It’s not as closely guarded as a conference with one central command,” Hillerns says. “There are some disadvantages to that, I suppose, but that’s not really how Portland operates right now. In some ways, the way this is taking shape is a reflection of how the economy has changed. It’s more decentralized, with many small, overlapping economies within a larger whole.”

It’s really a simple idea: a wide-open cocktail party of an event, in contrast to the hyper-curation that often characterizes current ideas fests.

Amid the many open houses, talks, works sessions, and parties, of course, a few events do stand out. Hillerns himself points to graphic design legend David Carson, who rocked the magazine world with Ray Gun magazine in the early ‘90s and will hold forth in iconoclastic style (most likely) next Monday night.

Next Tuesday, Google hosts an intriguing, application-only design-a-thon. “What is it?” Hillerns says. “Well, isn’t that always the question with Google? They’ve been doing this around the country and the world—sending out a general invitation to a community of designers, and getting them in a room to work on ideas that may or may not be related to Google’s business model.”

Wednesday evening’s Dissecting Design forum, organized by the Portland Advertising Federation, features an estimable line-up of local talent, from branding powerhouse Sandstrom Partners founder Steve Sandstrom to Ziba creative director Eric Park to Elizabeth Dye, creator of the wedding-dress brand/studio English Dept.

Thursday brings Stumpquest, a prospectively awesome festival-within-a-festival dedicated to local video game design, featuring workshops, live testing, and a tournament. Around the Monthly’s offices, there’s definite buzz about the details-TBD Friday party hosted by Escape Collective, whose ruggedly elegant geodesic shelters we featured in our Trophy Case column recently (see right). And amid all the modish pop and buzz, it’s nice to see Hollywood Theatre screening Design is One, a documentary on design icons Massimo and Lella Vignelli.

The complete schedule is, frankly, a little overwhelming—though the handy interactive map of the many studio and design-firm open houses might help. All told, it’s a bonfire of bright thinking, true to the original inclusive vision.

“We wanted to collaborate in a way that could scale, and be organic,” Hillerns says. “We wanted this to evolve as all kinds of people participate.” Mission accomplished, already.

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