“Since 1980, Design Camp® has been AIGA Minnesota’s premier event and the largest regional design conference in the country. Held annually in early October at a lodge in northern Minnesota, this event sets the standard for design conferences across the country. Design Camp provides an atypical conference structure, mixing indoor and outdoor activities with both educational and social events. Design Camp lasts for three days. Campers arrive Friday morning for registration and depart Sunday afternoon. Five keynote speakers set the tone for camp, while small-group workshops and creative sessions follow each presentation. Attendees (referred to as “campers”) stay in lakefront cabins or golf-friendly condos and meet in the main lodge for events and meals. Friday and Saturday nights offer much socializing and tend to run late into the night. The conference averages 350 total attendees, including campers, speakers, presenters, sponsors, and vendors. Campers come primarily from Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota, Illinois, and Canada. Most campers are graphic designers and art directors or involved in the graphic arts (photographers, illustrators, web developers, educators, copywriters, etc.)—but all are welcome.”
“Front End Design Conference is two days of immersive web design and front end development delivered via keynote style talks. There is also a day of more in-depth workshops thrown in for good measure.
Dan has been hosting The Front-End Design Conference since way back in 2009. He helped to foster a growing community of web folks in and around the Tampa/St.Pete area and has built one of the most heartfelt and genuine conferences in the country. It’s little surprise, because when we think of Dan, those words come so easily to mind: Genuine and Heartfelt.
The Front-End Design Conference was one of the first conferences we got involved in and continued to attend year after year. This conference has become our home away from home and we’ve become emotionally attached to it and Dan.
Our experiences at Dan’s conference shaped our expectations of what a web conference should be and as the crew that hosts Converge, BDConf and Grok, we always try to recreate some of that welcoming atmosphere and positive energy at each of our conferences.”
I may have spoken too soon when I declared that there was no need to plan for dinner during Design Week Portland’s series of open houses. In contrast to Tuesday night’s tour of N and NE Portland offices, where giant tamales, Mediterranean BBQ, and pizza abounded, the scene in NW was a relative food desert.
Nevertheless, it was a welcome excuse to check out Citizen, a truly remarkable company that concerns itself primarily with the intersections of design and technology, performing research and analysis of market and culture trends to find new ways for tech advances to integrate into our lives—and they create some seriously elegant flowcharts in the process. They also have one of the coolest office spaces in the city, tucked away on the fringe of where NW starts to become primarily industrial. Upon arrival they had Purple Rain projecting on the wall (respect), a few paces away from a ceiling pendant that had been fashioned out of Apple earbuds.
At this point, we’re so deep in Design Week that you can’t help but start to recognize people who are working the same circuit you are. Such was the case with Luke, an architectural consultant I had also seen at Wednesday night’s party at NORTH. Mutual recognition demanded we introduce ourselves, swapping notes about the other events we had already attended, and those we planned to. It was pleasant enough that I stayed longer than I meant to, but eventually I pulled away, on to the next adventure.
Big Frog Custom T-shirts has been hidden in plain sight on W Burnside for four years, though I’d never heard of them. They’ll digitally print a design of your, or their, making with no minimum, on tees that come in an array of colors and sizes and… that’s pretty much it! But they did have snacks.
The simplicity of Big Frog afforded me more time at Hand-Eye Supply, a shop that specializes in the best versions of tools for all kinds of projects. There’s a global selection of writing instruments, notebooks, tools, axes, and workwear—a curated retail haven for the fetishization of creative supplies. They are the retail arm of Core 77, an influential design site whose job board, Coroflot, is having its new office built within the adjacent Hand-Eye warehouse. It’s actually on wheels, and began as a planned tiny house by Laurence Sarrazin of Los Osos design studio, built with wood milled on the property it was originally slated for. I’ve met Sarrazin once before—she’s brilliant, and I enjoyed sharing a beer and conversation with her, though my stomach was starting to rumble by the time I finished ogling the Italian-made staplers on my way out.
My last open house of the evening was Anthropologie. I’d been curious about how they’d activate the store for the occasion, and thought they might use the opportunity to highlight their collaborations with independent designers. Nope! They were simply open, business humming as usual. It worked out since I needed to price out a duvet cover, but I didn’t dwell long before walking the few blocks to the westside tomboy headquarters of Wildfang.
Presented by Sockeye creative studio, the event at Wildfang was accompanied by—finally, hooray!—freshly cooked up dim sum treats by Boke Bowl, which just about saved my life. It featured Piers Fawkes, founder and editor of PSFK, a site that specializes in future-thinking news, inspiration, and forecasts. The night’s topic was “The Future of Retail”—basically a breakdown of the latest technology tools being used by companies to communicate with customers, maximize the availability of product information, and streamline their overall systems in ways that are both admirably efficient and depressingly capable of eliminating human employment. It was on the dry side for a jovial, dim sum and canned wine kind of crowd, but it got my juices flowing, and I drove home thinking through the inspiration it gave me for my billion-dollar startup idea.
And no, obviously, I’m not telling you what that is.
Marjorie is a Creative Circle candidate and your guide to the open houses/events at Design Week Portland.
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The description was vague but intriguing for “Further North,” a Design Week Portland event being hosted by NORTH, an advertising agency known for its work with Columbia Sportswear, Pacific Foods, and Cover Oregon (not their fault!). Would it be a panel, a lecture… ? Turns out, it was mostly just a party—a really good party—albeit with opportunities to make your own poster in the spirit of NORTH’s handmade methods for creating fonts and label designs. There was also a booth (where you could ask a NORTH employee anything), free burritos, beer on tap, and a display of how the creatives at NORTH go from literally doodling with ink and paper to creating some of the most recognizable package design on the shelves of the grocery store.
Full disclosure: I knew there would be some familiar faces in the crowd. One of NORTH’s Creative Directors is an old acquaintance who dates one of my good friends, and an art director I’ve worked with for years produces his outdoor adventure magazine, Stay Wild (to which I also contribute writing and copyediting), under NORTH’s custodianship. Since I was rolling solo, this took the edge off potential awkwardness, but instead of limiting me to interactions with people I already knew, these associations served as a bridge to get to know other, looser contacts.
Standing in the same conversation circle as the aforementioned CD put me in position to strike up a long conversation with the NORTH’s Executive Producer—who I’d technically met previously, but only slightly knew. The arrival of a freelance photographer I knew led to an introduction to a Portland-based wardrobe stylist whose work I’ve been following. I didn’t know that Kelley Roy, founder of the ADX manufacturing hub and Portland Made advocacy center, would be there, but I ended up talking to her for most of the last leg of the evening, and I even met, IRL, the owner of a modeling and talent agency before we realized we’d already corresponded over email months ago.
I was surprised to check my phone and realize that I’d stayed for almost the entirety of the three-hour event, floating from conversation to conversation, and getting an impromptu tour of NORTH employees’ desk collections (including a ticket stub from Dollywood, a sea monkey terrarium, and a preserved baby shark), their hilarious “email treadmill,” and the dark, upholstered booths hidden throughout their offices for private phone calls (though they look like they’re for making out).
In an industry where relationships and personal chemistry are a bedrock, NORTH set the tone by being welcoming and curious about its guests. There may not have been much formality or structure involved, but I left the event feeling fulfilled, connected, and as though the time—though about twice as long as anticipated—had been well spent.
Good news: No need to make dinner arrangements during these few days that Design Week Portland’s open houses are in effect. This year, the studios, agencies, and retailers who are opening their doors have really kicked it up a notch with the hosting duties. Show up early enough and you may well find a full dinner awaits. In fact, if I’d wanted to, I could have eaten three dinners last night, between attending four open houses and one well-sponsored event.
I began at Beam & Anchor, an out-of-the-way gem of a design shop on N Interstate that traffics in beautifully curated housewares and one of the best selections of accessories in the city. Above the retail space are a few studios occupied by makers of various sorts, who welcomed the public upstairs for a rare glimpse behind the scenes.
As a serial DIY-remodeler, I’m a magpie for all things home-oriented, so I was immediately drawn to the corner of the space occupied by Current Collection, a not-quite-launched line of pendant light fixtures designed by Nash Martinez. There’s no website or official list of stockists yet, and Current’s Instagram is claimed but unused, but you can glimpse a few of the pieces exclusively downstairs in Beam & Anchor should you be in the market for an illuminating conversation starter. (Note: there was hummus and grapes and that sort of thing, but the gustatory highlight of this open house was definitely the bottle of limited edition Spanish red wine Martinez opened for the occasion.)
Moving on, around the corner I had to check the address twice to be sure I had arrived at The Brigade. The black door leading up to the spacious, whitewashed offices of this young digital agency is marked only with their logo, a pair of crossed swords. It’s an agency with a musical bent—they’ve worked extensively with Spotify, and helped create the Nike Women Move Mix app, which curates athletes’ playlists based on taste, type of workout, and pace—and a young, friendly staff, who gathered around an enormous spread of tamales from Tamale Boy, which is set to open a new location in The Brigade’s neighborhood. After downing an enormous vegetarian version, I set about making new friends, including super-nice Brigade partner Zeke Howard, with whom I connected over a few mutual contacts and swapped email addresses.
Dining and networking needs addressed, it was time to move on to 534, the shared studio space of Spacecraft, Merkled Studio, New Refined Basics, and VINCAdesign, where there was a casual, family friendly Mediterranean-style cookout underway. Used mainly by people working with wood and metal for furniture and jewelry, the space has a garage-y vibe, littered here and there with intriguing evidence of ongoing experimentations, like a giant egg-shaped tree burl that’s been polished smooth for no apparent purpose. There I bumped into a few familiar faces from Portland’s independent retail and fashion design scene, sampled an unlikely sounding cocktail involving spicy black pepper, pomegranate, and cucumber infusions (unique, delicious), and took a peek at furniture prototypes inspired by tree shapes and midcentury aesthetics.
The last open house of the evening was actually more of a group sale featuring the work of students from the MFA in Applied Craft + Design program created as a collaboration between the Oregon College of Applied Craft (OCAC) and the Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA). Students, alum, and faculty offered an array of work priced at $50 or less, spanning hang-able art, wearable art, ceramics, handmade books, and more. A few clever items, like the grapefruit drinking vessels by Cat Chidester Brown, made me wish I had as much space in my cabinets as I do love for discovering new ceramics designs (read: limitless).
I ended the night next door, in the spacious XOXO Outpost warehouse, where I passed on dinner opportunity #3 in the form of free pizza from Roman Candle. Worry not—it was decimated without my help by fellow attendees of Overshare, a panel discussion and podcast taping hosted by the creative freelance network Working Not Working. The Portland-centric panel featured illustrator and educator Kate Bingaman-Burt, The Pressure’s Adam R. Garcia, and newly minted Nike designer Rich Tu. Beginning with a round of white wine shots (ewwwww) to break the ice, WNW co-founder Justin Gignac set about grilling his panel on everything from their feelings about Portland past, present, and future to admissions of their worst professional anxieties.
Billed as a casual, unguarded exercise in real talk, plenty of F-bombs were dropped as the panelists proved themselves generously forthcoming about their methods of self-preservation, early days of struggle, and the ongoing work of staying inspired (turns out maintaining a state of perpetual dissatisfaction may be a sign you’re doing it right). There wasn’t a lot of prescriptive advice, but it helped serve as evidence that those who pursue a creative career path share the same struggles. Not only is that struggle real, but in the long run, it’s also the point.
While much of the city was still, presumably, recovering from the long line to the puppy room at Design Week Portland’s opening party, a group of festival attendees gathered early-ish on Sunday morning. Hosted by Confluence, the 10 a.m. hike doubled as a tour of restoration efforts underway in the Sandy River Delta, crowned by a Maya Lin-designed bird blind structure that marries aesthetic principles to the efforts of conservation.
Confluence is a non-profit that concerns itself with connecting people to place, concentrating on points along the Columbia River. Our walk on Sunday, for instance, went through 1,000 Acre Dog Park, an off-leash pooch paradise I’ve visited several times without understanding much about the land (actually closer to 1,500 acres) history of the area. Originally used by native peoples as grounds for hunting and gathering, the property was, among other things, since used as a cattle pasture and the site of an aluminum factory before being reclaimed by the U.S. Forest Service. Under its management, it is being restored to its native state, including the removal of invasive Himalayan blackberry, which choked much of it until a few years ago.
I once stumbled upon the bird blind without realizing what it was. Intentionally placed around a sudden corner of trail for unexpected impact, the round structure is made from a series of wooden slats, with a long ramp reaching out of the forest. Subtle engraving on the ramp’s handrail offers an explanation of the blind’s existence, and upon closer examination you’ll find that each slat is devoted to a native species, as noted in the journals of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Each animal’s scientific name is listed along with the name the explorers’ used in reference to it (like a striped skunk that was listed as a “polecat”) and their conservation status. A just-completed, updated poster (see below) by ecological designer Dylan Woock mimics the round design of the structure, and bears good news—most of the species’ statuses are an improvement over their listing at the time of Lin’s installation, thanks in large part due to efforts by groups like Confluence.
Most of this week at #DWPDX will be devoted to urban affairs and digital innovation, but it felt good to get out in the sun for a blast of fresh air, sunshine, and a little education on how thoughtful design can be deployed to educate and preserve our natural assets as well as drive our industries. Thus cleansed, I’m ready to plunge back into the realm of branding agencies, international retail, and experimental city architecture. Let’s do this!
Creative Circle is gearing up for Design Week Portland, a weeklong series of speakers, events and open houses that celebrate Portland’s design community.
The open houses are a chance to network with leaders in the design community. Each day, a new quadrant is featured. See why they’re important.
Open House Schedule
Tuesday, 4/19: N/Northeast
Wednesday, 4/20: Southeast
Thursday, 4/21: Northwest
Friday, 4/22: Southwest
Wondering what events you should attend? See what our team is excited about.
AIGA Portland’s Typefest, sponsored by Creative Circle
Sharpie Art Workshop with Timothy Goodman
Getting Away With Shit with Timothy Goodman
AIGA Portland’s Typefest, sponsored by Creative Circle
How to Use Typography & Design to Stand Out in a Crowd
Perfectly Imperfect – An Evening with Dana Tanamachi
Creative Circle is gearing up for Design Week Portland, a weeklong series of speakers, events and open houses that celebrate Portland’s design community. See what we’re excited about!
Design Week Portland returns this year.
“Two days of core content on the Main Stage. Hundreds of free or low cost Events and Open Houses,
conceived and hosted by the creative community. Public engagement at Headquarters in the heart of the city. There’s something for everyone.”
Main Stage: Friday, April 15 – Saturday, April 16
Events: Sunday, April 17 – Saturday, April 23
Open Houses: Tuesday, April 19 – Friday, April 22