(Photo by: Kelly Stahn)

We Beasts Make Beauty - a Design Camp Recap

Just past Brainerd’s landmark Paul Bunyon and his trusty blue ox, Gull Lake shimmers in concert with the October sky. Home to some of the Minnesota’s most revered resorts, the lake is nestled amongst the changing colors of an autumn forest. Madden’s Resort, one such destination, is a vacationer's dream on this October day, the unmistakable smell of campfire floats like a familiar ghost. The air is crisp and cool, the shadows growing longer with each passing hour.

The geese sense the impending change and flock together in the sky, their tell-tale V formation stretching long across the horizon. They warn us of the winter to come, and remind us that a chill now accompanies each breeze. They begin their great migration, only to return after winter’s grip has been relaxed.

We designers recognize the signs. We sense the change. We welcome what might come with the uncertainty that lies ahead. We’re energized by what could be. We pay homage to what has been. And so every year, we too must migrate.

We beasts make beauty. We move and mingle. We are compelled to join our colleagues and friends. And so we go to AIGA Minnesota’s Design Camp – never to return the same.

Occurring annually since 1980, Design Camp has become a premium nationwide conference for graphic designers and other members of the creative community. Attendees (or campers, as they’re called) enjoy keynote speaker presentations from leading creatives around the world, as well as a diverse set of workshops. Stretching across the duration of a long weekend, these events inspire and educate us, bringing new perspectives and conversations to our processes and craft.

This year’s speaker lineup didn’t fail to impress. Alex Center (Coca-Cola), Anton & Irene (Anton & Irene, LLC), Allan Peters (Peters Design Co.), and Leta Sobierajski brought with them an impressive array of work and wisdom. Ranging from different walks of life and creative occupations, we were treated to a diverse and compelling set of opinions and aesthetics. Host and Emcee Brent Stickels (Yyes) provoked insightful answers from each speaker with well-appointed questions. From Alex Center compelling us to “be a thought leader, not a craftsman” to Allan Peters’ deep appreciation of highly crafted manufacturing badges from the early 1900s, all speakers found common roots in the importance of what we as designers can bring to the world and the absolute necessity of our industry. All four keynotes highlighted the importance of including designers in larger conversations and decisions within companies and initiatives. More than once the point was made that designers belong in the boardroom, not just the background. It’s clear that the world is embracing design, and that the leaders of industry are seeing the benefits of not only strong branding but of instituting a design-centric approach to solving problems.

Alongside keynotes, industry leaders such as IBM delivered a hands-on gospel of design-centered thinking and tools for how to better execute ideas. Former keynote speaker James Edmondson (Oh no Type Co) returned to lead a pencil-to-paper workshop on sketching typography, as well as add a few inches to the average height of campers in attendance. Business leaders and lawyers alike collaborated and contributed to the workshop lineup, imparting their knowledge to a captive audience of design professionals.

Once all of the work (play) had concluded each day, campers spread out across the grounds to enjoy any number of extracurricular activities. Here the true essence of Design Camp could be felt. Alongside industry leaders, speakers, and peers we enjoyed s’mores next to a roaring fire. Underneath bright stars in the sky with the edge of the Milky Way visible overhead, or perhaps indoors at the on-site pub or friend’s cabin for a beer or two, we discussed everything from design to dogma. No matter the decision, we were sure to run into friends new and old, surrounded by members of our tight knit community.

As the saying goes, time flies when you’re having fun. In the blink of an eye, the weekend had come to a close, and in turn another Design Camp was in the books. Concluded by a panel of professionals hailing from disciplines such as in-house, freelance, education and more, the topics and themes throughout the event were discussed in detail. Like the leaves falling around us, we were released back into the world to spread our collective knowledge and inspiration, each one of us unique from the other.

We have returned to our homes. Returned to our jobs and pursuits. Returned to our families and friends. Returned to process what we have learned and experienced. Returned to where we were once before – but not who we were before. We are better than when we left. We are wiser and filled with more purpose. We are inspired and empowered.

Above all, we are thankful.

So we wait for the seasons to change as they always do. We wait for the winter to subside, the spring to break, and the summer to give way to fall. We wait to be called again to come together in the woods of Minnesota. We wait to rejoin our friends and colleagues.

We wait to learn new tricks and trades. We wait for the chance to return to Design Camp once more.

(Photo by: Amanda Martin)

About The Author

Matt Ludvigson

Matt Ludvigson is a graphic designer with a serious love for beautiful and functional solutions to ugly challenges.


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