Monday, 21 July 2008

PSFK - San Francisco

The PSFK roadshow is gathering steam landing in San Francisco last week and in some ways it kind of felt like PSFK was home. A few moons ago I was stuck in Asia and working on some business that required some Korean insights and trends. I was struggling to deep dive the search engines to find anything new or relevant on the topic and I found success with the PSFK website which was still relatively unknown out in Asia, and I've been a fan ever since.
I was struck by the British planner contingent at PSFK San Francisco, residing in the United States starting off with Ed Cotton from BSSP/Influx Insights who opened up the day with a great presentation on whether we should care about trends and most importantly pointing that getting out of context is where identifying and implementing trends can be most stimulating. PSFK now live blog these events with much better writers than me and and you can check Ed out over here.

Next up was a panel with Colin Nagy (Attention), Kevin Allison (Financial Times), Liz Dunn (Funny or Die), Jeremy Townsend (Ghetto Gourmet), and Amit Gupta (Photojojo, Jelly) talk about being inspired by SF culture. If there is one overwhelming impression for me of San Francisco it's the uniqueness of the place. Somewhat like a European oasis in America in terms of architecture and sensibility but equally nothing like Europe from an innovation and friendliness perspective. I particularly liked Liz Dunn from Funny or Die pointing out that if you're working 14/15 hours a day you're probably not good at your job. We're kind of choking on growth and the only effort that requires that sort of work is something to restrict the growth if that makes any sense.
Next up was the second British planner of the day. Former W&K planner Chris Riley who now works for Apple. Chris talked about three people that inspired him from the bay area and I have to say he chose something quite close to my heart because arriving early in the day at the Fort Mason Centre I noticed next door to the conference centre was the Long Now Project which is an idea built on the premise that we're so anxious about what the future offers we no longer wish to know what it will be like in twenty or fifty years time. I can share that growing up as a young boy in the 70's, that wasn't the case and that as kids we all fantasized about what the future held in store.
The Long Now project resolves this tension in part with great ideas such as placing a 0 in front of the year so this year is actually 02008... Feels better doesn't it? I had no idea that the Long Now Project would be next door from PSFK in San Francisco, after I first read about them in London some time back and furthermore that Chris would talk about his inspiration taken from a founder of the Long Now Project, Stuart Brand. Chris also talked about Alison Waters and Paul Hawken. Two people who have been progressive thinkers in their respective fields and reside in the bay area.
Next up Jen Beckman gave one of the best talks on art and and technology with her site for budding photographers called Hey Hotshot and 20x200. I knew Lauren would dig this lady the most because she took her art seriously and yet also was genuinely passionate about making it accesible and affordable to all, saying that she felt the photography on Hey Hotshot was to her the 'gateway drug' to art she was proud to deal in. I loved that and furthermore was pretty blown away that she discovered one of the most heart wrenching photographers of the decade, Nina Berman, who has been shooting returning gulf war veterans including the memorable photograph from the International Herald Tribune with a returning sergeant marrying his bride in what was clearly an awful car crash of 21st century expectations of love and the reality of matrimony and societal expecations. Let me show you the photograph because I bookmarked it many months ago. You can read all about it over here.
After Jen Beckman we had Ezra Cooperstein (Current TV) and Andrew Hoppin (NASA) talk about collaborating with consumers and navigating bureaucratic systems to make them more agile. I'm not sure it was working having someone from the entertainments/information industry and a grown up from NASA but only because they were both interesting in their own right but met in the middle on a slim branch. Andrew Hoppin did point out that NASA was losing its luster as a sexy place to work and I think that's because their mission is all fucked up. If anyone at NASA had balls they would be charged with both documenting climate change around the planet to the Nth degree and equally place in charge of something as radical as putting the human race into space. Because only a limited guest list of say 20 000 human beings with a VIP ticket into space leaving behind a shrivelled planet much like the moon, might make people wake up and realise that we only have one planet Earth. But hey, I"m not running NASA right?
Next up was yet another British Planner Gareth Kay from Modernista who I didn't get a chance to say hello to although I was keen to find out a little more about their Hummer work which friends of mine rate highly. Gareth chaired a panel including Eric Corey Freed (organicARCHITECT), Josh Morenstein (fuseproject), and Frank Striefler (TBWA\Chiat\Day & Media Arts Lab) on how you take inspiration and create change. I'm easily inspired but if you're in need of some hints you can read more about it over on the PSFK blog.
Later on we had Charles Ogilvie (Virgin America, but now working for Panasonic) about redesigning the airline experience. I thought the best question of the day came from Matthias Weber of PSFK who asked how the work could all relate to train travel. Air travel is about to get a lot more expensive.
Following on from Charles and including yet another two British planners was my mate George Parker (AdScam/MadScam), Rohit Bhargava (Ogilvy 360 Digital Influence), Lynn Casey (Team Noesis), Adrian Ho (Zeus Jones), and Mark Lewis (DDB SF, Planning from the Outside) about how genuine consumer dialogue can improve sales.
Next up we had George Murphy (Modo Group) and John Pollard (Microsoft) about physical brand experiences. I got the impression that Microsoft are floundering when it comes to understanding how radically they need to overhaul their business to make a difference. I'd even go as far as to say I think that they need to lose some blood to gain some in the future.
Finally we ended the day with Josh Handy and Nate Pence (Method) on how design can mirror and shape an organization. Josh and Nate are responsible for the enviromentally friendly products by Method and it was a sweet way to end the day with the spirit of how design is crucial to reinventing both the world around us and how we communicate it to build a sustainable wealth creation model.
I think one of the best things about PSFK apart from the interesting people they invite to share their work is the informal and fun networking through the day and in the bar afterwards. During the evening we ended up at Otis with generous complimentary drinks paid for by Behance and I ended up getting 'arseholed' with George Parker and a few others. ;)
I've got a strong feeling that the PSFK format is going to be a big hit for their next gig in Singapore where they can bring some of their West Coast vibe, NY hipness and London intellectual credentials to play. Keep an eye open for it.


  1. Thank you so much for this summary - enormous amounts of inspiration from all the people and places you've mentioned and comments you've made (I currently have about 15 browser tabs open and each one is spawning another batch).

    Just need to figure out now if I can get an expenses paid trip to Singapore ...

  2. of course i would have loved ms beckman. i also would have loved half the stuff that was on at that conference, damn you! i'm jealous, ok. jealous that it costs me close to $3000 to get anywhere near the cool stuff like that. but thank you for blogging about it. no, really, i mean that.


  3. Thanks Louise. Appreciate the love as it took at least 10 attempts to get the justification and spacing right. Blogger plays up a bit sometimes.

    Hey Lauren. I forgot to link to you that time but you get enough link love anyway ;)

  4. do i look like the kinda girl who is desperate for link love??? ok, don't answer that.