Friday, October 24, 2008

Briefies: The Debrief


In my previous posts about last night's events, maybe it seemed like I was being a little silly, a little flippant even, about how exciting it was. I mean, it was exciting. Truly. But one may interpret my previous posts as hype. That's fair perhaps, to an extent. I might've been trying to be cute or clever (and yeah, I wasn't much of either). Fine.

But I'm serious when I say WOW. The ADCD sponsored Student Briefies event was a great success. But that's not the WOW part. The fact that 72 students showed up — and 12 of those from Wyoming — was really cool. The creative energy in the packed room was tangible. The collaboration between students, and in one case, between teams, was inspiring. I could say "wow," but that's not the WOW part.

Steve Whittier was absolutely fantastic in helping to make this event much more than the sum of its parts. The plan, as stated in my last post, was for the students to put their ideas into a visual presentation. They did, but Whittier flipped the script a bit first. He wanted the idea to be the main thing. The students were already in a crunch and they had to nearly skip the research phase entirely. It would be tempting, as Whittier understood, to dive into the execution of it all and make the solution all about some neato design. But he challenged the teams to make it about the solution for the client. That made all the the difference between half-baked ideas wrapped in tidy clichés (I saw not one flourish, though!) and truly inspiring possibilities, roughly but clearly presented.

"The execution should be a given. If you can't execute the design, you shouldn't be here. Execution is easy. The great idea is hard." Whittier shared these thoughts just before the announcement of the three finalists. This was not a fancy awards show banquet, but as I stood in the back, straddling a mess of power cords on the concrete floor of the basement work room at MCA, it had the feeling of something really special. There were a few camera flashes and a palpable anticipation, as Stella Yu from Arts Street and Whittier began to introduce the finalist teams. 

Three great ideas. One rose to the top, easily, in my opinion. The whole event was awesome, really, but this was the big moment. A solution for the client that none of us expected. In three quick hours the teams had come up with ideas that surprised all of us. Even Whittier seemed a little non-plussed when he said that he hadn't thought of what he would have done.

Stella Yu then had a difficult task. Clearly she liked all of the ideas and was gushing gratitude in her final statements before announcing the chosen solution. She went with the one that answered the Brief holistically. She needed to get $750,000 in donations, to raise visibility for Arts Street, specifically, and foster community involvement and continued appreciation for the arts, generally. The winning team came up with something packed with gestalt. I'm very excited to share it with you now... But I can't. You'll have to wait. But it's good. New York City good. National press good. 

So, what's the WOW part? I guess, for me, it's the pleasure of having observed something so organically powerful as the creative process in such a test-tube kind of environment. Students getting deep into the problem and pushing through the obstacles; CDs coaching the teams to solve the problem at hand; the client, set aglow (she actually mentioned afterwards that she was glowing, not that you couldn't see it) by effort put forward by the students and by THE RESULT... All of it combining to demonstrate what can be done when we work and think together, that's the WOW part for me.

I made some new friends last night, another benefit of working together. One friend, Becky is, like me, a fan of Bruce Mau. I've often wondered what it might be like to work with such a visionary  who elevates process above product. He seems determined to stay close to the ground, where the process of working together happens, yet he seems to "change the universe," as my new friend put it. I think I got a glimpse of what that might be like last night. That's the WOW part for me.

On behalf of everybody involved last night, I would like to thank... well, everybody involved last night. Wow.

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