Five takeaways from Mia’s “Make Design Weird Again” talk

By Lizzi Ginsberg, communications intern at the Minneapolis Institute of Art


Last Thursday, a crowd gathered at Mia for a panel discussion called “Make Design Weird Again.” Moderated by Charles K. Youel of ARTCRANK, it was part of Design Night with AIGA Minnesota and featured five Twin Cities creatives. As people filed in, Youel gave a shout-out to his wife, who’d just returned from a synchronized swimming competition, and introduced the topic for the night by saying, “Whenever someone says we should make something ‘blank’ again we should first ask why?” Why, he asked, should we make design weird again? And how do we do it?

Here, five quotes from the evening that answer those questions.

  1. “The weird ideas are where the interesting things are happening,” began Lisa Troutman, who works as an illustrator, visual storyteller, and teacher of visual media. Maybe this is the sort of design that breaks convention, she said, that surprises, even if it ultimately fails. “Weirdness is about giving energy to something we’ve drawn away from,” followed Emily Callaghan, who runs the Design+ Labs for industrial design. “If we bring our whole weird selves to the process, it gives us the opportunity to be thoughtful and compassionate.” Youel agreed: “It’s about doing the work that makes you feel the most you.”

2. “Releasing yourself to be more you invites in other people,” said Jeff Johnson, founder of Replace design firm. This was a point that resounded: it takes authenticity and courage to explore the ideas we might first draw away from. Callaghan added, “The more we show up with our own weirdness, the more permission it gives other people to do the same.” But, Youel wished to clarify, it doesn’t have to be weirdness for the sake of weirdness. It doesn’t have to be performative.

3. “It’s not enough to do really good work, you have to lead your client on that journey,” said Youel, answering his own question of how creatives can convince others that weird works. Troutman offered a sentiment she’d stumbled upon recently: other people aren’t imperfect versions of you. It had stuck with her. “I realized I have to be an ambassador for my own ideas,” she said.

4. “If I really want a client I won’t charge them until I prove it,” said Luis Fitch, the founder and creative director of UNO Branding. Lindsay Wright, who works as an illustrator, designer, and art director added that it might end up being free labor, but you have to stick with your convictions. And sometimes risk isn’t rewarded; creative failures are par for the course.

5. “Ending up in Shakopee when I’m supposed to be in Eden Prairie works for me,” said Wright, describing how she finds inspiration in her Honda Pilot. For Johnson, inspiration comes from “anything in my environment that aligns the human head with the human heart.” Fitch suggested letting your subconscious do the heavy lifting. Callaghan said she hoards good people. When pressed by an audience member on how to make design that matters, Fitch emphasized that good design is just a tool. “Have a different passion than the design part,” he said. “Put that passion in your work.”

From Monet to Matisse, Asian to African, ancient to contemporary, Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) is a world-renowned art museum that welcomes everyone.

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