There is something very invigorating about being surrounded by hundreds of creative people talking about what they love.

This year’s Semi-Permanent conference in Sydney had some tough competition, with the city in lock-down with winter cultural festivals. But faced with engaging options at the Biennale, Sydney Writers’ Festival, Sydney Film Festival, Vivid Festival of Ideas, the REMIX conference or MUMBRELLA 360 – it was still a good choice to go to listen to some choice speakers at Semi-Permanent at Eveleigh’s rusty, rustic and renovated Carriageworks.

Semi-Permanent is a great chance to see what some of the most talented and innovative creative professionals are producing both here and abroad. But far from being an introverted look by the design world at it’s golden spiralling navel, it’s a chance to hear from some big thinkers about technology, globalisation, sustainability and the future of creativity.


I must admit, I didn’t manage to get to all of the sessions, but one highlight for me was the FUTURE STATE panel with Dantley Davis, director of design at Netflix, Jon Lax, director of Product Design at Facebook, Jon Wiley, director of Immersive Design at Google and Dav Rauch, futurist at IDEO.

From announcing strong new developments in technology such as Google’s Tilt Brush that lets you paint in 3D – in the virtual reality space, and tiny portable supercomputers that plug into whatever interface you have access to (phones, tablets, laptops), to the challenge of using data to create personal and personalised product experiences at scale, the three speakers built a strong argument for need for empathy.

In a world where designers sit and work in cities like San Francisco, London and Sydney –isolated bubbles a long way geographically, economically and societally from the global audience who are now consuming these products, Dantley pitched that the way forward to create successful and sustainable products and businesses is to develop a deep understanding of the people we are creating these for – whether they be on the streets of Lahore or the avenues of New York.

A second highlight was hearing from a couple of blokes, designers and businessmen who have been around the traps long enough to be able to share some words of wisdom from their professional success and failings. Vince Frost, founder and executive creative director of Frost Collective and Andy Bateman, founder & CEO at Everyone. The lads offered some great advice to creative businesses in their session on ‘Break it to make it’.

Based on their shared years of experience in top level creative businesses, Frost and Bateman presented a compelling thesis on the importance of constantly challenging your own business model in order to create sustainability and growth.

Their premise is not to sit on your laurels based on past success, but rather to challenge everything you are doing and how you are doing it at the pinnacle of each of your successes. They argued that to stay on the leading edge of business and technology, you must not simply develop your product further, but destroy it and rebuild it on a regular basis, to ensure that you really are responding to the latest consumer needs and developments in technology. Only by doing this can you ensure you will not end up being superseded by technology like NOKIA, KODAK and the like.

Their 3 maxims: 1) Know where you are in the growth phase of your business or product, 2) Challenge yourself creatively all the time, and 3) Sitting still will kill your business. With good advice for achieving sustainability and permanence in business like that, Semi-Permanent may need to consider a name change.

‘Can’t wait for SP 2017.

Ian Thomson is the program leader of the Advertising & Media faculty at Macleay College

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