60 Seconds with Ethel Kessler

Over the summer, Debbie Millman emailed me and asked that I participate in the AIGA National Design Conference (which I just blogged about) as one of the 20/20 presenters. 20/20 is a short skit that started a couple of years ago as an inspirational addition to the main stage presentations at the AIGA conferences where 20 designers are invited to give a presentation on a specified topic in 60 seconds, totaling 20 minutes. In the past I’ve seen David Gibson singing opera, Michael Bierut singing the Star Spangled Banner a cappella, and last year at GAIN Moira Cullen reciting her secrets to success.

To be honest, my first reaction after reading Debbie’s email was: Are you sure she meant to email me and not some other really important “Jill”? But then I read on. This year’s 20/20 highlighted representatives from AIGA chapters nation wide, including a representative from Washington, DC and that meant me! I had a little over two months to brainstorm and prepare 60 seconds on “Make|Think” in Washington, DC. This left me with my next very heart pounding question: What the heck am I going to talk about for 60 seconds in front of 1500+ people?

It was easy to come to the right answer after brainstorming with my presenting partner, Emily Carr (a former AIGA DC President). Below is the video we produced of Ethel Kessler, and influential government designer who’s been working within and for the government for over 25 years. Ethel is as charismatic as they come and it was a delight to have the opportunity to interview her for this project.

DC: Ethel Kessler from Jill Spaeth on Vimeo.


On Sunday, I got back from 5 bliss-filled days in Memphis, Tennessee, where I was volunteering at and participating in the AIGA National Design Conference, Make|Think. AIGA, the professional association for design, holds a National Design Conference every two years. I was in Denver for the 2007 conference and in 2005 I was in Boston. Each conference always has it’s own theme, and this year it was Make|Think.

Purposely left open for each attendees’ interpretation, to me this year’s conference theme, Make|Think, is backwards. Shouldn’t it be Think|Make? Then I wonder if maybe that’s the reason for structuring it purposely opposite? Either way, the theme represents the dual roles of designers as makers of beautiful things and as strategic problem thinkers and solvers. Interestingly enough, Joe Duffy‘s recent article on Fast Company outlines the same idea of the conference, but reminds us to air on the side of simplicity in all aspects of the design process.

From the “thinking” to the “making, he says, “It begins with collecting as much input as you can regarding a particular subject and understanding the context of the world in which that product or service will exist and compete. It’s about looking for gaps in the marketplaces where others haven’t thought to go. It’s about finding the truth of an organization, where they’ve come from and what they’re capable of. And then it’s about organizing and mixing ideas and visual elements to deliver a succinctly meaningful and artistic perspective.”

It would be impossible to recap the amazingly, awe-inspiring time I had in Memphis amongst 1500 designers from across the country. In fact, much of it was captured by Alissa Walker of Gelatobaby who was the official conference real-time blogger. Make|Think with Gelatobaby is still being updated with articles, tweets using the #makethink hashtag and images on flickr that are tagged “makethink”. Here are a few of my favorites:

Make|Think by jkali1
By jkali1

Make|Think by girl*alex
By girl*alex

Make|Think by girl*alex
By girl*alex


Make|Think by Calebyte
By Calebyte

As Stefan Sagmeister reminded us during his main stage presentation, it’s a good idea to take a sabbatical and experiment. He closes his studio every 7 years for 12 months and spends his time trying out various little design experiments, for which there is never enough time while running a regular practice. You too can take a break from your routine. Join us next year for GAIN, AIGA’s Business and Design conference. Mingle with old friends, search for new ideas and find your inspiration.

See you in NYC!