Portland is a city of designers. Creative types flock here from all over the country, enticed by the promise of a community that cares about art and the people who make it. But the popularity and density of Portland’s creative scene can sometimes lead to confusion, especially for students looking to break into the industry. With such concerns looming, it became clear: the designers needed to turn their talents inward. They needed an aggregator.
Enter Design Week Portland, a citywide, weeklong celebration of art and design that’s happening right now. This week, designers will host presentations about their craft and studios will open their doors to the public. Since its wildly successful debut last year, the number of artists participating in Design Week Portland has doubled and the number of studios putting on open houses has tripled.
Kate Bingaman-Burt, a member of the core action team for Design Week Portland and an assistant professor at PSU, said that now, with so many studios and artists putting themselves out there, is the perfect time for students to start networking and making connections.
“We have open houses that are happening every single day,” Bingaman-Burt said. “And this is the best chance students will get to wander into an agency that they’re interested in and just check it out, to see what’s happening there, to see the type of work that’s going on and to meet people without having to cold call.”
Bingaman-Burt said that Design Week Portland, which falls on the second week of classes for the new term, could not come at a better time.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for students to get out and explore the city that they live in,” Bingaman-Burt said. “I feel like this is a really good kick off to the year because it gives students a good taste of all the different studios, all of the different maker spaces, all of the different events that go on within the city.”
“It’s also early enough in the term that they don’t feel so super bogged down with homework that they say ‘I can’t do it, I have a project due!’ because that’s not the case yet,” she said.
After last year’s Design Week Portland, Bingaman-Burk said she saw a change in her students. Students told her they felt like they had more context for what they were learning, they seemed excited.
“I saw a tremendous impact on students who were still trying to figure out ‘what is graphic design?’ and ‘how did I pick this major?’” Bingaman-Burk said. “Because they were able to experience design firsthand, it was a really great out-of-classroom experience.”
Do what you love
Sarah Giffrow, creative director at the design and photography agency Upswept Creative, is one of the many designers hosting open houses. Upswept Creative works mostly with Portland-area businesses and entrepreneurs, like the Rose City Rollers and Beer Quest PDX. Giffrow said the open house also doubles as a celebration for her studio’s second anniversary.
“For the Design Week Portland event, we’re hosting jewelry by Jennifer Campbell Design, fashion and costume styling by Bonnie Thor, and art by Litzy Venturi,” Giffrow said. “We’ll also have wine and refreshments, including wonderful pastries provided by nom*ables.”
Giffrow said she became interested in design back in 1995 when she built her first web page.
“Midway through college, I realized that I was spending all of my free time on web design, and was way more interested in that than any of the classes I was taking,” Griffow said. “So, I re-focused my education and became a Multimedia Design major. I’ve followed that path ever since.”
Giffrow said that students looking to get into the design field should find out what excites them about design.
“There are quite a few disciplines to explore, and what appeals to a user interface or user experience designer may not be as intriguing to an illustrator,” Giffrow said. “Once you know that, build your skills, experiment, and do what excites you. And then, recognize your own value, and respect what your time is worth.
“There’s more to design than just throwing pixels together on a screen,” Griffrow said.
Jason Blackheart, creative director at the design studio Vizify, will be hosting the sold out “Show & Tell with Jason Blackheart: The Experience is Everything.” Blackheart has just started as an adjunct professor at PSU teaching Communication Design, a class that focuses on designing information.
“I like to tell people I lost a bet,” Blackheart said, laughing.
In reality he’s been popping his head into the PSU graphic design department for years before finally taking up an offer to teach, Blackheart said.
“I’ve done guest critiques in classes and I’ve come in and done lectures,” Blackheart said. “But I haven’t stepped into a classroom on official terms in 25 years, so it’s all very new to me.”
Blackheart said his Design Week Portland presentation will focus on his perspectives as a designer and his experiences in the recent collaborative installation, Mad Science. The project asked artists to envision the year 2045, where a private institution dedicated to the protection of the planet, Mad Science, had sent the greatest minds of today forward into the future to solve the problems of tomorrow. Blackheart designed an enormous, diamond-shaped future-kiosk for Mad Science. The kiosk roused curiosity and piqued the interest of passerby’s, precisely Blackheart’s intent.
“I’m shaping [my presentation] to focus on my experiences with UX – user experience design – and interactivity,” Blackheart said. “But I think there are a lot of lessons there that can be applied to every disciple of design. The top points of the presentation are going to involve storytelling and designing for micro-interactions, delight, and the moments that we design that then add up to the story.”
“When we’re happy, when we’re affected emotionally, we tend to remember things more. As a designer, as someone creating experiences for people, I think that’s incredibly important to understand,” Blackheart said.
Blackheart said that he never really intended to get into design but, through his love of filmmaking and a desire to elicit emotions through his art, he eventually found work in the design community.
“I didn’t study design formally in school,” Blackheart said. “I took one design class and nearly failed it. I’ve sort of stumbled my way forward as someone in the discipline of design. My entire career, and I’m about 20 years in, has been a learning process and a lot about exploration.”
“I think maybe I’m finally at a point where I know what I’m doing,” Blackheart said.
The man who was everywhere
Adam Garcia, an adjunct professor of graphic design at PSU who also runs the design studio, The Pressure, said that he wished he could have hosted his own event for Design Week. Instead, he has opted to spread his talent around the events.
“This year I just basically offered up work and my time. That’s the least I could do. It’s an amazing event, and we’re incredibly lucky to be able to have something like this in our city,” Garcia said.
Garcia said he has contributed to numerous events, such as Homebrewed by Design, the WeMake closing party and fundraiser, and the Case of Bass boom box event in which various artists will be given all the tools necessary to build their own boom boxes out of varying materials. He has also collaborated with Tanner Goods, a local design company known for their handcrafted products, on a series of custom coasters. He also has a piece in the Megabolt screen printing workshop.
“I have wanted to work in design since I was in high school,” Garcia said. “I found work by always being self-motivated and putting myself out there. Be curious, ask questions, reach out to those you look up to, never stop learning, listen, fail, cry, dance, and work your ass off.”