Cube Conversations: We chat to the DBA’s Deborah Dawton about their new event, The Edge

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[tweetmeme]It’s been a while since the last Cube Conversation, but I was waiting for a goodun. And here it is.

As some of you know, I’ve been working with the DBA on the launch of their fantastic new design event, The Edge. I thought I’d make the most of that by chatting to the DBA’s Chief Exec, Deborah Dawton about it.

For those that don’t know, The Edge is aimed at mid level creatives across interiors, branding, packaging, product, digital and advertising. The overall aim is to make the link between creativity, risk-taking and success and the DBA has lined up some impressive design pioneers for tomorrow’s bright sparks to learn from and mingle with. It’s being held on the 9th and 10th December in London and tickets are limited, so pop to the site now to pre-register Glastonbury style. The brand spanking new website, with all the info you need, is due sometime this week.

The event is a change of direction for the DBA, which has traditionally had close ties to design owners rather than the younger generation.

GW: So, where did you get the idea for The Edge?

DD: It’s always been part of our plan to engage with the employees of creative firms, but until now we’ve not had the chance. The crux of the idea comes from both a need, and a want, to engage with a younger audience. I’ve been keeping a close eye on what’s happening in the event arena for some time and there have been various organisations that have tried to make design events work. The problem is that because they’re headed up by a commercial company, they’ve tended to prioritise income over content. We’re not a rich enough sector for that to work as a business model, so an organisation like ours, whose remit is not to make profit, can actually focus on what’s important.

We gathered together a team of 20 young creatives and asked what we could do to help them. These were bright sparks identified by design business owners and were made up of a lively mix of creatives, account managers and planners, so we had both left and right brainers. They both, of course, wanted different things. It was this that prompted the two very different days.

GW: Tell us a bit more about what we can expect from the two days?

DD: Day one consists of 4 workshops covering things like concept development, pitching, creative writing etc, all areas that our team highlighted as a bit of a struggle. Day two is all about enabling these guys to do a better job creatively. Invariably this is what bosses are looking for. What we hope they’ll gain is a range of skills that will help them to sell in their ideas, cope with people that aren’t like them, manage well in a creative environment and understand some of the pressures that come with running a creative business.

Day two has two tracks. There’s a program that runs during the day with a number of keynote speakers. Alongside this we’re exposing the audience to the people that would normally be on stage. But they’ll be sitting in the audience. Right with them. So rather than having a bunch of inaccessible speakers, we’ve invited another 30 famous creatives to attend with the rest of the audience. We also have a few exciting activities taking place throughout the day, such as tight rope walking and the trapeze, which we hope will help to move our audience outside of their comfort zone.

During the course of the day we will also be announcing the names of the winners of our 2010 mentoring program. Based on their applications we will pick 15 high flyers from the event who will benefit from a series of sessions with our design pioneers during 2010.

And, of course, we have a party at the end of the day where everyone can let their hair down.

GW: How did you decide which design pioneers to invite?

DD: The list came from industry feedback; who they had the biggest respect for and who were the people with influence. The great thing was, once we’d contacted these pioneers only a few declined due to other commitments. In fact they loved the idea and those that can’t make it have asked to be included next year.

GW: That just goes to show the need for something like this in the design industry.

DD:  Yes, it was about finding a new idea that resonates and works. The plan was always that this would be the start of an annual programme and we aim to find a fairly broad theme for each event, which this year is all about confidence and taking risks. If you look at the links between creativity, risk-taking and success, can you enable people to do better at a younger age? What we want to find out at this years event is this: If you were to expose the young designers to the senior people of the industry, will they absorb more and learn faster?

GW: Can you give us a sneak preview of some of the design pioneers we can expect to see?

DD: Well you can expect the likes of Sir John Sorrell, Baroness Susan Greenfield, Richard Seymour, Malcolm Garrett, Morag Myerscough, Tim Molloy, Julian House, Michael Wolff, Russ Malkin and a whole host of others across the various sectors.

GW: So, what do you hope to achieve for the design industry?

DD: For me success would be 5 agency heads phoning me the day after the event to complain about what we’ve awoken in their team.  I believe theres a real danger in business that ‘the spark’ gets knocked out of you with the day to day slog. We want to put that spark back. Look at some real issues and re-energise.

GW: What has the response been so far?

DD: People are excited. The subject matter has captured imaginations and they want to find out what makes some creatives more successful than others. Is it the risks they take? Or just the clients they get to work with. There are all sorts of questions you can unpack in an event like this.

GW: As The Edge is such a different direction, how do you see it affecting the DBA longer term?

DD: There are so many answers to that. We’re sitting at a crossroads where the quality of the industry’s output is in the balance and our investment in this event is an investment in future quality. We need to focus on how we make the good designers really good. Drive them to want to do better. We want to empower them to keep the UK design industry at the forefront and by exposing them to the experts, we will hopefully help to do that.

GW: There is also something wonderful about bringing different design sectors together at the event. Something that’s rare in the industry.

DD: Absolutely. It’s about breaking down the barriers between sectors and levels of people and opening up the channels of communication.

GW: And there’s something very social about it. With the old model of communication changing and the likes of social media, the event fits very well with the new way of doing things.

DD: I agree. We know that many creatives are generally shy so there is an issue around them speaking out, particularly at events, which can inhibit them. The idea of putting pioneers in the audience makes starting a conversation less threatening for them. It gives them the opportunity to get under the skin of design pioneers and ask what they’ve always wanted to.

So there you have it. Personally, I can’t wait. If you have any questions or comments for Deborah, feel free to add them here. Alternatively you can connect with Deborah or The Edge here:

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