The Wisdom of Design

The Wisdom of Design

An enthused audience visited Portland, Oregon (a.k.a. the “City of Coffee”) for the Struktur Event, which took place during Design Week Portland.  Here are a few highlights from the 3-day design conference tailored for the outdoor, active, and urban design community.  The main stage had a plethora of keynote speakers that all offered wonderful insights into their own personal design journey. Michael DiTullo, Alex Valdman, and Jan Chipchase proposed different principles and leadership characteristics to this passionate design community.

Michael DiTullo

There are four foundational design characteristics that DiTullo discussed during his presentation.  The first leadership trait was around the idea of expansive thinking…to explore and push outside your initial area of expertise. DiTullo also discussed the importance of having a curious mind and committing to a lifetime of learning. Second, he said the dissatisfaction with the status quo is crucial, and that this can translate into action.  Third, he stated that a teacher’s disposition is important when working within your design team.  The fourth and final design leadership trait from Michael was to “manage up as well as down.” Michael is a dynamic designer, amassing inspiration from a diverse array of sources: art shows, architecture, concerts, the Netflix series Chef’s Table, etc.  He even posts a new sketch every day on instagram, keeping his craft sharp.

Alex Valdman

We also heard from Valdman, the Creative Director at Rapha. Valdman champions the product, digital and retail design for this top-of-the-line cycling and accessories brand.  He provided lots of adages to the crowd of designers.  For him, good design is about “creating impactful experiences.”  It’s not about the final product or thing, at the core, it’s about the journey.  Valdman shared about his design process, which is mentality rooted in constant problem solving.  During the briefing process, he stressed the importance of starting with an actual problem.  His keynote presentation went on to cover five fundamental principles:

  1. Share your passion, put it on display, and make it obvious–do what you love!
  2. Display compassion within and outside of your work setting.
  3. Create a culture: a culture that thrives on creativity.
  4. Support the tribe.  Tribalism and sharing traumatic experiences is crucial.
  5. Create a dopamine release.  True innovation is when you can create a new activity and then create products for that activity.

Jan Chipchase insights.

Jan Chipchase made a simple but profound statement during his keynote: ”In order to be better designers, we need to be open and collaborate.” Chipchase is the Founder and Director of Studio D Radiodurans. Studio D’s products, such as a waterproof SDRT Grade Dyneema® duffel, can be found at He went on to mention that as a design community we need to create opportunities to connect and that currently there aren’t enough options available.  He discussed his creative process and how to understand the consumer culture within a particular context– examining how people use and do things.  He also delved into the importance of structured versus unstructured time. Chipchase recently published a book that is ‘future-focused and provocative’.  Hidden in Plain Sight: How to Create Extraordinary Products for Tomorrow’s Customers illuminates exactly what drives consumers to make the choices they do and demonstrates how all types of businesses can learn to see, and capitalize upon…what is hidden in plain sight today to create businesses for tomorrow.”

At the conclusion of each session, participants were encouraged to jot down their ideas and take-aways from each presentation on sticky notes – see notes here from Alex Valdman’s presentation.

163 thoughts on “The Wisdom of Design

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