Each year Semi-Permanent, a global community and design thinking platform, brings together creatives, strategists, and business leaders from around the world for a three-day creativity festival in Sydney, Australia. This year’s theme was truth: how to stand by it, overcome those who seek to blur it, and its role in the world of creativity. The star-studded lineup represented the likes of Google, Sonos, The New York Times, and Vice as well as home-grown talent like CJ Hendry, Jason Woodside and Carby Tuckwell, to name a few.

Precinct’s creative team (and soon-to-be part of our Hotwire Sydney crew) and I were on the ground and compiled our key takeaways below:

1. Old dog. New Tricks.

The last weekend in May is pencilled into my diary early on.

The annual Semi Permanent conference for creativity held in Sydney is a must for yours truly. There is always a speaker that I want to see and hear. This year Carby Tuckwell from Deus Ex Machina was my personal drawcard (or the only name I recognised on the Friday schedule!). I was intrigued to hear how this creative genius along with fellow founder, Dare Jennings had built a diverse and iconic brand – From motorcycle building, cycling promoting, surf culture cultivating, apparel selling, music label developing and casual dining experiencing – Carby did not disappoint. His presentation of iconic, witty and creative imagery that we have become so familiar was rich and full of wit. What I love about Semi-Permanent is that I’m constantly surprised and inspired by the other (unfamiliar) speakers. This year was no exception. Some notables were the ‘Three Michael’s’– Kobori: VP, Sustainability Levi Strauss & Co (A man who wore double denim loud and proud), Leon – Global Creative Director, Sonos (Started as a skateboard deck decorator) and Gough – VP of Design – Uber (Very funny and uber (sorry) bright). 

Have already pencilled in for next year.

– Mick Thorp, Executive Creative Director

2. Sharing is caring

James Callahan, Partner from FutureDeluxe highlighted the benefit of sharing work via social media channels, explaining how many projects and clients came directly from Instagram. At FutureDeluxe they constantly share their test animations and work they have crated even in the pitch process. From this they were approached by Apple who saw something they liked, an image they had created in the testing phase was used as the screen images for the latest iMac Pro release, and Apple continues as an ongoing client. It highlights the need to share your work, but James Callahan summed it up perfectly; everyone looks at Instagram on the toilet, and if you can help a client through their shit you will have a happy client.

– Rhys Malcolm, Senior Designer

3. The future of leadership is diverse and decentralized

Day three’s morning panel, Leading without a Title, featured Katja Hartung (Creative Director, Toben), Sam Keene (AR/VR Lead, Google), Dzenita Semic (Student, Western Sydney University), and was moderated by Simon Barrie (Learning Futures, Western Sydney University). The conversation explored how the creative industry can take the lead in breaking down barriers in an age where information is fluid and roles are no longer defined by titles. The line-up showcased what leadership can look like at the global and local levels as well as in seasoned teams and within higher education. Not surprisingly, all came back to the fact that the best form of leadership comes from the intersection of differences. Whether it’s Google’s 20% concept allowing their employees to work on projects completely out of their primary area of expertise (and resulting in things like Gmail and Google Maps), or universities designing programs for students from different disciplines to collaborate, a loud call to action shone through: future-ready companies must know what they stand for and create spaces to cultivate diverse, intersectional talent. This means letting go of traditional work experience requirements that reinforce unfair bias, leveraging technology to enable distributed and cross-functional teams, and ultimately allowing flexibility for employees to find the gray space between work responsibilities and personal passions to unleash their full potential.

– Mario Mejia, Art Director & Brand Strategist

4. A new generation of rule-breakers reveals truth in creativity

We arrived on day three of Semi-Permanent to the news that headline speaker, David Carson, wasn’t appearing (much to the chagrin of the conference organisers). Carson is best known for his experimental, deconstructed design in the mid to late 90s – an untrained designer who broke the formal rules of design by creating intuitive work that disrupted traditional approaches to graphic design. To be honest, I haven’t seen anything from Carson for 20 years. He’s been trading on his past work and reputation.

Enter replacement speakers, Freddie and Erik from Swedish design, branding and film agency, Snask. Dressed in black leather jackets (emblazoned with “Change is fucking inevitable”) and drinking beer throughout their presentation – they proceeded to charm the audience with their humour, ‘Swenglish’ and punk-rock approach to design practice – ignoring established ‘big agency’ convention and going for honest, funny and cool (and not taking themselves too seriously). It’s hard to imagine how Snask manage to secure ‘professional’ clients (and that’s probably the point) – but their work brings a smile to the mind and joy to the heart – and they honestly look like they have fun doing it. Personally, it was a real challenge to rediscover the fun and joy in creativity. Like Carson, Snask is driven by intuition and shaped by ‘right now’. Will anyone remember Snask in 20 years? Probably not, but change is f**cking inevitable.

– Francis Loh, Design Director

5. Design and social responsibility go hand in hand

Ian Spalter, the Head of Design at Instagram delivered a presentation that focused on three areas: principles & values, discipline & villainy, and new tools. What struck my interest the most was the concept of discipline & villainy. This was in relation to social networks such as Instagram and how they unintentionally facilitate bullying and harassment online. With this year’s theme of ‘in search of truth,’ I found it fitting that the social network literally faced the truth by self-reflecting looked into the mirror of self-reflection, and had the discipline to go “Right, okay. This is an issue and we need to address it.”

Through new (and still developing) technologies like machine learning, Instagram are working towards addressing this issue. For example, a new feature that is set to arrive on the platform uses ML algorithms to detect offensive comments and will ask the commenter to reflect on their words before posting. I can already think of some other scenarios in which this could be quite practical, i.e. when you’ve had a little too much to drink!

But overall, the principle of it all is that big companies like Instagram have a responsibility to the safety and security of its users and this should be rooted in the design of any product or service it offers. It’s good to see Instagram doing their part and it’ll be interesting to see how other big companies follow suit especially in a time where criticism and mistrust towards brands is growing.

– Luke Ireland, Associate Program Executive


What are your thoughts? Tweet me at @mromja, or follow @hotwireglobal to stay up to date on our insights from around the world. For more from Semi-Permanent, follow them at @semiglobal or via #SPSyd19.