Dan Harden on His PD+I 2015 Conference Keynote

June 13, 2015

PD+I is a fast paced two-day product design conference in London, offering a diverse mix of dialogue and thought leadership. This year was another success for PD+I, and it included speakers such as Brian Stephens (Design Partners), Duncan Bradley (McLaren), David Atkinson (The Foundry), Heather Martin (Smart Design), Paul Hatch (Teams Design), Paolo Lorini (PL Studio),…and yours truly.

The conference covered a wide array of thought-provoking topics such as “how computing ubiquity influences design; rise of bespoke; evolution of service design; design for local; viewing data as product; creating durable signature moments; emergence of a transportation mini renaissance; designer as torch bearer for future, and more. For my contribution, I talked about rule breaking tactics. To my surprise, several attendees afterwards asked “how do we get away with that brassy approach?”. In Silicon Valley we take for granted how people are so open to breaking rules if that’s what it takes to innovate, but to some in this proper British audience that seemed radical.

The only thing missing at PD+I was a chance to really go deeper into any of the topics. I believe conferences are best when provocative presentations encourage spontaneous debate and discussion, stimulated by a curious and energetic audience.


Below are some excerpts from my PD+I interview in anticipation of the conference:

PD+I: Can you describe Whipsaw in 10 words or less?
Dan: A two-handle whipsaw epitomizes balance and cuts like hell.


Why did you become a designer?
It felt natural. I love art, machines, and people – an essential mix of interests for a designer to have. I also found that design was the best way for me to positively influence the world.


Is there a designer or company you particularly admire and why?
I admire any creator – whether designer, architect, artist or scientist that tries new ways to innovate, new ways of expressing meaning and emotion in their creations, and new ways of communicating with end users through their solutions. For example, I’m inspired by abstract expressionist painters like Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell and Franz Kline; architects like Zaha Hadid and Thom Mayne; designers like Mario Bellini, Dieter Rams and Antonio Citterio; and the curious physicist Richard Feynman. As far as companies, I love Porsche, Ferrari, and Boeing for staying true to their vision for as long as they have.


Should you meet your heroes?
Yes, but anticipate their fallibilities that come with being human. If your heroes are creative types you can expect extra doses of imperfection but that’s often what makes them interesting. I’ve had the good fortune to work with some of my heroes such as George Nelson, Hartmut Esslinger, and Steve Jobs. Each was brilliant but a pain in the neck to work with – and I cherish those experiences.


What product or design you wish you’d worked on and why?
When I use a great design, for example the product I’m speaking to you on right now – the iPhone, I’m more inclined to send a mental “job well done” and “thanks” to the designers who worked on it instead of wishing I had worked on it. There are just so many design problems out there yet to be solved – wish to work on those.


What is the greatest challenge you face as a designer?
Getting clients to do the right thing beyond making money. Companies often resist high quality or sustainable solutions if it cost a penny more, don’t take the time to develop something right, and hesitate to take a risk. Obsolescence is also a challenge – you pour your heart into designing the ultimate widget and it becomes obsolete after a few years due to changing technology or market trends. We try to mitigate this by creating timeless design but also by doing what nature does – create Brand DNA that propagates.


Written by Dan Harden