Design Week, in city, to talk about beauty

May 8th, 2017

By Lisa Green | The Journal Gazette

Design can be functional and still aesthetically appealing.

That's one of the points an executive with a New York firm will push when he speaks Monday in Fort Wayne for Design Week.

“Throughout most of the 20th and the 21st Century beauty has gotten a bad reputation,” Stefan Sagmeister, principal of Sagmeister & Walsh, said through email last week.

“Most respectable designers claim not be interested in it, the contemporary art world has almost completely abandoned it, and you can sit through hours of lectures on architecture without hearing the term uttered once. But a beautiful environment not only changes how we feel, it also changes how we behave,” Sagmeister said from Tokyo where he has been on sabbatical.

“I will talk about why the neglect of beauty is so utterly stupid and what we can do to reverse it,” he said in the email, promising to prove that “form does not just follow function, that form in many cases is function.”

Sagmeister's presentation is one of several scheduled to draw attention to various areas in the design industry, which is part of what's been labeled the creative economy.

Northeast Indiana's creative economy consists of 18,834 jobs, or 4.5 percent of all jobs, a study released in late March showed. The number of creative economy jobs is similar to other key employment sectors including construction, finance and insurance, and transportation and warehousing, according to the study commissioned by the Indiana Arts Commission with support from Arts United of Greater Fort Wayne Inc.

Statewide, there are an estimated 160,621 creative economy jobs, accounting for 4.3 percent of all Hoosier jobs.

This is the second year for Design Week, which last year attracted about 700 people, nearly two thirds of whom purchased passes for the full week.

Wunderkammer Company will host most of this week's events, using about 7,500 square feet of space in its Fairfield Avenue gallery. Dan Swartz, executive director of Wunderkammer, said participants this year can choose day passes based on themes ranging from graphic design/advertising to architecture/interior design.

The local event was prompted by the 2014-15 study of the creative economy. Design Week attracts “local, national and international design experts who directly impact the attraction, retention, and development of our regional design talent,” Swartz said in a March news release announcing this year's schedule.

Sagmeister is speaking on the day when graphic design/advertising is the theme. His business creates brand identities, commercials, websites, apps and does other work for clients. He usually has about 20 speaking engagements a year. This year's schedule includes several international presentations, but Fort Wayne is one of just two U.S. locations where he will speak; the other is a December conference in Florida, he said.

Last year's Design Week attracted people from Indianapolis, Chicago, Detroit, Columbus, Ohio, and Grand Rapids, Michigan. The reach is even broader this year, based on advance registrations.

“I don't know what we're doing, but I think we're doing it right,” Swartz said early last week. “We have people from Atlanta, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Toronto, Canada, and we have a couple from Detroit signed up already, and a small group from Grand Rapids.”

Design Week has numerous business and other sponsors, including the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, an economic development agency.

In many cities, Design Weeks are organized and hosted by AIGA, formerly known as the American Institute of Graphic Arts, Swartz said.

“Design Weeks have been all over the world; they've been happening for a little while,” he said. “We're a little bit weird in that it's a contemporary art center hosting a Design Week.”

Kathleen Rowold, scheduled as Friday's keynote speaker, said the format is impressive with the varied design emphasis each day.

Rowold is director of Indiana University's Sage Collection of historical and contemporary clothing. She worked with Bill Blass, internationally known for designs for clothing from sportswear to evening wear, on a retrospective of his career to be displayed at IU.

The exhibit opened after his death in 2002.

During her Friday presentation, Rowold will talk about the legacy of Blass, who grew up in Fort Wayne.

Rowold said television shows and general media have re-energized interest in fashion design.

“I think many more young people are interested in it now than say 15 or 20 years ago,” she said.

At a glance

Design Week keynote speakers are 6-7 p.m. Monday through Friday at Wunderkammer Company, 3402 Fairfield Ave. The week also includes networking opportunities and other activities, such as a tour of the old General Electric campus, which is expected to be redeveloped, and a woodtype workshop on Monday. Day passes are $60. Online registrations required through

Keynote speakers

Monday: Stefan Sagmeister. Austrian-born designer, art director, and co-founder of Sagmeister & Walsh, in New York City. His work includes award-winning album art for the Rolling Stones and Talking Heads, exhibitions at the Guggenheim Museum, and more.

Tuesday: Nicholas Thompson. Editor-in-chief of WIRED magazine, one of the world's top tech publications, covering the changing world of cutting-edge tech and its effects on lives.

Wednesday: Hugh Forrest. Longtime chief programming officer of the annual South by Southwest Interactive Conference in Austin, Texas, an event that brings together over 70,000 digital creatives from around the world.

Thursday: Margaret Cavenagh. Interiors architect and designer at the urbanism and architecture practice Studio Gang, which has offices in Chicago and New York.

Friday: Kathleen Rowold. Director of Indiana University's Sage Collection of historical and contemporary clothing, and one of the world's leading experts on the social and aesthetic history of Western fashion.