Visiting Wes Anderson’s Desert Dream

Review: Wes Anderson's Asteroid City | Time

Don’t be surprised if you walk into my house one day and find that it feels a little like Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City. (I’m halfway there already with my color palette.) It’s a film worthy of many rewatches, not for the story but to live in that creamy, dreamy, surreal desert diorama for another hour and forty-five minutes.

Wes Anderson's New Film Takes Inspiration from This Quaint Madrid Town -  Softonic
Martini With A Twist In Asteroid City (2023)

The desert is my soul home, so I’m a sucker for the landscape and motifs as it is. But from the gorgeous suite of colors to the Looney Tunes backdrop, the creative direction of Asteroid City is truly stunning. It’s a work of art. Every frame is a beautiful, dynamic composition. The costuming signals character and builds an immersive world. There’s whimsy in every vending machine, auto shop prop, and road to nowhere.

I was especially taken by the lighting, which is overwhelmingly bright yet lush — not surprising as they used the sun as a primary light source. There’s a picnic scene staged under a lattice pergola, casting dappled light on the conversations. It’s not only visually interesting, but there’s something about the grid of shadow and light…half hidden, half exposed…checkered. Can’t quite put my finger on why this feels so important. Maybe I don’t have to explain it, it’s okay to simply enjoy it.

Off to rewatch!

Are you ready for the design-led revolution?

Over the past year I’ve been fortunate to collaborate with the sustainability team at Autodesk to envision their support for the design-led revolution. Haven’t heard of it? You may not know the DLR moniker, but you’ve seen revolutionary design in action. From affordable prosthetics to solar robotics, high-impact solutions are emerging everywhere. And just in the nick of time!

The reinvention needed to make our planet livable for 9 billion is immense, and I love that Autodesk is committed to helping designers, architects, builders, engineers, and entrepreneurs reshape our world. We need more companies like this leading the way.

Their aim isn’t only to raise awareness about epic challenges and inspire people to do what’s right, although that’s certainly a big part of it. It’s also about helping designers and companies get ahead of  the inevitable resource shortages, urbanization, and climate change coming our way. To stay relevant — and profitable — in the future, you must start thinking differently now.

So, how will you design a better future?

Credit where credit’s due: The awesome folks at Free Range are the storytellers behind the design-led revolution video, manifesto, and hero case studies.

What Do You Think?

Over the past few years I’ve seen many museums trying to create reflective, interactive experiences for visitors. This is an important effort considering the pressures on museums as they fight for financial resources in a downturn, not to mention mind share in an age of digital entertainment.

The effort is there, but often the interactive components are not integrated into the exhibits or the museum experience. At the Shanghai exhibit at the Asian Art Museum there was  a small lounge with a few activities such as the prompt pictured, but it was tucked away — nearly hidden — on a separate floor of the museum. Other times, “interactivity” is limited to sending a free postcard or posting a note on a wall.

The best interactive displays I’ve seen locally are at the Oakland Museum of California. My favorite at OMCA is the “Is it Art?” lounge because it addresses an age-old question with a wink. Visitors are lured in by comfortable seating, then challenged to consider their point of view and vote if various objects ranging from a Native American basket to a pink furry thing are “art”. And because you can see the vote tickets in clear plexi containers, you get a sense for the general opinion as well as your own.

DMI Recap, Part 3

Wrapping up my thoughts on DMI Re-thinking…The Future of Design, I have a few final thoughts on pushing the design thinking discussion farther. I came away from the conference feeling there is still a lot of talk about the theoretical application of design thinking, but not much about the actual practice of it.

A critical comment was made during the wrap-up, wishing there had been more conversation around applying design thinking outside of design disciplines. I couldn’t agree more. I already live in the world of design thinking for designers, and I want to learn more about design thinking for more traditional business domains such as finance and corporate strategy.

David Butler and Chuck Jones were edging around that conversation, stating that as executive design leaders they were being invited to business planning meetings and the like. That is exactly what I wanted to hear more about, and what I hoped to find at this conference. How are those interactions going? What are they able to bring to those discussions, or finding they are unable to bring? Are they doing anything to actively advance the case for “designers” moving beyond conventional perceptions and becoming business partners within their organizations? I’d like to see some tactical discussions about what it took to get to those positions and what they think design thinkers need to know or learn to succeed.

On the other hand, as much as I would like this guidance, Valerie Casey made the point that she’s tired of designers asking for “5 steps” to make things happen. She argued that we’re designers, our job is to use our imaginations to solve problems. We should be able to figure things out for ourselves and not need everything spelled out for us, and she isn’t entirely wrong. We can’t wait for someone to tell us what to do, we have to just jump in.

That’s what I’ve been doing for years and while it does work, it works very slowly. It would be nice if there were more institutional track being laid to draw connections between disciplines and change job descriptions to reflect our more complex world. For instance, I’ve seen articles discussing universities cutting liberal arts majors due to a lack of interest because of job placement fears, and yet I know plenty of anthropology and philosophy majors today who have amazing jobs as design strategists and researchers. The universities aren’t doing enough to draw lines between their humanities programs and the design thinking type jobs that value those skills. And, they could be better preparing those same students through integration across disciplines including business courses.

My last thought is that we did get one real-world example of organizational design thinking from Katie Taylor of the Four Seasons, but it wasn’t universally recognized as such. After the conference was over, I was engaged with a gentleman who felt that her presentation did not reflect design thinking. It’s subjective, but I believe the elements of design thinking that are most valuable to business are: user-centered principles, systems thinking, and prototyping. Her story sounded a bit simplistic at times — the best design is often obvious, after all — but describing how they assess and adapt to guest needs, understand the entire customer experience, and empower employees to try out new solutions certainly met my criteria to qualify as design thinking.

DMI Recap, Part 2

More from DMI…

Silver buckshot

Soundbite of the day: There is no silver bullet, but there is silver buckshot. (Valerie Casey)

Interdisciplinary takes work

Being interdisciplinary involves more effort than simply assembling a committee. It requires training in how to work collaboratively, and — more importantly — how to communicate your values and point of view in a way that is understandable and compelling to others.

Oh, the humanities!

Roger Martin says integrated thinking starts with critical thinking, and is bolstered by a well-rounded education in the humanities. My mom’s insistence on a BA instead of a BFA is looking pretty good right now! It is true that while I lost out on a more rigorous education around concept and craft, I gained a better education in all the things that help you understand who people are, where they are coming from, and how they think. There will always be someone who is a better visual artist than I am, but I am a better critical and abductive thinker than most.

Define winning

David Butler of Coca-Cola talked about the importance of clearly defining “winning” for the organization, to give structure to decisions and resolve conflicts. I’m sure there isn’t always such organizational clarity and selflessness, and it called to mind Joel Kashuba of P&G who spoke at CCA last semester. When we were at dinner he said his first question in any collaboration is to ask how they are rewarded, meaning what success means to them (and their boss). This is simply the personal definition of winning — is it patents, a bonus for meeting a target, career growth? Once you know what it is, make it a design requirement and things will go much smoother. It’s obvious, but we rarely think to ask explicitly and then wonder why our projects get mysteriously derailed.

Project ROI

Butler also brought up something I should make my personal mantra: Focus on the highest-value offerings. There are infinite projects that are interesting or fun or relevant, and it’s easy to get distracted by them especially when you are passionate about your work. Use finite resources and time intelligently to get to winning faster.

DMI Recap, Part 1

This year I was unable to attend Sustainable Brands, but in its stead the following week I went to the DMI Re-Thinking…the Future of Design conference in San Francisco.

At the risk of sounding like a jaded know-it-all, by the time there is a conference created it seems that I’ve already been having many of those conversations for years. I’d like to see conferences push the conversation further, going from theory to practice and becoming far more multi-disciplinary. More on that to come.

That said, there were still great insights and conversations to be found, and following are the ones still on my mind a week later:

Defining “design thinking”

John Fly of Milliken made the argument there should be no canonical definition of design thinking because its very essence is rooted in a diversity of ideas and insights and therefore should not be fixed.

Later, Joel Podolny was discussing how the Yale business school had to create an internal communications program to ensure students were able to successfully discuss their new, unusual curriculum with employers. It immediately occurred to me that the DMBA program could benefit from this type of messaging training as we talk about our unique education to the world. Then my follow-up thought was that, per Fly, there is a value in each of us defining it in our own way. (We should each have a definition and be prepared to discuss it, though, whatever it is.)

Leadership matters more than talent

Robert Verganti said that half of all of the famed Italian industrial design is actually designed by non-Italians. What the design houses have in common is the vision of Italian design management.

Innovation is risky. Deal with it.

It was unanimously agreed that innovation can’t be measured and validated, and anyone who says they can is wrong. (Not so different from other strategies and forecasts. They are always invented numbers to a greater or lesser degree.) You simply can’t measure the future. Verganti recommended involving executives in the entire process so that they see the solution as an inevitability rather than something that arrived out of the blue. On the other hand, someone else noted that you can’t overwhelm clients with every detail of your process and thinking. Getting the right balance and facilitating stakeholder involvement sounds like one of the key challenges of innovation.

During a break, I was speaking to a consultant who pushed back on the inability to measure innovation, stating that most big companies just aren’t going to do something you can’t prove the case for. He’s right. That’s why most firms aren’t innovative.

Making the case

In a conversation with Nathan Shedroff, the chair and creator of my Design Strategy MBA program, and Bruce Nussbaum of BusinessWeek, Bruce said that companies should be snapping graduates like us up. Great! So how do we convince them of that? Or do we? This may be similar to innovation — convincing companies is a waste of time, but you can find the converted and work with them.


All about the O

obama2I’m in awe of Barack Obama’s campaign identity. I have never seen a political identity this sophisticated — it’s simple, well-rendered, and somehow it manages to turn an American political cliché of a sun rising over farmland into good design! That’s remarkable on its own, but the flexibility this one little mark has provided is astonishing. There are versions for every state and every group and they have plastered it on every available surface on the official site, and somehow it all works together cohesively and attractively. I think it’s a great idea to let the mark itself morph substantially for the iterations; the payoff of individuality overcomes any risk of lack of consistency.


After 5 long years, I’m finally getting around to organizing my Europe photos. I’m starting with Barcelona, a city that stole my heart.

Gaudi has a lot to do with why I loved Barcelona so much — his work is whimsical, colorful, and imaginative in a way that makes me wonder if hallucinogens were in vogue at the time. Every inch of this town is covered with textures and patterns and it was incredible to be enveloped so completely by detail. Even when it was too much (as Gaudi often is) it made me giddy to be in a city that lives and breathes design this much.

What I loved most was how the mundane — chimneys, attic ceilings, benches, vents — was transformed into the exotic. Form follows function, of course, but I see no reason why everything practical can’t also be whimsical or elegant.