Let's face it, the Hopscotch Design Festival can be confusing. The music festival has had six years to establish itself, but the design festival has had just two—plus, a music festival is, you know, a thing?
Hopscotch Design adopted the original's downtown-venue-hopping approach to bring together what one has to call "thought leaders," or, in the festival's parlance, the people designing the future, whether they're urban planners, computer engineers, or start-up entrepreneurs. They give a lot of talks and do a lot of networking. But the layperson's role in it all is still an open question.
The festival doesn't make marketing to the masses any easier for itself with bookings like this year's keynote, Dan Heath. Heath is a senior fellow at Duke's Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship; he's also the coauthor of New York Times best-sellers like Made to Stick. He'll be speaking about "designing moments," an idea so emergent not even Hopscotch Design Festival director Marie Schacht is totally clear on what it means.
"What if we could reverse-engineer the most meaningful, memorable experiences of our lives and use what we learned to create more of them?" Schacht explains. "He's testing this idea with our crowd; it's a new thing he's been thinking about. His past books have focused on which ideas move forward and which don't, and his research led him to think about that in regard to moments in a person's life."
But even if we won't know exactly what "designing moments" means until Heath explains it, we did learn some more concrete things about this year's festival, including some meaningful shifts in its organization, an uptick in its interactive content, and how it's refining its attempt to find the sweet spot between a tech conference and a populist social gathering suited to the Hopscotch brand. This is your beginner's guide.
The biggest change in this year's festival is a move from Wednesday and Thursday to Thursday and Friday, so it overlaps more with the music festival.
"We're making it easier for people who want to come to both Design and Music," Schacht explains. Though it's hard to imagine a behemoth who could go to tech talks all day and concerts all night—Greg Lowenhagen might be the only one, and he's retiring—this shift should productively consolidate the urban energy of the two festivals and get clear of Labor Day travels in the bargain.
In another promising change, Hopscotch Design presentations are getting fleeter and more communicative. While some forty-minute keynotes remain, many more talks are bundled into hour-long packets featuring three speakers each, who will have discussions and take questions at the end.
"The intention is to create some unique insights between speakers who wouldn't necessarily be sharing a conversation and bringing the audience into that," Schacht says.
Going hand in hand with this compression, the festival is reducing its number of venues, after it became clear that Hopscotch Music's model isn't one size fits all. This year, it mainly relies on just two main venues, CAM Raleigh and Christ the King church, with keynotes in the Convention Center and workshops in Clearscapes.
"We've learned from attendees that when you're hearing a speaker share an idea, you can't necessarily pop between talks," Schacht says. "You have to be there for the whole thing, and you're deciding every forty minutes between four things. This year we've slimmed it down so attendees don't feel overwhelmed, like they're missing a talk they want to see."
"I think this is our strongest lineup yet," Schacht says, when asked for her highlights this year. They include Heath and the following keynote, Tina Roth Eisenberg, the founder of Creative Mornings and the custom temporary tattoo company Tattly, who will talk about a subject with broad interest: turning pet projects into thriving businesses.
If you've caught the new program Invisibilia on NPR, a sort of new age Radiolab, you'll be excited to hear cohost Lulu Miller discuss "The Perverse Trap Your Mind Sets for You to Fail (and How to Break Free)," which is typical of the proactive, solution-based bent of Hopscotch Design talks. And for an especially timely presentation, keep an eye out for Ekene Ijeoma, the Adweek and GOOD Magazine-tipped graphic designer who created the interactive map The Refugee Project.
A curious item appears on the Hopscotch Design schedule Thursday and Friday—the "afternoon snack break." But it's much more than a pause for Goldfish and juice boxes. The festival has enlisted chefs from area restaurants like Bida Manda and Centro to prepare dishes based on ideas they've heard that very morning.
"We're trying to bring another level of experience into the festival, using your taste buds to explore an idea and also leverage our culinary community to use their creativity," Schacht says.
The notion, though quirky, is a welcome sign of increased interactivity at Hopscotch Design. Another is a workshop where Mike Cuales and Arthur Earnest will showcase their virtual reality project, The Raleigh Spaces, where you can enter places such as artist Luke Buchanan's studio and get a 360-degree view as he works.
Well, you can be a student—students can attend for $80. But otherwise, the plentiful day parties and other satellite events that soften the $165 blow of a three-day Hopscotch Music pass are in short supply at Design. There are free daytime street parties with bands and DJs on Commerce Place in the Warehouse District Friday and Saturday, but that's about it. More public interaction is "definitely an area where we're interested in more overlap," Schacht says. But for now, this festival remains fairly exclusive, by content and by design.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Designer Genes"