Graphic design is a very broad field; one that stretches from print and editorial, to web and the apparel industry. It covers a wide spectrum from advertising campaigns, to social awareness and exhibition design. But there is still one avenue of design that often goes unnoticed, when in fact it’s one that we all know well: experiential design.
Experiential design is the field of design focused on experiences. It includes everything from street team activations and viral videos, to live events and alternate reality games. It is often the most invasive form of advertising, but can be the most memorable (good or bad).
I turned to Adam Okrasinski to shed some light on the late night design culture. Adam is a graphic designer based in NYC, and is currently working for the advertising agency, Momentum, where he lends his skills to planning the most killer events around the city. Before that, Adam was calling the shots at thehappycorp, devising explosive underground high-concept theme parties. Here to answer a few crucial questions about what it takes to run the night life in New York City, Adam O.
LUKE: I want to start from the beginning, when you were working for thehappycorp, planning events for LVHRD, who describe their efforts as “fueling interaction between creative professionals through an unconventional event series and digital media…” Based on your time with the group, can you elaborate on this?
ADAM: Sure. LVHRD (pronounced Live Hard), in reality was a semi-secret arts-based collective, that ran a competitive creativity events series. It was owned and managed by the advertising agency thehappycorp. thehappycorp and LVHRD were founded by Doug Jaeger who is now the President of the Art Directors Club, and his original idea was to hold these really fun events that would bring like-minded creative people in NYC together. LVHRD tried to engage its audience in ways that were unconventional, like refusing to announce the location of an event until the day of, and then texting the address to only the people who had purchased tickets.
LUKE: My understanding is that LVHRD hosts a different theme/concept event each time they organize. What is the creative process like, from concept to developing an experience around each? As event producer, what were your roles?
ADAM: I functioned as LVHRD’s event producer during its final four events; (CLL) PHN-LCKN, ARCH DL V, WRK PLY The Non-Conference, and finally PHTHRD III. The main events were annual, and include the ARCHDL series of architecture competitions (or Arch Duels), the PHTHRD series of photography competitions, the DNCHRD series of dance-offs, and the FSHNDL series of fashion competitions.
The FSHNDLs and the ARCHDLs functioned in basically the same way. Two teams of fashion designers or architects, live on stage, would race to answer a creative brief with surprise materials (like making a dress out of balloons directly on the model, or building an architecture model with the contents of Monopoly Game boxes) in a set amount of time. At the end, either judges or the audience would declare a winner. During all of this a DJ and open bar fueled the crowd.
My role in the events I produced included things like; finding and signing up the competitors, contracting the event space, talking with sponsors about getting all of the booze, announcing and promoting the event, and selling tickets. We ran the ship pretty tight and fast, and generally went from conception to the event itself in less than six weeks. It was exhausting and exhilarating.
LUKE: On LVHRD.com, one line that really sticks out to me reads, “…we don’t know how you found us, but you did.” For a company who hosts secret events, how does news spread?
ADAM: The funny thing is that almost two years before I started working at thehappycorp, I read something online about LVHRD and thought it sounded like the coolest thing ever. It wasn’t until I interviewed for a design job at thehappycorp, that I found out that they were the guys behind LVHRD.
It was sort of impossible for the events to be actually secret, but you supposedly could only get tickets if you were a member or a member brought you. We started to relax more and more about it as it got closer and closer to the end.
Generally, we would get press about the events, and pictures would get posted online, so a lot of people in NY knew about it. I guess the idea was, anybody could come, as long as they were willing to jump through a hoop or two.
LUKE: I’m especially interested in the CLL PHN LCKN event. How, exactly do you learn about strangers via cell phone? And where did you get all the white jump suits?
ADAM: We got the white suits wholesale from a septic systems/clean room/uniform wholesaler. I don’t remember for sure how much they cost, but they didn’t cost a ton. We bought like 300 of them and got custom labels printed so that we could sequentially number all of the suits. Someone still has a bag of maybe 50 of them.
Basically, when you showed up to (CLL) PHN-LCKN you would check in and retrieve your suit. Everyone put the suit on over their clothes, and then got their pictures taken at a photo booth we set up. After all that, we instructed folks to log in to the system with their phones via text, and set up their personal bio. Then for the rest of the night, you could text the number on someone’s suit and get texted back their bio. During the night people could change their bios as often as they wanted, so it became like a hybrid live local-twitter. The coolest part though, was the monitoring system we built that projected people’s bios on the wall, sized according to how popular their number was. If you were getting a lot of requests, your bio would fill up this huge projection on the wall. It was really cool to interact for a night in a totally unique way.
Towards the end we replaced the DJ with a live performance by the band Y.A.C.H.T. which was awesome. Right after they finished their set, I went backstage, cut my finger open, and bled all over my suit. I now have a history of going to events I work on and ending up seriously injured.
LUKE: Can you describe your transition from LVHRD to Momentum? Were you still involved in event planning?
ADAM: LVHRD and thehappycorp went out of business shortly after my last event PHTHRD III, and I was left terrifyingly jobless. Right before I would have been forced to start selling my body for rent I got an email from Momentum. I called them up, and they said they had seen my work and heard good things, and they asked if I wanted to freelance art direct for them full time starting the next day. I had been planning on sleeping in the next day, so I told them I’d start the day after. I freelanced for a month, they offered me a salaried position, and here I am now. I am no longer involved in the non-creative aspects of event planning. I barely use my office phone, and haven’t opened word or excel documents in weeks. I do mostly concepting and direction for corporate events and experiential campaigns. Currently, I am looking into starting to produce more underground sponsored events on the side. I’ll keep you posted.
LUKE: Last Summer, you were involved in Project M, a social effort developed by John Bielenberg. M is becoming a hugely successful movement to raise social awareness and better the world through thoughtful design. Most people involved, leave with a new perception of design thinking. What was it like working closely with John Bielenberg and company? Can you talk a little bit about Pizza Farm and it’s inception?
ADAM: It was really crazy. The session I went to was the first co-sponsored Project M session and it was in collaboration with Winterhouse Institute (the people behind designobserver.com). First of all, getting to meet the amazing roster of famous designers that came through our house in the two weeks we were there was really fun. Getting to know John Bielenberg, as well as Bill Drenttel and Jessica Helfand of Winterhouse, was a really inspirational kick in the pants. That said, the actual work was really difficult and oftentimes not very fun. I worked with some very cool people in my M group, but trying to do something so ambitious in two weeks was contentious. The play time however was unforgettable (Shout out to the Sharon Valley Tavern). John, Bill, and Jessica, gave us all the freedom in the world to think outside the box, but time caught up and I think our project may seem derivative of other Project M projects.
Pizza Farm was the name we gave our event, and it consisted of giving away 300 personal sized pizzas—made with locally grown ingredients (down to the dough and sauce)—to people from all over the region (NW CT, NY, and MA). I could never describe all the steps we went through to get there, but know that the two weeks I spent at Wintershack were filled with booze, arguments, and breaking and entering.
LUKE: Has your experience with Project M affected the way you approached work at Momentum?
ADAM: I don’t think so. I think Project M is totally different from the world of clients, especially in advertising. I would like to spend more of my time doing free form stuff like Project M though. Hopefully I will be able to jump back in and work on another project with John soon. Stuff is in the works.
LUKE: At Momentum, you played a role in the planning for the Verizon DROID launch party. On your website you mention simultaneous events in NY and SF, as well as recruiting some high-profile stage acts! What was it like, being a part of that?
ADAM: It was crazy. I worked on those events for probably 6 months and we started over, over and over again. It went through so many iterations, that in the end it was just a relief to see something actually come of it. Picking the bands that would end up playing the show was very difficult because my suggestions had to go through so many other parties, but in the end I think we did the best we could. I obviously couldn’t go to both shows, but Karen O and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs played one of the best live shows I have ever seen. Its amazing how few people work on something like that from a creative standpoint. I basically designed every piece of collateral, and got to sign off on, everything visual that went into the show. It was an honor. The night ended in personal tragedy, but that’s another long story.
LUKE: Talk to me about Drawing Club NY. Where can I sign up?
ADAM: I started Drawing Club NY with Payton Turner last winter, and it was essentially a weekly club where we would get a bunch of our friends to meet us at this bar in Williamsburg every Tuesday to do collaborative drawing.
I met Payton at MICA, and once we moved to New York, she and I started talking about how we wanted to do this almost conceptual drawing project. My original impetus was to use the club format to complete this published project I have been wanting to do for some time, but I think she was more motivated by the idea of bringing people together to share the enjoyment of creation. I think that in the end, with the blog (http://drawingclubny.tumblr.com) showcasing the best drawings of each week, we netted out somewhere in the middle. Payton and I both came back from the holidays in Jan of 09 in different situations—I had just started producing events for LVHRD full time, and we decided that we werent ready to keep doing it every week. Hopefully soon, we can jump back on the horse and get things started in a bigger and better way than before.
To see more of Adam’s portfolio, check out his site, here.