Using Design to Solve the World’s Problems

An Interview with Paddy Harrington

In September of 2015, the UN mandated a set of Global Goals to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity and sustainability for future generations. Meeting these goals requires innovative technologies approached with thoughtful design and inventive storytelling to inspire solutions.

Design Exchange recently hosted EDIT: Expo for Design, Innovation & Technology, a multifaceted event in Toronto that showcased a collection of designers and projects attempting to solve global challenges posed by the UN. The installations, lectures, and workshops were organized into four themes: Shelter/Cities, Nourish, Care, and Educate, all of which straddled the intersections between design, technology, foresight.

Toronto’s Frontier undertook the task of distilling EDIT’s complex mission into a brand system and designing the way this message was conveyed across both digital and physical methods of communication.

Paddy Harrington is the Founder of Frontier, a design studiomagazine and ventures firm, and EDIT’s cultural partner. Frontier is the design team behind the branding and way-finding at EDIT, and contributed to the overall vision of the expo. Paddy has over 10 years experience in branding, strategy, and design. He has degrees in literature and architecture, and has worked in research, architecture, advertising, and design. His clients have included The New York Jets and Giants, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Unilever, the Holy City of Mecca, Li Ning, and the Fogo Island Inn in Newfoundland. Paddy was formerly the SVP Design Innovation and Digital Creative Director at Indigo Books and, prior to that, Executive Creative Director at Bruce Mau Design.

We sat down with Paddy to ask him a few questions about EDIT.

What did the “creative partner” role entail for your team when bringing EDIT to life?

We worked with Shauna Levy [President and CEO, Design Exchange] right from the beginning when she came up with the concept of hosting an Expo for Design, Innovation, and Technology in Toronto. Those early days were all about simply trying to test the waters to find out if there was interest. We did some early work to begin to shape the visual approach and brand, but it was nothing more than rough work to give the project a bit of a visual identity.

As interest began to build over the 2.5 years leading up to EDIT, the challenge became articulating the purpose and vision for the project in a more specific way. We made a lot of the assumptions early on that were inherent in the early presentations – but we soon realized that those assumptions had to be more clearly spelled out as the audience got broader. We knew, for example, that a purpose-driven initiative like EDIT had to be fun, and energetic, and exciting. But early on that excitement was mistaken for superficiality. So we had to spend time telling the full story and deeper intent behind the project: to showcase the best design, innovation, and technology projects from around the world in a fun and engaging way that would appeal to young people and non-designers as much as it would appeal to the design community itself.

How important was being involved in the conception and planning of the festival itself to the creation of the visual identity?

It definitely helped, because we were there from the beginning and we understood what the festival was all about as Shauna began to articulate the vision. So it became a sort of living design brief where we could understand the underlying concepts and build a visual identity that expressed those concepts. It was key that EDIT share some DNA with the Design Exchange, but also have its own independent life. So that was a strong central motivator. The idea of a global project and global reach was also really important.

What role did design play in communicating the Global Goals set out by the UN to the public visiting EDIT?

We simply gave them a place of major prominence at the entry to the expo and that set the tone for the whole thing. The challenge really was finding a way to bring in a whole other language that shared some similarities with EDIT but that also had its own unique agenda and visual language. Our approach was to strip the UNDP Global Goals language and iconography to its basics, so that it was clearly still aligned with the United Nations but also fit within the visual language of EDIT.

What was the strategy for, and narrative behind the language and identity that you created for EDIT?

It started with the Design Exchange logo. It’s a nice logo with simple geometry that includes the letter “D” inside a circle. We extrapolated that idea to the word “EDIT.” The result was a logo that tied into the Design Exchange to keep a strong link between the two institutions, but it also treated each letter of the word separately to help reinforce that the name is actually an acronym.

The color was chosen because the project is very digital. That color is great on screen but very hard to replicate in print. That was an ongoing challenge as the project went from more digital applications to print applications.

From there, the idea of the simple repeating shape extended into a broader brand system that was graphic-centric. Because it was the first instance of the event, there were no images to work with, so we had to use more graphic patterns than images to get the point across. Still, the circle became the central idea. We built icons based on circles. We used large circles to create differentiated backgrounds and to crop images. The circle is ubiquitous, and there are obviously connotations with the shape of the planet and the idea of EDIT as holistic project that is global in scope.

Branding for EDIT by Frontier
Credit: Frontier

What are challenges facing communication designers in crafting branding for events as large as EDIT in both size and scope?

One big challenge was understanding all the different jobs that the visual identity has to do.

Advertising has certain needs. Event wayfinding has certain needs. Digital applications have certain needs. A good brand has to do all those things.

And when you combine the brand story with EDIT’s premise, then it can get especially challenging. In many ways, the job for the brand is simply to be a carrier for the ideas of the show and not get in the way. But, at the same time, it has to create a tone for the event that suits the event objectives. EDIT is about cultivating an optimistic view of the future, but it had to feel approachable and even enticing – because ultimately you’re competing for attention with other forms of entertainment that are very captivating. EDIT had to feel like a place you wanted to be.

How do you hope to see EDIT evolve in the coming years?

I believe that EDIT is the next generation of conference/expo/event. TED is focused on speakers; CES is focused on consumer goods; Venice Biennale is focused on art. There is nothing in the world that brings those things together in a unified way that’s both interactive and experiential, but also informative and purpose-driven. The big challenge is always action and determining how you can turn enthusiasm into action. My hope for EDIT is that it continues to evolve and adapt and become a leading global expo that not only showcases the best design, innovation, and technology from around the world that is solving global challenges, but also provides tangible tools for visitors to take action and get involved after they leave.

the author

Lena Rubisova

Lena Rubisova is graphic design lead at Idea Couture.