Brand aid: Ringling College’s fourth annual International Design Summit highlights the importance of design in building a business

Published February 3, 2010

Sarasota International Design Summit
Various times Feb. 4-6, Ringling College of Art and Design, 2700 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, 351-5100; Larry Thompson: noon Thurs., Feb. 4, Ken Robinson: 1:15-5:45 p.m. Thurs., Feb. 4 (invitation only) and 9-9:30 a.m. Fri., Feb. 5; Marty Neumeier: 5:15-5:50 Fri., Feb. 5; see website for full list of events and times; summit registration fees are $495 with various discounts available for promotional partners, government employees and Ringling College students and alumni.

It’s no secret that Sarasota houses one of the top art and design schools in the country, and probably the most technologically advanced art school in the world. But not many people think of Ringling College of Art and Design as being on the leading edge of the business world. Those views may change after this weekend’s annual Sarasota International Design Summit. “This is the forth year and the theme this time is design and business,” says Ringling College President Larry Thompson, pictured above on the left, “the art of designing business solutions… It’s not a conference for designers. It really is people from all walks of life. It’s a very eclectic group.”

And Thompson ain’t kiddin’. This year’s summit has a wide array of various types of speakers, from educators, artists and entertainers to cartoonists, scientists and storytellers. But the big focus this year is the kings of business innovation. Some of the top business branding and marketing consultants in the world are showing up to explain why design isn’t just a logo and a look anymore, but should be the entire identity, operational process and ethical basis of a company, organization or government. That is, if they want to be successful and stay that way. This relatively new business model is called design thinking and has been the source of inspiration for some of the most innovative brands in business, giving companies the ability to annihilate their competition.

One of the leading authorities on design thinking is Marty Neumeier, director of transformation for The Liquid Agency and author of The Brand Gap, Zag and The Designful Company. Neumeier (pictured above in the middle) will hold a design thinking workshop at the summit that will show attendees how to transform their brands with innovation, understand the role of customer experience in the creation of goods and services and how to implement design thinking into business practices. “The big change in the last 20 years is that customers are now driving companies,” says Nuemeier. “Because of the digital revolution people now know more about companies. That’s why you need to pay more attention to branding… With the dot-com bust we saw these beautiful companies that were just facades. That’s why branding has to be more real, not just about looks, and a lot of companies don’t get that. They don’t think about the higher perception of what they are. Customers have a lot of information about companies now and they determine the brand.”

According to Nuemeier, innovative thinking is the key to a sustainable business model. “If you want to innovate you have to think out of the box. Innovation is the key to beating competition. ‘How can we think in new ways and within the new situation,’ which is customers running businesses…Most businesses are afraid of big ideas because they’re looking for safety. If you want to stay innovative you have to learn how to deal with risk.”

Another speaker at the summit who shares Nuemeier’s views and will be tackling some of the same issues is Ken Robinson, an international leader in the development of creativity and innovation in business and human resources. Robinson (pictured above, on the right) has been a consultant for an eye-popping list of Fortune 500 companies, national governments, international agencies, national and state educational systems, as well as nonprofit and cultural organizations. The Design Summit veteran will return this year to lead two summit events. He will address the full audience on Friday with a speech on developing passion within a company’s business model. But the day before he will lead a new addition to the summit, an afternoon workshop with business leaders from all over Florida, who have been invited to discuss the future of Florida’s business landscape.

“Companies want to get creative but they don’t know how to do it,” says Robinson. “A lot of adults think they’re not creative people. Some people think that creativity is just inspiration, but that’s not true. It doesn’t just happen. There’s a process of work involved in generating new ideas. You have to allow for the inspiration but it doesn’t just show up. That’s probably what I’m going to talk about with the business leaders. It’s an important conference for Sarasota. They’re creating a regional plan and creativity will be the heart of it.”

President Thompson sees this new addition to the summit as a whole new level of what the college can accomplish. “We’re having something new at the beginning which is a CEO roundtable,” he says. “Thirty CEOs from all over Florida are coming to discuss the creative economy and design thinking for businesses and the economy of Florida. This is how you can use the thinking concepts that designers use to make your business more competitive. One of the missions of Ringling College is to change the way people think about art and design. We think of ourselves as being on the leading edge of where design thinking is heading. We want to have this discussion and bring people together.”

Photos courtesy Michelle Bauer

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