Review: Kyoorius Designyatra Festival 2011

“All my books are torture,” confessed Irma Boom in a heartfelt talk that was a highlight of this year’s Kyoorius Designyatra festival in Goa.

Detail from the Designyatra set, which features props related to all the speakers. By Kay Khoo

“All my books are torture,” confessed Irma Boom in a heartfelt talk that was a highlight of this year’s Kyoorius Designyatra festival in Goa.

Boom joined a variety of international and home-grown speakers at the conference, which is the primary event of its kind in the region, and is now in its seventh iteration. She treated attendees to a showcase of her work so far, talking through a number of her book projects and increasingly wowing the audience with tales of the painful lengths she has reached to complete her designs in the way she felt was right, regardless of the objections of awkward collaborators and pesky publishers. By the end of the session, when she showed a series of increasingly small, but perfectly formed books, the audience was whooping and cheering at each new revelation.

Irma Boom on stage at Designyatra

While Designyatras in the past have been well stocked with huge names from the graphics world, Boom was among only a small group representing the field this year (particularly as one of the key speakers, David Carson, performed one of his famous ‘no-shows’). Instead, the organisers themed the conference around the word ‘Next’ and decided to introduce a wider spectrum of designers to the audience in Goa than have previously been seen there. These included many practitioners of digital and 3D design, including Troika and Peter Higgins from Land Design, and also advertising. Mark Chalmers from Perfect Fools and Nathan Cooper from Anomaly both spoke about the latter, showing some impressive pieces of work, with Chalmers in particular wowing the audience with a project for Converse, which saw a wall of shoes transformed into pixels in a wall display (film below).

Despite the enthusiasm greeting this project, the idea of embracing digital in a broader sense was met with a mixed response. In the Q&A following Chalmers’ talk, a member of the audience gave an impassioned speech about the glories of print design over digital, gaining a huge round of applause. Despite the wide associations India may have with technology around the world, it would appear that a wholehearted adoption of digital in design may still be some time coming.

Adrian Shaughnessy

A number of talks offered up pragmatic advice to the audience. Adrian Shaughnessy shared his top ten list of the traits of ‘good designers’ that he has observed during his career. These included such delights as ‘good designers are selfish egotists’, ‘good designers are liars and cheats’, and ‘good designers are plagiarists and copyists’. Judging by the cheers from the crowd, largely made up of designers, there seemed to be little resistance to such bawdy descriptions. As an aside, Shaughnessy also revealed his favourite-ever client, which, somewhat surprisingly, was the rock band Primal Scream, who are apparently deeply polite, even arranging a meeting after a project was finished, just to say thanks. Aw.

Typeradio get interactive with the crowd

Typeradio founders Donald Beekman and Liza Enebeis, who have interviewed over 400 designers in the seven years that their online radio station has been running, shared some tips on their technique, revealing that their opening question is always ‘are you religious?’. Perhaps this is an approach CR should begin taking. They also got the audience involved in some lively interactive activities. Elsewhere in the festival, there were films on show, with Hermann Vaske talking through his clips on creativity, and a film of an interview with Massimo Vignelli, played in lieu of an appearance at the festival which was sadly cancelled.

More pithy advice came from Richard Holman from Devilfish (who was given the tricky last speaker spot), who eschewed the usual format of showing his own work to concentrate largely on sharing work by people who’d inspired him. These included a clip of the wonderful Dennis Potter interview conducted by Melvyn Bragg shortly before the writer’s death in 1994, where he explains in vivid detail the joy of seeing the spring blossom outside his window, which Holman used to illustrate his theory that designers should try to live in the present. A transcript of the Potter interview is here. Holman also shared his ‘real’ Simpsons film for Sky, above, which proved a great crowd pleaser.

Raw Color demonstrate getting ink from beetroot

Two talks came from ‘young blood’ representatives: firstly Raw Color, (Christoph Brach and Daniera ter Haar) who shared some of the beautiful design work they’ve created using ‘vegetable ink’ (image above). Novi Rahman, a designer at Wacom Europe, then followed and won over the crowd with her demonstration that digital design can still be rooted in the human.

The Khoslas

Collaboration was further theme of the day, with many designers explaining that being open to working with others, and across disciplines, is central to their work. Sandeep Khosla, of architect’s firm Khosla Associates, and Tania Singh Khosla, of graphic and interior design firm Tsk Design, who are both husband and wife and regular work collaborators, discussed how they had worked together on a number of projects across India, and shared some particularly stunning architectural projects, including their own home.

Johnson with various audience members

Moderating the festival this year was Michael Johnson of Johnson Banks, who also spoke as part of a panel on branding, and gave a star turn on the guitar at the opening of the festival. Johnson provided the winning combination of being a witty host who had a strong sense of timing, preventing any of the talks from drifting too far past their time slots. He wrapped up the event by inviting members of the audience on stage to offer their views on what was good about the festival and what they’d like to see next year. Comments were mixed, though there was a regular request for more speakers from other parts of the world after a line-up this year heavily dominated by Dutch and British speakers. Of the talks most enjoyed, Shaughnessy, Holman and Boom enjoyed particular shout-outs, and there were even several cheers for the digital talks. So perhaps there’s hope for digital design in India yet. No doubt all will be revealed in future Designyatras.

The Kyoorius Designyatra takes place each September in India. More information on the event can be found online at

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