You Don’t Know Y (the Conference), Part 3

At 2009's conference. Photo by Kirby Yau.


In this, the third of four installments, the Y team reflects on memorable people and moments over the past 15 years. Here are parts one, two, and four. And here’s info about next week’s Y16, at the University of San Diego.


David Conover: Owner, StudioConover
AIGA/SD Board (Membership) in 1996 and Y1 Co- Chair

Bonnie Schwartz: Owner, Schwartz Design Group
AIGA/SD Board (Professional Practices) in 1996 and Y1 Co- Chair

Adam Rowe: President, erowe design and “utility bills payer”
current Y Conference Chair

MaeLin Levine: Partner, Visual Asylum; AIGA Fellow
AIGA/SD VicePresident in 1996; Y Conference Chair from 1996 to 200

Candice López: Professor, San Diego City College Graphic Design; AIGA Fellow
AIGA/SD Board (Education) in 1996

Bennett Peji: Civic Brand Designer and City of San Diego Commissioner of Arts & Culture; AIGA Fellow
AIGA/SD President in 1996

Photo from 2001's Y6. Left to right: Adam Rowe, Bennett Peji, Lilia Peji, Maximo Escobedo, Amy Levine, MaeLin Levine, Candice Lopez, Rosa Torres, John Dennis, Guy Iannuzi, Susan Merritt, Don Hollis, Bonnie Schwartz, Jane Mead, Greg Laubach, unidentified woman in back row, Margarita Rubio (Ensenada), Kara Suzuki, Juan Madrigal (Tijuana).



Many of the original board members, myself included, had always championed presenters just a little outside the norm. As a designer who’d been practicing in the field for many years I was less interested in only seeing designers, photographers, and illustrators showcasing their work. Consequently, over the years there have been filmmakers, sustainable-practice architects, and biomimicry designers. We’ve had folklorico musicians and even yoga classes, at one early conference.

And beginning with Y13, we initiated a conference moderator, Susan Szenasy, editor of Metropolis magazine. She was especially inspiring, and kept the conversation flowing.


I loved Michael Vanderbyl. His presentation was very entertaining, telling us when in doubt to just make the graphics “bigger.”

I also remember the design team from Nike. They had so many script changes, from video, audio and slides. It was a super presentation but from a directors standpoint, quite challenging for my AV crew. But we pulled it off.


There are a few speakers that stand out in my mind.

The first is Marc English. He came out as a shaman and was wildly animated and dancing crazily across the stage. It must have put the fear of God into the students in the audience. His presentation was so passionate about the profession, and life in general, that you couldn’t help but love the man.

The second was James Victore. The 2003 conference coincided with the beginning of the war in Iraq, in late March. James came out and played a video with the single image of President Bush on an American flag, as Death. It was stunning and surreal to be attending a design conference and realizing that we we’re at war. James was enraged at the current administration and the lies and betrayal; his message and presentation really brought home the designer as activist and lone voice of reason in a world gone crazy.

Stefan Bucher, in glasses, hypnotizes a group of students. Photo by Kirby Yau.

Last, but certainly not least, was my dear friend Stefan Bucher. We had a speaker that had to pull out of the lineup a week prior to the conference. I was in a panic, and sheepishly called him about the possibility of filling in at the last minute, which he did. Turns out that Stefan was the absolute hit of the conference that year. Attendees couldn’t get enough of his wry humor.



My most vivid memory is being backstage with Candice, each of us poised to quickly change the slide trays for Gregorio Luke, who was hollering at us to “Hurry, hurry, change the trays!” It was hilarious, and scary.


I found Gregorio’s presentation on Diego Rivera to be spectacular. He communicated the passion of Mexico, and it brought so much cultural richness to the conference. There were many challenges to get his talk right. I was one of three volunteers who operated the projectors. There were three slide trays going at different cues and during the rehearsals he would point his laser pointer and tell us to do it again until we got it right. He was a perfectionist, and an incredible presenter who brought the house down. He got a standing ovation.

I was very impressed by Wolfgang Weingart. I found his talk to be so fresh and inspiring. He is a gifted teacher and designer. The way he held objects up and talked about their relationship to design thinking just left everyone speechless.

I also remember John Maeda’s talk. So forward thinking. It pushed the boundaries of what we knew, and really got at the why.


John created computer graphics so far advanced for the time that we were all in complete awe.

Adam "Jack Nicholson" Rowe is, in his words, "soon to be blind stinking drunk at the Y14 after party." Shots from later that evening have mysteriously disappeared. Photo by Kirby Yau.


Many of the after parties for speakers and conference volunteers have been at our home. My husband Rafael and I live in an industrial loft in downtown San Diego. We’ve always relished the opportunity to keep that homegrown feeling about our San Diego AIGA chapter. Not to mention the opportunity to sit and have conversations with some of the most amazing thinkers in the world. Many of the design legends who speak at the Y tell us they’ll never forget the parties… or Rosa Torres’s cooking.

Rosa is a talented professional graphic designer and a gourmet Mexican cook. For a decade she’s created homemade food for speaker parties and Fellows Dinners. She works with student volunteers to serve everything with authenticity. She goes all the way to Tijuana to shop. And guests have sampled everything from crickets to huitlacoche.

Just one of the Y Confreence's countless achievements.


I have to say that Y3 was the most important Y of all, because that is when one of the Mexico designers, an architect from Tijuana, attended for the first time with her friends, and one year later became my wife, Lilia Peji.

Above: cover and six spreads from the Y13 brochure. Art Director: David Conover. Designers: Michael Tussey and Sayamon Riddang. Illustrator: Kenny Flores. Photographer: Kirby Yau.


This is the third of a four-part report. Next: Y now.

Parts • 124