You Don’t Know Y (the Conference), Part 2

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Above: artwork from an animation by Stefan G. Bucher.


The San Diego AIGA’s annual Y design conference is next week, March 25th and 26th. Part one of this four-part report covered its inception. Here, some of the key people who made it all happen discuss the struggles and joys of its birth. Parts three and four tell the story of how it grew up to be 16.

When we last left our intrepid pioneers, they had a conference name… well, a conference letter; a February 1996 event date; and a location, San Diego City College. Now all they had to do was… everything else.


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

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

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

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

Tyler Blik: Principal, BLIKAIGA/SD Board (Ecographics) and Y1 Co- Chair


The Y1 brochure cover and an inside page. Design by Scott Ramsey.


At last year’s Y mixer, Bennett Peji claims that the other cupcake is for his wife. Photo by Kirby Yau.

Bennett: How do you put on a design conference for the first time for 300 people that was budgeted to cost over $50,000 with less than $500 in the bank? That is where balls and creative financial management was needed. The balls were provided by Guy Iannuzzi and Candice López. The creative financial management was supplied by our treasurers Jim Hance and Patty Kevershan, our sponsors, and myself as president.

The entire board worked together to leverage our vendor relationships and we were able to secure early registrations and sponsors and defer deposits and payments until we received monies. This was a very difficult task with the extraordinary risk that the board would ultimately have to foot the bill if the conference didn’t break even.

Candice secured the venue and volunteers and Tyler did most of the speaker recruiting.




As we didn’t have money for a venue it was my job to go to City College and talk to our department chair, who was the theater director, and get approvals through our college president to use the venue and classrooms for breakout sessions. Fortunately I’d just completed a class project where students envisioned the remodeling of our theater lobby. We then worked together with the theater director and students to make the big change a reality. I decided to call in favors. I got permission to use the venue and classrooms.

I was also in charge of recruiting student volunteers to perform myriad tasks before, during, and after the conference. I held a meeting to organize all the interested students who, by volunteering, were allowed to attend the conference, either for free or at a very reduced cost; I can’t recall for sure..


I had the task of contacting the key presenters of the first conference. I was attending a lot of conferences back then: AIGA National, board retreats, the first two original TED conferences, and others. I was motivated by specific messengers, not only inside our profession but also outside of it, and how other professions affected our critical design thinking..


Tyler took the lead on the speakers. The two of us huddled often to shape the pacing for the conference. We were breaking new ground..


We also made a concerted effort to invite designers from Mexico. The people involved in that cross-cultural exchange were Candice and Rafael Lopez, MaeLin and Amy Levine, Joel Sotelo, Màximo Escobedo, and myself. We went to Mexico to meet with the designers from Tijuana, Rosarito, Ensenada, and Mexicali. This added a unique, enriching mix to both the programming and the audience for many years to come.

Y8 graphics by Visual Asylum.

Y9 graphics. Creative director: Màximo Escobedo. Illustrator: Michelle Aranda. Metal work: Victoriano Escobedo. Intro video screens: Màximo Escobedo, Michelle Aranda, Justin Skeesuck, and Ninth Link.

Bonnie Schwartz ran the logistics of the actual program. With our input, she scripted it and controlled the audio/visual timing of everything. Working with her, I can tell you that most things fell into place just in the nick of time so that the audience thought it was seamless. Bonnie was dri
ving the car, but we were all scrambling to pave the road ahead of the car..


My role was the scripting and stage direction. I scripted the timing and lighting and worked with the production and house crew on all the details. I also interacted with all the speakers when they arrived, testing their presentations, and impressing on them they had a time slot to fit into. I was teased quite a bit about my green, yellow, and red timing lights as they spoke from the podium. We got smarter every year. I enjoyed nine years in this role.

It was daunting, and exciting. The entire board put their heart and soul into the development. We were completely committed to making this work. The effort and energy was extraordinary. And all the hard work really paid off. The speakers said our conference had such a personal feel, very different than any of the national conferences.

We had wonderful camaraderie, with focus on the goal of creating a content-rich, fun, and enjoyable conference for designers in the region..


The conference sold out, thanks to the quality of the programming, the communications materials by Scott Ramsey, and all the event promotions by the board members, particularly Candice..


There was a great deal of stress but I would equate it to having a baby. When it’s over you only remember the good things. One was this very good feeling that all our preparations and plans were making it all come together.

There was a real homegrown quality to it all. Everything was so personal. The attendance was thrilling, as was the chance for students and professionals to come together and really connect.

The Thinkshop with Charles Spencer Anderson stood out in my mind. I remember thinking, “I can’t believe he’s here in our humble community college classroom.” I remember the look on the faces of my students, as we had studied him in graphic design history. The CSA Archive was all the rage, and here he was giving us personal insights about how he’d collect European currency and study the color patterns in it..


I specifically recall a local designer, a very attractive European female by the name of Minka who led a meditation/yoga Thinkshop. I certainly wasn’t going to miss that one… to get my creative juices flowing.

Other key highlights from my own personal memory were: one, bringing Dana Arnett’s Ben Day film to the San Diego design community; two, absorbing all the subtleties of Chuck Anderson’s talk and relating to our shared Midwestern upbringing; and three, being able to bring my dear friend Eric Baker back to the community where he started his career, to share all his New York City design experiences and insights..


One of the smartest decisions made was to hire a professional event/AV company. We all knew a poor presentation really sucks the enthusiasm out of the audience and we were willing to risk what little capital we had by hiring a professional firm.

We still joke about Eric’s berating of the AV guy when Eric’s slides projected upside-down and backwards… which, of course, was not the fault of AV..


After the conference, I took Dana, Eric, Chuck and his wife Laurie DeMartino, some of my employees, and other attendees to this little dive of a blues club in southeast San Diego. Chuck and Laurie were definitely out of their element, but after a few beers they were at the center of the dance floor.


One of Bennett Peji’s civic branding projects, which he presented at Y14.

Noe Barragan Moreno, Suzanne Ito, George Lim, and Zelda Harrison offer Mexican perspectives on cross-cultural branding during a 2009 panel.

This concludes the story of the first conference. Coming up next: other Ys.

Parts • 134

ópez #DavidConover #EricBaker #YDesignConference #VisualAsylum #BonnieSchwartz #MàximoEscobedo #CharlesSpencerAnderson #MaeLinLevine #AIGA