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Creativity, culture and corporates: A chat with Semi-Permanent director Simon Velvin

What have you seen change in the design and broader creative sector in New Zealand since Semi-Permanent came to life?

I think design is a lot more accessible now – if you look back to 2003, before the event was in New Zealand, there were a littering of design agencies around but now there are a lot of agencies and design is much easier for everyone to get hold of. What this has created, I think, is people becoming a lot more visually literate – they understand good design: what looks good, what feels good, what experiences are good.

Design itself covers a lot: designing experiences, designing products, aesthetics, buildings, garments, ideas. So, I think it’s almost the new language of businesses. You’ve got businesses now who aren’t experts in their field, like Uber – they aren’t an expert taxi service, they have designed a business to disrupt the whole taxi industry with no experience in the taxi business. Closer to home, you look at Xero – they aren’t accountants, they’ve created a fantastic business through design with amazing graphics and an easy-to-use platform.

Simon Velvin

Have you seen this change spread across the corporate sector?

It’s having a massive impact on business, but if you talk to any designer, they’ll tell you that some of the big corporates still struggle with it. Public companies have a responsibility to their shareholders, naturally making them quite risk averse – this tends dumbs down great ideas.

Let’s look at Fonterra and how design impacts them. As far as agri-design goes, we are probably at the forefront. You look at the Fieldays down south, they’re phenomenal, people are designing incredible products and systems for the sector. They’re moving to cloud-based farming, from macro system to micro. For example, you can know at any one time where your stock is, how much it weighs, and you can calculate your profit margins pretty quickly.

As a platform for the creative industries to share ideas and connect the event is clearly great – has it been successful as a business?

It’s gone well – we’re established in six countries and we’re in 15 cities, so yeah, we’re going really well. We’ve sort of evolved – this last year we’ve rebranded and positioned ourselves to become a design and creative platform. What that means is that we’ve cut what we do into three sections: design, business, and culture. Effectively, we think that covers everything that we talk about.

Culture: All of the interesting things that are happening in the world that are informing cultural and social change.

Business, obviously: All the coolest businesses around the world are where people want to work. So, Facebook is a partner of ours, as is Google and we get to work with them on various projects.

And then, design: That’s where our roots lie and for us it’s everywhere.

Much like you guys, we’re a content platform. We think the live event format is a powerful proposition and it allows people to unplug themselves from the matrix’ and recharge with some like-minded people.

Have you seen a proliferation of these types of events for the creative industries?

Yeah, there are a few around, but we never compete. I’ve always had the mindset that when you feel like you’re being encroached on, just think collaboration. Our brand is really strong: we had a big event come onto the calendar that tried to compete with us so we stuck to our guns and just moved our event down to the other end of the year and let them do theirs.

Any favourite presentations over the years?

I don’t do favourites really – for me, it’s how people react. My passion is to create these events because they initiate amazing creative collisions in the industry. It’s a really important part of the ecosystem of the design community to have these conversations and connect people globally. That’s my purpose.

Any bold and ambitious ideas for Semi-Permanent in the future that you can talk about?

We’ve just consolidated a bit – we’re only doing one New Zealand event and one Australian event now and we’re potentially looking at an expansion into Asia again, maybe into China which will be a lot of fun. And potentially back into the States. But the world is a scary place right now!

To be in the draw to win a double pass to Semi-Permanent Auckland, email us at [email protected] with the name of the presenter you want to see the most.
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