For Every Accountant Hired, Hire An Artist: PSFK Conference, Good Ideas In Storytelling

In the first part of our recent conference, Steve Powers, Ouigi Theodore, Nicholas Felton, Andy Spade and Anthony Sperduti talked about their approaches to inventive storytelling.

The first segment of talks at PSFK Conference NYC featured four approaches to inventive storytelling.

Contemporary artist and graffiti legend Steve Powers talked about his creative journey and the process and thinking behind Love Letter – arguably the longest love story ever written: a 20 block long grafitti ballad painted across West Philadelphia’s rooftops and walls.

Highlights from Powers’s talk:

- Powers nurtured his passion for art and storytelling as a young grafitti artist growing up in Philly. He followed this creative impetus to become one of Philadelphia’s most noted artists, and to give back to the community through his form of beautiful vandalism.

- “Graffiti is advertising for what artists want to promote, which is style.”

- Powers drew inspiration from all around him – even from food stand signs and roller coaster rides: “Whether rides or hot dogs, Coney Island signs are all advertising pleasure.”

- Powers’ Love Letter project was a story told through collaboration, created with the help of the West Philly community, The Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, and the ‘skilled hands of 20 of the finest spray painters in America.” The murals cover 50 buildings that face the elevated Market-Frankford metro line, intending to tell a personal love story to and about the people of Philadelphia while bringing art and unexpected beauty to their daily lives/commute. The enormous illustrations contain messages like “FOREVER begins when you say yes” and “If you were here I’d be home now.”

For Every Accountant Hired, Hire An Artist- PSFK Conference, Good Ideas In Storytelling-2

Ouigi Theodore shared his unpredictable, inspiring road to becoming the visionary founder of BK Circus, a trendsetting mens and womens boutique and lifestyle brand with outposts in Brooklyn, SF, and distribution in Japan.

Some highlights from Ouigi’s talk:

“I am a professional error man who recruited others as lost as me.”

Theodore’s path to becoming the founder of BK Circus wasn’t a linear one. He studied to become a designer, paid his dues wearing different hats, and made some ‘errors’ along the way. But every mistake he made, he grew from and used to take his next step – and found others like himself along the way to learn from and co-conspire with.

“I dipped my bucket where I stood: Which is the quest to finding yourself.”

Ouigi spoke about how his life was one of creation and starting over, and going after what he loved – despite the occasional confusion, false-starts, and inevitable roadblocks. But through it, he ‘dipped the bucket where he stood’ – learning from whatever situation he was in, and seeing it as an opportunity for self-understanding, growth and eventually moving forward – a recommendation for anyone driven by a creative vision or dream.

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Nicholas Felton – Designer and creator of the annual infographic Feltron Report, shared the inspiration behind telling his life story through numbers, graphs, and charts.

- Felton has been indexing the minutiae of his life for half a decade – from his daily personal interactions, to where and how many miles he’s traveled by foot/train/bike/car to how many vegetables he ate and of what variety.

- For his most recent report, Felton experimented with a new methodology: instead of relying on self-reporting, he asked nearly everyone he came in contact with – friends, family, his dentist, strangers he spoke with for 10 minutes or more – to fill out an online survey about their interaction. Of the more than 1000 people he asked to participate, 32% completed the extensive report about their moment with Felton, evaluating everything from what they did to his mood and demeanor.

- Felton’s reports are stunning experiments in tracking and quantifying experience; they serve as proof that even in the most quotidian details of our lives lie poignant patterns, progressions, and a kind of beauty worth noticing.

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Andy Spade & Anthony Sperduti, founders of studio and consultancy Partners & Spade, discussed how they create authentic products, experiences and stories to redefine brands.

Some highlights and quotes from their presentation:

- “The bigger a brand gets, the smaller it should act… Acting small should be a continuous state of mind, because no one likes big.”

- Partners & Spade created a compelling story around J. Crew’s men’s line by thinking small: they bought up the space formerly owned by the classic Liquor Store Bar in Tribeca and transformed it into a one-of-a-kind J. Crew Men’s Store, stocked with fine apparel, accoutrements, and even some carefully curated artwork by NY artists. The store looks, feels, and acts like a true men’s boutique – a genuinely distinct experience created by presenting J. Crew not as a behemoth global brand, but as a company in touch with the local culture of the city, its tastes and its heritage.

- “Everything communicates.” Spade and Sperduti stressed the importance of authenticity – not in a singular piece or moment, but across the entire store/brand experience. Every element of the Liquor Store, from the old-fashioned attire of the store-tenders to the shop’s selection of books from The Strand, serves as a perfect complement to the store’s overall aesthetic and identity.

- “For every accountant hired, hire an artist.” A simple, yet powerful idea: for every consideration of money and business objectives, think about counterbalancing it with an injection of creativity and artistic whimsy. Partners & Spade were able to revive an aura of sophistication around J. Crew’s menswear line because they were thinking as much like artists as they were businessmen. Their creative vision dictated the brand story – which resulted in something authentic, bold, and profitable.

photos by Dave Pinter

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