Inspiring people isn’t always the easiest thing. Just like humour, inspiration means different things to different people. What may be enlightening to one person may be entirely obscure to someone else. So to even attempt to gather a group of intellectuals in one space, keep them interested in 22 talks and inspire them takes a lot of guts, and in this case, some good old Dutch courage.
Getting it right, however, is quite an accomplishment.
Although only in its inaugural stage, What Design Can Do faced the challenge of inspiring the inspired head-on. If the reactions are anything to go by, many walked out a little glossy-eyed, not because they had just woken up, but because someone had imparted their wisdom and managed to crack through the tough I-know-it-all shell.
As with any conference, particularly one with such a multitude of speakers, some got it right and some fell short of the mark. It happens and it isn't something that should immediately judge the integrity of the conference for its future editions. No matter how experienced you may be, or how impressive a body of work you have to your name, standing on stage in front of a group of thoroughly critical people is quite simply daunting.
The array of speakers was impressive, with backgrounds in graphic design, product design, social design, architecture and design policy and with nationalities spanning a wide spectrum of the globe. At the same time, the moderators on stage were a nice touch, though occasionally I felt that they may have been a little too harsh with the speakers. But I guess when you consider that their job was to be critical and to engage with the speakers' work, then they did their job considerably well.
But all work and no play is never a good thing. Thankfully What Design Can Do had plenty happening on the social side. Having not been able to attend a trip to the Zuiderzee Museum, the boat ride through the canals of Amsterdam ending in a dinner at the trendy - or so I hear - Hotel De Goudfazant was enough of an introduction to the truly spectacular architecture and design of the city itself. The raucous party on the final day of the conference at Cafe Cox was without a doubt a typical night out in Amsterdam with many needing a little more time to sleep in, come morning.
So as I leave behind the ringing of bicycle bells and the rush of trams, What Design Can Do should definitely pour themselves a good Dutch beer and cheers to a job well done! They've taken a simple and straightforward concept and crafted something that will hopefully grow over time into Holland's nucleus of inspiration for designers around the world.