Backstage at Command X: The live design reality show

On October 10, I arrived in Minneapolis along with 2,000 design professionals and students for the Head, Heart, Hand: AIGA Design Conference. Unlike most of them, I wasn’t there to attend; I was going to be part of the show. I would take the stage that evening with six other young, aspiring designers to compete in the fourth season of the live design reality show, Command X.

Assignment 1: Design a new logo for Prince
Just a day prior, I had submitted a solution to the first assignment we were given a week to work on. When I received the assignment, my initial reaction was one of apprehension. I listen to country music. Prince couldn’t have been any farther from my comfort zone. But I was determined not to give up before it even started. I dug my heels in, did some research, and took an objective approach. I came away with the idea of balancing femininity and masculinity, soft and hard. Referring to gemstones for inspiration, I designed a bold, iconic letter P. Sometimes Prince removes a seemingly important element (e.g. the bass) from a musical arrangement, so I chose not to include typography. This was a decision that set my solution apart from the rest that evening. The audience voted and gave me a spot in the second round.

In lieu of the judging panel from past seasons, this year, five AIGA medalists were asked to mentor one of the contestants from the second round on. When it was my turn to pull a name out of the velvet bag, I learned I would be working with Jennifer Morla. While I would have been lucky to work with any one of the medalists, this pairing felt good to me. I discovered that feeling was right as soon as we started talking about the second assignment.

Assignment 2: Redesign the Land O’ Lakes butter package
By the time I had left the stage, grabbed my bags, and made my way over to the roped off work station in the middle of the design fair, my mentor was waiting with a question: Any ideas? I didn’t have any time to process my advancement. I just had to kick it into high gear. I told Jennifer I wasn’t sure how yet, but I thought there was a story to tell about the brand’s cultural origin and rich history. She suggested a typographic approach. That just made sense to me. After several hours of playing with type and consulting with Jennifer, I reached a beautiful solution. This time on stage, the abundance of typography is what made my package stand out. Even with a spelling error, the audience voted me through to the next round.

I applied to be a part of Command X because I wanted to challenge myself and see what I could do in a pressure-filled environment. After I received the call from Bonnie Siegler, the conference chair and the show’s producer, that I was in, I set one goal for myself: make it to the final round. I just didn’t think I could walk away satisfied unless I had the chance to see what I would come up with for all three assignments. I was happy that I could mark the metaphorical checkbox next to that goal. But, I still had one more assignment to respond to.

Assignment 3: Tackle at least one aspect of the idiocy of texting while driving
I knew right away that I didn’t want to go the campaign route. Most people recognize that texting while driving is a major distraction. The problem is, a lot of people still do it—especially young, inexperienced drivers. Law enforcement simply isn’t cutting it. With that in mind, I wanted to design a tool that could help.

I started by setting a few criteria. Most often, texting is responsive. As soon as the tone sounds signaling a new text, there’s an immediate temptation to read the message and subsequently respond. Removing that temptation was my first and most important criteria. The tool also had to reach anyone who drives, be cost-effective, easy to use, and made available as soon as possible. After all, this issue cannot wait for major technology advancements, and it certainly can’t discriminate against potential users.

In less than 12 hours, I designed an app that met all of these criteria. TTYL, the texting equivalent of Talk To You Later, is a simple way for people to look out for each other. Its single screen allows users to change their status and tell friends (who also have the app) if they are driving or not. Users can also see whether their friends are driving. A few additional features integrate the app into the phone and help prevent people from texting someone who is driving. Drivers won’t be tempted to answer a text if there isn’t anything to respond to. While I’m sure there are a few kinks to be worked out and improvements to be made, the concept was strong.

In the end, I didn’t win. But, I came close and I feel like a winner. I met so many amazing people and received a lot of support along the way. Jennifer’s guidance helped me make decisions quickly and push forward, while still allowing me to be true to myself and trust my own instincts. I am proud of what I accomplished in just three short days.

Before heading to Minneapolis, and throughout the weekend, everyone kept reminding me to have fun. What I didn’t expect was how easy it would be to do just that.