What do young(ish) graphic designers and advertising creative types care about these days? Observations at last weekend's Semi-Permanent conference suggest the answer is: bottled water. And tasteful, restrained-yet-edgy outfits in black/blue with hints of grey/white, incorporating wide horizontal stripes.
Many of their inspirers - whom they paid $290 to listen to - seem to care deeply about themselves. "It's not really a brand but I like to put my name on things," said veteran British clubscene flyer designer Ian "Swifty" Swift, who appeared put out that his unprepared presentation was interfering with his pre-party snooze. "Our work is really as much about us as it is about our clients," said one of the twins from Sydney "creative agency" Moffitt Moffitt. Appropriately, host Radar made a lot of jokes about, ahem, self love.
Semi-Permanent in its 10th anniversary year seemed a bit slapdash. Nobody had bothered proofreading the glossy souvenir hardback. The speakers were terribly uneven.
And in front of a 50:50 audience, the 20 or so presenters included only two or three women.
However, there were genuinely interesting stars such as Wallpaper* magazine art director Meirion Pritchard, and prolific lowbrow New York artist Ron English, who talked of making bags of "pre-dead" toy soldiers, and seeing replicas of paintings of his own children tattooed on the arms of strangers. He didn't seem to think this was weird; but then, this is a man who has painted his son as a child Marlboro Man.
But the highlight for me - and for Radar who introduced her as a "lady prankster" - was deeply clever New York designer Kelli Anderson. She designed utopian advertising (Ikea wind farms, trade-in bicycles) for a 2008 hoax New York Times which was dated six months in the future with the motto "all the news we hope to print" and handed out for free to thousands of people. The idea was to get them thinking about turning pleasant possibilities into realities.
Anderson sees people's expectations as "raw material" for designers to disrupt. "The world is full of order that doesn't necessarily deserve our respect."
It's an ethos good for political action and original designs. At the whimsical end of the scale, she made a paper record player for a friend's wedding invitation, though paper is "supposed" to be silent. She calls this surprising her audience with the "hidden talents of everyday things".
And at the political - although still very stylish - end of the scale, she created a New York walking tour map for an Occupy Wall Street gazette which illustrated the wealth gap by representing income with south-north distance (while most people's incomes were represented within Manhattan, the top 0.1 per cent wealth was off the scale up in Prince Edward Island in Canada).
For an hour at least, my expectations - or should I say raw materials? - were surpassed.