Setting the tone from go, George’s immediate energy ignited the stage. The bright yellow jacket and watermelon pants a bold choice for some, but an outfit staple for George. His first words being “What’s up!” and kickstarting with a crowd-wide stretch and hug. George likes to have fun, dedicating his career to creating wonderful things that other people can enjoy.
Hailing from New York, George explained how he didn’t exactly connect with other local’s “weird sense of pride for being miserable” and headed West to a sunnier San Francisco. Constantly asking “What if?” has clearly been the protagonist for many of George’s ideas. What if we filled this room with balloons? What if we filled the balloons with lights? What if we invited a bunch of people to dance in the room with the balloons? And so Balloonacy was born, an appropriate title for hosting a party with 2000 people raving in your bedroom.
The party was a big success, with the only serious matters being transporting the toilet paper supply, and a latex allergy George has potentially developed from sleeping in a room filled with balloons. “People left feeling happy and in touch with themselves” he explained, “From 8- to 80-year-olds … it’s all about creating a safe space for people to have fun”.
Interactive Artist, Designer (San Francisco)
He then wondered how he could make those situations happen in the everyday world and find moments of joy hiding in the mundane. Projects such as Pulse of the City, Bench Go Round and The Listening Tree are great examples of how George has achieved this multiple times over. The creative process is key, and he reinforced that these projects never start out as fully formed ideas in those initial stages. It can be challenging at times and appear like things aren’t going to work out.With an unexpected shift in tone, George then gave the audience what he described to be the most important advice he had received in his life. Quiet with a reflective gaze, he paused, smiled and said “If something goes wrong, remember to take a picture!”. Laughing it off he continued to say that it always works out, so having the picture makes for a great story.
Perhaps this love of storytelling, combined with an overflowing sketch book, led to George publishing his first book Urban Imagination. Flipping through a few spreads you can see excitable ideas such as skyscraper zip lines, a crosswalk trampoline, disco ball traffic lights and pop music sirens. It doesn’t matter if George is designing or drawing—it’s always with joy in mind.
It’s hard to imagine someone like George suffering from creative block, touching on how striving for perfection led to even pen and paper becoming too intimidating. With the help of a simple napkin, self-doubt and precision were no longer a factor and he was free to create without fear of failure, based on the disposable nature of the material. The idea of grabbing whatever is at hand to execute an idea is evident in more than George’s napkin sketches.
Spontaneous projects such as World Cup Cuisine, required nothing more than his production assistant (mum), a point-and-shoot camera and some seriously questionable meal choices. “When the spirit moves you, you’ve got to do it! No matter what you have on you”. The result: a collection of visuals uniting two cultures and one seriously upset stomach.
Concluding his talk with a confession, “everything in this presentation has been plagiarised and is not the work go my own” and showing a picture of his much younger self, “It’s the work of this guy”. George’s final message was that beneath all ego, validation and desire for success is a child—and it is the child in all of us responsible for the joy we bring to the world.
Joy is honouring your innate sense of curiosity and play. Design for that. Create for that. Scribble on a napkin, for exactly that.