Ueno.land 2019 — key takeaways

Charlie Tango’s design team spent a few days in New York to attend the Ueno.land conference. Here follows their report -enjoy!

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After three days in the Big Apple, straight to the office on a Monday morning after an 8-hour direct flight from New York to Copenhagen. The excitement to write about this event is too much for me to just ignore and postpone to another day where my routine wouldn’t let me finish it. So, while I unpack my luggage, I’ll also take a look at all things learned over the past 3 days.

One of our favourite interactive attractions at Ueno.land

Why go to Ueno.land

The conference host, Ueno, is a full-service agency specialising in digital products and branding for some of the biggest organisations in the world. The company was started by Haraldur Thorleifsson, in our neighbouring country of Iceland. My team and I have been following their work since the project they worked on with Uber, which caught great press attention. We really admire the way they do work and how they position themselves as a brand in the market of design companies. So, when Ueno announced they were going to organise a conference in Brooklyn; we knew that was a golden chance to be part of something new, refreshing and interesting.

26 february 2019 — the first time we heard about Ueno.land

Let’s talk about how the conference was organized

The topics: Differently from all conferences we’ve ever attended, this time we didn’t know much about the speakers in advance, nor about the topic they were going to discuss, which made it a little harder for us to know what to expect; but on the other hand, it was a pleasant surprise to sit in the crowd, looking forward to seeing who was up next —  it felt to us as if they were “pulling speakers off the cylinder”, but in a good way. Especially if we tie it to the fact the whole conference was conceptually structured around the “amusement park theme”. Now, we are not sure whether all of it was intentional or not, but we loved it.

The roster:None of the speakers spoke about processes or methodologies. As a matter of fact, I don’t recall anyone mentioning the words “agile”, “design system”, “UX”, or “service design”, yet, the whole conference was about the love for the craft, curiosity and self-confidence; arguably the essentials for clients who want to stand out and for designers to express themselves. Big shout to the conference committee for structuring the talks in that direction. We really enjoyed it.

The venue: The event was hosted at A/D/O in Brooklyn. We knew the venue from a previous exhibition by Leta and Wade, and we can say that the space worked perfectly: a spacious open expanse with tables and sofas where people gathered to play social games, coloured posters or just chatted. The talks were taking place one at the time in the same room, keeping things simple and easy, and there was no fear of missing out on something else.

On kick-off day, there were even stands where attendees could get candy floss, doughnuts, popcorn, facial paint, or balloons; there was even a magician playing his tricks and putting people together. We loved this aspect too: no forced social exercises or big chats, everything was supposed to flow on a fun base experience letting smiles and drinks to do the rest.

Speakers we particularly enjoyed

Angela Guzman — Entrepreneur & designer:This woman was dynamite. Let’s forget for a moment her background at Apple, Airbnb, and Google; Angela framed her talk around being “fearlessly forward”; breaking down the very meaning of the two words by going back to her past as an immigrant from Colombia. We were reminded that sometimes all it takes is to swop the word “problem” with the word “challenge” and suddenly limitations become opportunities, from being her mom’s personal English translator to redesigning Mail app for Steve Jobs.

Sierra Tishgart — Founder,Great Jones:Still blown away by the level of detail that Sierra and her partner Maddy put into their Great Jones kitchenware brand. The plot of her keynote was simple and clear: she started with a few words on her background as a food journalist, then spoke about the endless conversations with her partner about the clear gap in the market for a better kitchenware brand, and then straight into the development process: prototypes, testing, branding, inspiration, w-o-w. Nothing has been left out, and in only 6 months of work these women built a brand that caught the attention of major figures from both the food world (David Chang) and the glamour world (Gwyneth Paltrow) — to further demonstrating how their products fit their promise of high performance, aesthetically pleasing cooking tools.

Graham McDonnell — Creative director at The New York Times:Graham was the first one to catch my attention, maybe because of his unique European wit that managed to get the whole room applauding him in a standing ovation, even before his talk was started, or maybe because he spoke about the essential difference between being specialised in one single craft vs being a more versatile generalist. Mentioning the Pareto Principle, he described himself as a strong supporter of investing 20% of our time into something that can lead to an output of 80%, allowing us to dedicate ourselves to more than just one thing. I guess it’s a pretty spot-on reflection about our fast-changing present and the need for designers to adapt quickly.

Staffan Holm —Founder,Staffan Holm Studio:Scandinavian furniture designer and artist. We simply couldn’t leave him out of the list. He talked about how his creative drive comes from people’s denial for ideas: the more they tell him it can’t be done, the more he’d push forward, like e.g. bending veneer in two directions, or using the contraction of air as a vehicle for glassblowing, obtaining stunning results. He also introduced the concept of “emotional functionality”, more of a constant trial than an exact science. What we got away from his talk was definitely the open mindset towards what looks impossible, acknowledging that in this world everything is connected. Wow!

David Rees**—**Gave up a successful career as a cartoonist to focus on artisanal pencil sharpening:I’m not sure I understood what David does for a living, but it didn’t really matter. The passion for noise experiments that he carried out on stage took over from the first moment, and the whole audience was following his performance almost holding their breath. Noise, of any kind and shape, generated by anything that could hold a microphone: from a plastic box wired in circuits of a guitar for kids, to a cookie box with glued metallic springs. Several important takeaways I enjoyed and noted on my pad, the most important: even the ugliest noise, when played in a loop, or somehow presented in a logical frame, generates something interesting. To me, this is one of the fundamentals of art: don’t be afraid your style won’t be liked or understood. Explore it, repeat it, harness it and the result will come out as a whole, gorgeous, piece of art.

Closing considerations

Let me say all speakers were deeply inspiring, I only handpicked with my team the few that were worth mentioning based on our personal experiences (and to keep the length of this article under control). You can find all names and contact here.

To wrap it up, the latest three consideration about the learnings from this conference:

  1. “contagious passion always does the trick”, it doesn’t matter what the topic is, if you live and breathe something, that will come through and people will follow your story anywhere you want to bring it. For once I enjoyed sitting in the audience, because normally I am the storyteller, too.
  2. Always try and play with something that is somehow a black box for us, highlighting that the unknown factor is key in the learning process, it helps you to stay curious and keep going.
  3. Solve any problem. Create magic. Try out something new. Take risks having fun. Make stupid things.


Be Creative.Master Technology.

+45 7022 1516 info@charlietango.dk