Hugo Puttaert on doubt, overbranding and new directions

Hugo Puttaert is a graphic designer, professor at St Lucas School of Arts Antwerp and organizer of biennial Integrated Conference in Antwerp, Belgium. This upcoming 14 and 15 November he presents the sixth edition of the event. This edition of Integrated focus on the art & design of the civil domain, an ambiguous third space between market and state, where innovative design ideas, both physical and virtual, are more than often incubated in a grey zone between legality and illegality.

Can you tell us about your background?

I graduated in Fine Arts, worked for about ten years as an artist, doing a lot of exhibitions, installations and performances, before starting my own graphic design studio visionandfactory.

It was a fascinating period, since I was pioneering as one of the first graphic designers using a desktop computer. I always combined my design experiences with teaching. Since some years I am directing the graphic design department of St Lucas, School of Arts Antwerp and I am in charge of the international oriented Integrated Conferences. In 2014, MER Paper Kunsthalle edited a book titled: ‘Think in Colour’. When you heat the book, a second sentence becomes visible: ‘Even if you prefer black and white’. This strongly emphasizes my approach, in every way.

What led up to organizing Integrated?

It started with a fascination, already since graduating and being active in the artistic, as well as in the design field. Already in the late nineties, when lecturing in several countries, I became aware that ‘design’ is useless on its own, without a self-critical attitude. Reflection, collaboration and openness might direct designers and artists into new directions. With Integrated, we try to show these evolutions and at the same time, we want to prove that practices are not related to the medium or discipline itself, but to their owners. In other words: we try to tear down the barriers between disciplines or at least: make them visible. Integrated is fairly connected to educational issues, it wants to open the debate on art and design education.

Have you always been an organizer?

I think so, in one way or another. Running a medium large design studio has a lot to do with organizing. When I was asked to curate an exhibition about graphic design, people wanted me to publish a sort of ‘take away’ poster. I used a grumpy, badly copied black and white picture showing a guitar player holding a five armed guitar. I threw a sort of Jamie Reid, Sex Pistols lookalike fluorescent typo on top of it with the text: ‘I rather drum’. In other words: organizing, next to designing, teaching, running a business, editing etc, instead of specializing. It is something I cannot deny, it is in me, it has to do with the way I function.

What is the story behind the conference name, and where does it stand for?

Integrated might sound politically correct. But it has nothing to do with that. Integrated stands for the place, the forum where ideas, visions and working methods interact, struggle or meet one or another. It is a plea for unconventional thinking, beyond borders of media, disciplines or even idioms.

What’s the concept behind the event branding?

The concept is that there is no concept. In other words, the conference shouldn’t have one branding. Therefore each edition, everything is redefined and redesigned from scratch. We want to show transition instead of sticking to one brand. In my opinion, our society is ‘overbranded’. With my studio we contributed to this to a certain level, but at the same time, we kept on asking the same question: Is it really necessary? Do we have to rebrand again? Deciding not to redesign a might be the ultimate tribute for existing and strong designs. In this matter we respect our predecessors. Related to the so called ‘branding’ of Integrated, this might sound contradictory, since we design for each conference a new system, but it isn’t. It is a sort of mirror that we want to hold to designers worldwide: keep sharp and design when you feel it is appropriate. Renew if necessary, don’t if not. And don’t use the mockup tools too much! Slick design is boring.

Greyzone Photo: Intergrated / Mirror Mirror
Live Feed Photo: Intergrated / Mirror Mirror
Integrated2015 © Paulien De Graaff public
Integrated 2015 Photo: Paulien De Graaff

Can you tell how the the program is set up?

Since its start, we chose very consciously for one program, no parallel sessions or too many sidekicks. We wanted the audience to be able to follow everything, the full monty. Well, if they want. But they always do. We try to keep the program sharp and well balanced in its diversity. I don’t like conferences or festivals with five/six or even more platforms. I am fed up with these candy stores where you can choose whatever you want. We decide clearly what we will program and we try to do it as good as we can. I think it works. There is always a good vibe and nobody has to doubt or to question to make a choice between so many alternatives. You have that choice already online, all the time.

What do you want your audience to take home?

From confusion, over doubt, to clarification and sharpness. This might be a interesting nutritional basis for future projects or decisions. If we are honest to ourself: we must create the mental space to doubt everything we have learned so far. Gosh, this sounds as a new title for a next book from Stefan (Sagmeister). Tibor Kalman said once: “As soon as you learn, move on.” I agree, it doesn’t mean that you have to forget what you’ve learned, but it means that you always should move away from your comfort zone. That’s a good feeling when leaving such a conference, right? Next to being exhausted.

What has been the most challenging part in organizing Integrated?

This answer might sound weird: doubt. And I think it is a good thing. It must be the tenth conference I organize, but to be honest: I don’t feel more comfortable over the years. Maybe it has to do with a more self-critical attitude, I don’t know, but it’s okay.

How does organizing a design conference influence your daily work? (and how does the design practice influence the organization of the conference)

A lot of course. It is always there. My daily work is a mix of everything, although working during limited periods on design projects feels like holiday to me. But interaction is something which inspires me, in my own work, in my role as a professor and certainly in my view on ‘things’.

What's your ambition for the Integrated in the next five years?

To be honest: I keep all options open. I think that’s the best approach. At least for me.

What has been your highlights since you started as an organizer?

Too many to mention. I pick one: Storm Thorgerson. The legendary photographer, known for his record sleeves for Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Peter Gabriel etc. He was already very ill (died soon after the conference) but he was extremely alert and sharp. I was sitting next to him on stage, as his slave/projector operator. But I felt fine. I followed his orders and saw the amazing and increasing astonishment in the eyes of the audience. Like everybody was saying: that’s him, that’s him! Wonderfull! And Storm was so happy afterwards, although I was not sure about this, he always seemed a bit tormented to me.

Integrated Conference

14-15 November 2017
De Singel
Antwerp, Belgium


€ 85 Students & Teachers
€ 170 Professionals
€ 85 2017 Graduated
Group **

  • Special discount rate for students graduating in 2017
    ** Group tickets for art & design institutes: please contact

Timetable Tuesday 14 Nov 2018

08:30 Registration & Coffee
09:45 Welcome and introduction
10:00 Pascal Gielen
10:45 Felicitas Rohden
11:30 Coffee break
12:00 Textgain ***
12:45 Anja Groten ***
13:30 Lunch
14:45 YONN with:
Michael Dilissen
William Ludwig Lutgens
An Onghena
Elias Cafmeyer
Anouk Horsten
16:00 Short break
16:30 Recetas Urbanas ***
17:15 Robbert&Frank ***
18:00 Coffee break
18:30 Lucienne Roberts
19:15 Formes Vives

Timetable Wednesday 15 Nov

09:00 Registration & Coffee
09:45 Welcome and introduction
10:00 Janneke De Rooij
10:45 Philippe Van Cauteren
11:30 Coffee break
12:00 Paul Sahre ***
12:45 Nadya Tolokonnikova (Pussy Riot)
13:30 Lunch
14:45 YONN with:
Eliza Pepermans
Christophe Clarijs
Puck Vonk ***
Vincent Egon Verschueren
Stef Van Looveren
16:00 Short break
16:30 Oliviero Toscani ***
17:15 Lauren Grusenmeyer
18:00 Coffee break
18:30 Metahaven
19:15 Mike Monteiro ***

*** Are the speakers we are really looking forward to!

Design Ignore Photo: Intergrated / Mirror Mirror

Share on

Twitter iconFacebook iconLinkedin icon

Get the latest design conference news
in your inbox!

Join over 2,000 readers and receive a curated mix of upcoming events, inspirational talks, and links at the intersection of tech, design, and culture every Monday.