A big part of my job happens to be traveling and listening to design talks, attending conferences and meetups and wandering through exciting exhibitions. This is, of course, an amazing opportunity I’ve been given. But like all things in life, when you do anything for a long time, you start noticing a pattern. For the past two years, after attending countless design talks, I can easily think of a few overall topics that are covered each year: fun projects vs. money-making projects, design thinking and creative process. And that’s pretty much covers it.

I realize it’s extremely hard to produce a 2-3 day event with all great and unique talks, especially in an oversaturated environment. If you’re a newbie to the industry, that might be exactly what you need – feeling immersed in the design community, getting inspired by fresh concepts and meeting new people. But if you’ve been part of the design community for a long time it gets a bit boring, and inspiration is hard to come by. With that in mind, when I saw the Queen herself on the program for the Bread & Butter Fashion Festival last year – her majesty, Dame Vivienne Westwood, with a talk called ‘Get a Life’ – there was no doubt in my mind that I was about to meet my idol.

Dame Westwood came on stage wearing an outfit from her own brand – a long vest and dress made of sequins and a t-shirt bearing “BUY LESS” in messy writing. (A brilliant start for one of the most commercial fashion festivals around.) As her talk went on, I suddenly noticed that I was actually hearing something different this time. A talk full of concepts and ideas I’ve never heard before. Not a single mention of her ‘work process’ or even anything having to do with ‘creativity’. The whole thing seemed more like a daydream or even a work of art, than an actual talk. Continuously leaving a bit of space for interpretation or a later revelation.

"Buy less" -Vivienne.

A post shared by Vivienne Westwood (@viviennewestwood) on

Westwood talked about everything. She recited translated Chinese songs, talked about her favorite books and authors (Cao Xueqin, John Steinbeck and ‘Stoner’ by John Williams to name a few), making sure we know reading matters. She then went on to encourage people to discover the world through their own character, and never shy away from who they really are. “My son”, she said proudly “is the same person he’s been since he was a child”.

And then she spoke in depth about climate change and the one percent of rich people that rule the world. Vivienne is a true activist at heart. Her site, Climate Revolution is very much aligned with her presentation and her persona. It’s not the usual site with numbers, graphs or anything you normally expect to see when it comes to global warming. A Masonry grid of artsy hand-made drawings, videos and wild associations is covering the page. The UX is pretty simple and basic, allowing the content to speak for itself, yet you get the sense of anarchy and revolution that is far from the trendy clean design we see out there.

Buy Less. #VWPackOfCards

A post shared by Vivienne Westwood (@viviennewestwood) on

Vivienne is a woman who defies traditional definitions. Her way of explaining any topic is highly associative and open for anyone to (try and) interpret. I often think that when it comes to design, definitions may narrow the way you think, shut your brain down and make you take yourself too seriously. But Westwood sees it in a different way, or should I say a different path, as Taoism is the philosophy that guided her through the talk and life. For her, the act of defining or naming anything, forces you to recognize the bigger, higher concept or the context – then, a whole new world of inspiration opens up in the process.

And that’s the most important thing I took with me from Westwood’s talk: that the kind of inspiration a designer should seek lies beyond design definitions. When you search for talks and conferences to inspire you, you owe it to yourself to hear from the eccentrics and the wild. We all should try and learn from people that are not like us, and Vivienne Westwood is like no other.

Watch highlights from Vivienne Westwood’s talk and get updates here for events near you.

The documentary Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist is out March 23rd.

If you’re looking for more inspiration, I highly recommend this amazing talk by Mike Monteiro (thank you Internet, for the spirit of sharing), or anything Gary Baseman is planning to do in a location near you.