Fuckup Nights: Failure by Design

April 05, 2019

Fuckup Nights: Failure by Design

By Harris Newman, Design Portland

"It is a feeling of relief, almost of pleasure, at knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out. You have talked so often of going to the dogsand well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them, and you can stand it. It takes off a lot of anxiety.- George Orwell

FuckUp Nights is a global event series that shares stories of professional failure. The stories don’t necessarily encourage failure, but the series celebrates what it represents: the willingness to try new things and step out of one’s comfort zone.

Started in Mexico City in 2012, FuckUp Nights has since expanded to 80 countries and 304 cities (interestingly, it’s most popular in Germany, Japan, and Mexico—cultures where people aren’t used to talking about failure).

And for Design Week Portland, PNCA has chosen to bring FuckUp Nights to our city.


For this event, PNCA has invited four Portland creatives whose failures are specifically related to design: Jeremy Pelley, co-founder/creative director of OMFGCO; Salvador Orara, president of Portland’s AIGA chapter; Nina Narelle of Future Work Design; and PNCA student Mallary Wilson. The speakers will give a 10-minute talk, consisting of 10 slides that last one minute each. Then, they will answer audience questions.

Before the event begins, PNCA will be hosting a DWP Open House with an exhibition of work from their BFA Design students and interactive projects from their MFA Collaborative Design/MA Design Systems students.

Leading up to DWP, we spoke with Meghann Gilligan-Koehn, PNCA’s Assistant Director of Graduate Studies, to discuss why failure can be necessary for breakthrough and what people can learn by attending this event.

What constitutes a “FuckUp”?

A fuckup essentially means you tried something and took a risk, and it didn’t go the way you hoped. Maybe it hadn’t been done before. But it’s that element of risk-taking that’s really important. Even though it sometimes leads to failure, it also leads to innovation, new ideas, and new ways of thinking about design and the world.

In putting on these events, we’re hoping we can normalize failure as a part of the design process, and not make it this landmine we’re so afraid of. With these stories—people who fail spectacularly and are still standing—it shows that failing is not only okay, but it’s encouraged.

Why do you think these events have gotten so popular?

We’ve all failed or felt like we’ve failed in some way, whether it’s professional or personal. I think there’s that little piece of identification that lets us feel the story and really connect with speakers, and then inspires us to take our own risks, knowing even if we “fail,” it could lead to something greater that we didn’t expect.

Why is this important for PNCA to put on? And what do you hope Portland designers will learn from this?

Failure is part of a larger process, and it should all be leading into the long game. One project might not come out perfect. In a span of a career, you’ll have some amazing projects, and you’ll have some mediocre projects. But I’ve heard many times: you learn more from the failures than from the mediocre, or from playing it safe.

What these stories illustrate is how failure helped people move forward in ways they couldn’t have possibly imagined. It can be necessary for breakthrough. But it all starts with taking a risk.

Read the full article on Design Portland's website.