Photo captured with a Tamron 16-300mm All-in-One Lens.

New York City, September 23, 2014. One of the things I enjoy most about AFAR Conversations is the unexpected twists and turns the discussions often take. On September 23, the topic of the AFAR Conservations at Andaz 5th Avenue was “Culture, Style & Design: The Influence of Travel.” While our panelists—Francine Della Badia of Coach, Matthias Schmid of Emirates, and designer Gordon Thompson III—pondered the definitions of culture, design, and style, it was some of the unexpected digressions that made the evening most memorable. Gordon discussed Disney’s Magic Band as an exciting example of innovation; Fran talked about her travels in Japan and the design lessons she’s learned there; and Matthias offered a surprising prediction that the future of innovation among long-haul carriers may lie in economy class.

Certain themes kept resurfacing that extend beyond the worlds of travel and design: how do brands stay relevant; in what ways are millennials changing how companies do business; how is technology raising expectations regarding customized, personalized services? The fundamental questions of the relationship between style and culture also produced some thought-provoking answers. For Fran, style reflects individual choices, and culture is reflective of a larger group. For Matthias, style is often the external manifestation of a broader culture.

All three panelists saw travel as central to the creative process—a sentiment that all of us at AFAR share. Gordon talked about how seeing cheetahs in Africa and butterflies in Paraguay played a key role in Nike designs. “For designers, the world is our research library,” Gordon said. Fran described how essential travel is when doing business in a world of global consumers, and the competitive disadvantage of some Americans who don’t venture overseas. “Experiencing the world first-hand is knowing,” said Fran.

Likewise, attending an AFAR Conversations is a richer experience than any description can convey. An evening with knowledgeable, passionate panelists, and an equally engaged and animated audience, should be experienced first-hand. After the mics were turned off and everyone returned to Andaz 5th Avenue’s kitchen for more drinks and food, discussions on the evening’s topics continued. From recent and upcoming trips to interesting design details, the passion of the AFAR community for experiencing their world is contagious.

Take a look at the video recap above and check back for more updates from AFAR Conversations.