2011 HOW Live Recap ChicagoI have to admit that I was a little concerned that I’d be disappointed going to the 2011 HOW Design Conference since it was my third consecutive year to go. I hadn’t planned my schedule of sessions ahead of time as I did for Denver and Austin. I wasn’t sure if that was due to the overwhelming amount of sessions offered at the four conferences, or if I had burnt myself out by going too often. The day before the conference I finally decided to nail down my schedule, which I never really stuck to. It forced me to experience the conference in a fresh way.

Get out of your comfort zone. Way out.

Several of the sessions that I attended involved a lot of interactivity from the audience. As uncomfortable as some of those sessions may have been, they proved to be the most memorable and rewarding. The opening keynote with Kristina Robbins and Jo McGinley had the audience doing design yoga, and being aware of how we interact with others. Sam Harrison, one of my favorite speakers from Denver, followed up with teaching us to play, explore and act silly to find inspiration the following morning. What’s not to love about throwing paper planes, pointing and screaming at complete strangers and sniffing Kool-Aid. Peleg Top began his session later that day, by not only forcing you to interact with a total stranger, but to actually brainstorm about your business with them. His session was terrifying and invigorating at the same time particular since it started with everyone laughing for a full minute while looking strangers in the eyes.

I would have loved to see less designers walking out of those sessions when forced to connect with a stranger, but sadly it happened at these three sessions more than any of the others that I attended. I completely understand how intimidating it is to have a conversation with someone you’ve never met, but every time I do it I’m amazed at how awesome most people are. Designers are shy, and I’m no exception. When you’re at HOW shyness doesn’t count. I’ve met some amazing people just from having the courage to be the first person on the dance floor, and you have to learn to take that chance.

Panning for water in a river of gold.

I didn’t have to look hard to find nuggets of inspiration with almost every session having brilliant insight, practical application and “I want to do that” inspiration. Here’s a list of the biggest nuggets I took from all of the sessions that I attended.

  1. “Decoding the Meaning of Design” Michael Cotton & Rob Swan — Break down brand traits to a molecular level and rebuild.
  2. “Color Strategy, Forecasting & Expressions” Jack Bredenfoerder — Color psychology is bullshit. Context gives meaning to color.
  3. “Designing for Icons” Moira Cullen — Iconic brands have the confidence to be simple, honest, and in tune with current trends.
  4. “To Plan or Not to Plan” Luke Mysse — Make big juicy goals that convince others that you’re crazy.
  5. “Being a 24/7 Creative Pro” Steve Gordon — Always be curious and earn your sleep.
  6. “Intro to Marketing for Freelancers” Ilise Benun — Simplify your marketing approach with daily, weekly and monthly tasks.
  7. “I Want to Make a Million Dollars” Monique Elwell — Define your sales funnel.
  8. “Becoming a Hired Gun” Von Glitschka — Show the work you want to do, and most importantly don’t suck.
  9. “Being Available in the Moment” Kristina Robbins and Jo McGinley — Understand how you influence others and situations with your body language.
  10. “Galumphing, Goats on Roofs and Other Revelations to Spark Inspiration” Sam Harrison — Learn to play and be a kid again through your work.
  11. “Creativity” Peleg Top — Infuse your business with what’s important to you, and take chances everyday.
  12. “Fee + Equity: How to Charge Less and Make More” Kevin McConkey — We don’t sell solutions. We minimize the risk for the solution.
  13. “Who Died and Made You Boss?” James Victore — Design doesn’t happen in the studio, production does. Find your muse.
  14. “Lead Generation 101: How to Make Your Site Into a Business-Generating Machine” Mark O’Brien — Develop personas instead of defining a general target market.
  15. “Letter for a Living” Jessica Hische — Learn your type designers not just the foundries that sell their creations.
  16. “Fascinate: How to Persuade and Captivate” Sally Hogshead — Use the right triggers to attract the ideal client. Be the orange ticket.

Put a bird on it.

Twitter BirdSocial media is an important part of any conference experience, but you should use it as a means to make those face-to-face connections. Twitter is perfect for finding out where groups of HOWies are spending time after the sessions close, or for letting people know that you want to meet them in person. This year I sent a tweet a few weeks prior to the event with a list of people I wanted to meet that I’d been following and, more importantly, interacting with on twitter over the past year or two. I met everyone that I intended to meet, and even a few people I didn’t expect to meet. People like David Ashcraft, Kelli Langdon, Jon Sandruck and Cami Travis-Groves are just a handful of the awesome friends that I’ll continue to stay in touch with over the following year. I’ve already begun setting up a list of people that I need to hangout with in Boston next year like Maria Singleton, Jasmine Wabbington and Crystal Reynolds.

Sometimes you have to get pancakes at 2 am.

A big group of old and new HOW friends decided to get pancakes after the Neenah Paper party, and I was fortunate enought to be invited. I could have easily said, “No, I need to go back to my room and salvage the little sleep that I can get before the final morning panels,” but that’s not what the conference is about. The biggest inspiration of the HOW Conference is meeting and connecting with a passionate group of creatives that have the same drive, frustrations and sense of humor. Von Glitschka told me, “This is what the conference is really about.” Getting together with your colleagues, pushing each other to be better and make our industry better is the true spirit of the conference.Where else can you learn that Emeril Lagasse agrees that corned beef hash always slays chicken fried steak?

The new connections that I made, and the old connections that I revisited help me remember why you can never burn out on HOW Live. I decided to take Luke up on his double dog dare, and I’ve set my big juicy goal to speak at HOW Live. In addition to coming to terms with my fear of revolving doors that I developed in 9 days in Chicago, I’ll be developing my presentation skills to engage and inspire in the same way all of the great HOW Live speakers did this year. I hope to meet you next year in Boston if not sooner.

Like what you see feel free to email me at tad@creativesquall.com and don’t forget to follow on Twitter or stalk me on Facebook.

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