In everyone’s lives, there are events and places that mark time: weddings, moving across the country, job changes. For a lot of attendees, HOW Design Live is one of these life markers. These action-packed four days inspire creative projects, new collaborations, and business ideas, and HOW Design Live 2019 in Chicago, for many, was the beginning of relationships that span decades and work that will change lives.
With 8 focus tracks, over 80 speakers, 2000 attendees, and an incredible amount of passion for design, HOW Design Live allows designers to connect with peers who understand their profession and quest for design perfection. In such a creative industry with so many iterations and options, connecting and sharing stories seems natural, and on such a large scale, it’s a fantastic opportunity to impact your future and tell your own story.
The theme for HOW Design Live 2019 was “Future Forward.” With such fast-paced, web-heavy, constantly changing industry, preparing for the future with forward thinking, innovative ideation, and discussion about how to pivot and produce was at the center of this year’s conversation.
We’ll take a look at the highlights and small moments from HOW Design Live 2019 – from Twitter, from the stage, and from us.
Registration & Pre-Production
The first thing to understand about HOW Design Live: it’s a huge, gigantic, enormous production. From the expo hall and the schedule and the speakers and the lighting and the wayfinding signs and the badges, HDL accounts for all of the details….and for everyone coming to the event, it starts right here.
Meanwhile, the stages are being set, lit, sound checked, and loaded with presentations. And in McCormick Place, this is a seriously huge undertaking.
— ande la monica (@andelamonica) May 6, 2019
While final touches and finishing effects are put in place, Chicago’s ready for designers to descend!
— Stephanie Ward (@stephanie_ward) May 7, 2019
Leading off the conference, breakout sessions and workshops were bright and early on Tuesday morning. Kicking off the Creative Leadership track, Tina Essmaker‘s talk titled “Leadership Begins with You” was a welcome jolt into the world. Creative coaching isn’t Essmaker’s first go in the career world; her career begun as a social worker.
Essmaker’s no stranger to stories, and as editor in Chief of the The Great Discontent magazine, she’s heard hundreds from creatives all over the world. Her time spent listening has led her to a serious conclusion: you can’t help others until you help yourself.
Her talk was the perfect introduction to four days of digging deep and recommitting to creative satisfaction.
The impressive @tinaessmaker kicks us off the Creative Leadership track at #HOWDesignLive.
Don’t live a reactionary life. The “self” is where the “work” comes from. Before we lead others, we need to lead ourselves. pic.twitter.com/ZXyyOvsGC3
— ande la monica (@andelamonica) May 7, 2019
Adam Conner-Simons’ talk, “How MIT Gets Inventive with Digital Storytelling” hit home for a lot of HDL goers. MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab was his basis for the story; after years of little digital engagement, Conner-Simons shook things up, reevaluated strategy, and, in the process, gained over 90,000 Twitter followers. His tweet below nails this talk’s high points and CSAIL’s strategy.
Smack in the middle of the day, HOW Design Live Event Director Amy Conover took to the main stage. Amidst the bright lights and sweeping set, she gave us a lay of the land and a reminder: take advantage of the time here, together, as designers, creators, and makers.
Conover went on to introduce Beth Comstock, who’s small in stature and big in story. With a background in traditional, big media, Comstock knows how easy it is to get stuck in a loop of doing – and not taking any risks.
In industries across the world, especially design, gatekeepers at the top want to say no; Comstock told us by giving them so much them information, passion, and commitment, we’d make them have to say yes.
— Buddy Scalera (@BuddyScalera) May 7, 2019
Moving off the big stage to the breakout rooms, Jess Brown, Director of UX for Vice Media, broke down? the nuts and bolts of revamping in her talk “Executing the Inevitable Redesign.” With all of Vice’s branded sites looking, feeling, and navigating differently, she set out to streamline the way they looked and behaved.
To top it all off, attendees swept into the just opened Expo Hall. With booths, booze, and bites, it was the ideal way to end Day One.
And yes, people really leave with that much swag.
Illustrator, artist, and badass business woman Lisa Congdon opened Wednesday morning with her main stage session called “Creativity is Power: Using and Sharing it For a Better World.” Congdon didn’t explore a creative career path until her 30s when a life shift and a paintbrush changed her trajectory forever.
She told us that the creative path is never easy—that it’s filled with confusion and messiness and that it can’t be avoided. For designers, sharing creativity makes all the mess worth it. And for Congdon, it’s necessary.
In the breakout sessions, speakers were getting down to business. Topics spanned from how to transition out of being a doer and into being a leader, creating meaning at work, and how to do self-promotion the right way. Alex Withers, Cassidee Owens, and Courtney Brown dove right into a topic often explored but little understood: the relationship between marketers and creatives.
In the session, “Igniting Creativity Together: Bridging the Gap Between Marketers and Creatives,” Withers, the Chief Marketing Officer of InMotionNow, led the discussion, and Owens, of the Denver Broncos, and Brown, of the Minnesota Timberwolves, both shared their expertise in managing creative services. They shared how to develop processes to make marketing requests easier for designers and how best to communicate and collaborate.
The afternoon saw Priya Parker take to the main stage. Her talk, “The Art of Gathering Live Experience” was an adventure in connection. Developing meaningful gatherings requires understand the fundamentals of what brings us together; Parker’s talk was more of an experience than a session. She believes that the way we gather becomes the way that we live, and gathering is really a form of leadership. She led the audience in an exploration of self and story.
Later in the day, the esteemed Stefan Mumaw took to the stage in a breakout session. His talk, titled “Storybuilding: Using Story to Connect Brands with Humans,” broke down how we connect through stories—and how brands should use their storytelling power to create an emotional bridge to their consumers.
— HOW Ambassadors (@HOWambassador) May 8, 2019
In the main stage the evening of Day Two, Chip Kidd and his striped blazer took the stage with a bold message: “Don’t Be Afraid of Being a Tiny, Ugly, Failure!” Kidd’s energy is always contagious, and with such a prolific body of work in his portfolio, hearing his experiences is always a highlight.
— Stephanie Ward (@stephanie_ward) May 9, 2019
The day concluded with more Expo Hall shenanigans. In case you missed HOW’s editors, we printed a special issue magazine featuring all of our design competition winners throughout the year. (You can download a digital copy here!) Day Three was already fast approaching…
Thursday started with the perfect introduction to the day: Jocelyn K. Glei‘s “The Artist Sets Her Own Pace.” Creativity is a constant hustle and bustle; it’s unending exploration, discovery, and desire for ascension. Glei sees that forever strive as a serious companion to emptiness and burnout.
Creativity, in its essence, is about the process—not the outcome. By valuing the creative process, we can refocus on getting offline, ideation in real life, and taking time for ourselves, which, Glei says, is entirely necessary.
— joedesigner (@joedesigner) May 9, 2019
In the morning’s breakout sessions, Hugh Weber, Creative Counsel at the Institute of Possibility, got into the nuts, bolts, and networks of community and design. His talk “Designing.Community” told us his tales of bringing together creatives in the ‘Otas: South Dakota, Minnesota, and North Dakota, that is.
Weber’s career has brought him around the country engaged in conversation with creatives, and his acute insight into what brings us together stirred the room. He spoke of relationships of influence, potluck dinners, and his 10-year-old daughter’s highly attended bubble parade.
Back at the main stage at HOW Design Live 2019, Timothy Goodman talked a serious talk—one about taking care of yourself. Throughout Goodman’s career, he’s been many things: subject of media attention, co-creator with Jessica Walsh, Uniqlo collaborator, author, and Sharpie advocate. He says the key to making things that feel and look like your voice and vision is to keep making things. Eventually, the meaningful stories, the real connections, and the incredible opportunities will come.
Later, HOW and Print Magazine took to the stage for the HOW+Print Award ceremony. Celebrating 5 Best of Show winners in HOW’s design competitions, AIGA Chicago Executive Director Kelly Knaga hosted the ceremony showcasing top design talent and presenting awards to winners in four competitions.
The evening’s main stage main event was an arresting, inspirational, postcard note-throwing melee, held at the helm by Shantell Martin. Martin, with her English accent and leather jacket, told the audience to never work for free, to never work with people who aren’t kind, and to understand that effects that ripples have on your life.
This energetic session was the perfect lead into Day Three’s closing night reception. The time felt just right to let loose on the dance floor.
The last day of HOW Design Live 2019 has a different feel. It’s a little quieter, a little slower, a little bit more introspective. And Elizabeth Gilbert’s main stage talk in the morning, “Thoughts on Creative Living,” provided everyone with more than enough to ponder on their flights, drives, and trains back home.
With conviction and years of experience, Gilbert warned of giving away too much of yourself. Protecting your time and lifestyle and priorities, she said, is sacred. Providing the world your second-rate self isn’t some terrible thing; it’s necessary to protect what you care about most.
In Gilbert’s career, she’s spoken with people who tell her they strive to live more creatively. And for Gilbert, that means living your life such that fear doesn’t drive you, curiosity does.
To cap off these magical four days in May, Debbie Millman and Austin Kleon had a conversation. On stage, of course.
Millman’s years of experience and status as a branding and design beacon combined with Kleon’s New York Times-bestselling authority made for a lively discussion, filled with seriousness and lightness.
Millman advised taking things day by day, approaching tasks in manageable chunks. By showing up and doing the work, the chunks will come together. Kleon had more direct advice: “If you’re not learning something, you’re dead.”
— Keith Smith (@Smitcat) May 10, 2019
The End….For Now
And with that, HOW Design Live 2019 was done. After four days packed with connection, story, and creative power, the exhaustion anyone felt was matched with another deep-felt feeling: total and complete contentment.
We’ll see you next year in Boston for more exploration, inspiration, and revelation!