Armed with tons of toys for graphic designers — paper, markers, sticky notes, etc. — longtime fave HOW author and HOW Design Live speaker Stefan Mumaw manages to do the impossible: Make a couple hundred creative types lose their introversion, get silly and make friends.
The goings-on at the HOW Connection that takes place right before the opening sessions at HOW Design Live is quite something to see. (In 2015, participants played a game of human Scrabble.) Importantly, it gets people talking with each other, so that over the next few days, everyone has at least one “conference buddy” to sit next to or grab coffee with.
We recently asked Mumaw (whose day job is director of creative strategy at Hint in Kansas City) about the magic that happens during that hour.
How would you describe the HOW Connection? It’s not a session, exactly, but … what?
You know how you sometimes go out with a group of people and many may be ‘friends of friends’, kind of strangerly to you? You act a certain way, get more reserved, quieter. You pull in. But go out to that same place with a group of close friends and your heart lights on fire. You’re open and free to be yourself because you have a relationship with the people you are around, they’re like you, know how you feel, and know what you stand for. HOW Connection is just a chance to turn that group of strangerly fellows into familiar friends. Through something stupid I invent.
Say I’m coming to HOW solo, maybe for the first time. Why is HOW Connection such a great way for me to kick off my conference experience?
The faster you share experiences, the faster you’ll develop bonds with others. Wouldn’t it be awesome to walk into every session at HOW Design Live and see someone waving you over to sit with them? HOW Connection helps make that a reality. It’s not networking. It’s not really about what we do at all. It’s more about who we are: silly, stupid, fun, and just like each other. It’s just a time to do something absurd with people so the next time you see them, you have a common experience. And perhaps a little shame. Shame always binds.
How many HOW Connection sessions have you led — will this be Year 3? How has the gathering evolved over time?
This is year two at HOW Design Live but I came out to all of the HOW Interactive Conferences this past year and ran HOW Connections there as well. Each time, I try to come up with something new to bring people together. Laughter is one of those things that never gets old, so I just try to get people to laugh together. When a conference starts with laughter, you know it’s going to be a good week.
Last year, 500 or so crazy designers showed up to have some fun and meet new people. It was like a play date for grown-ups (assuming you could call us ‘grown ups’). I won’t ask you to reveal your plans, but can you give us a hint of what’s in store for Atlanta?
Last year, we played human Scrabble. It was chaos: crazy, awesome chaos. This year, we’re going to double-down on the absurdity. Think “trick-or-treating” meets “Jeopardy.” I don’t even know what that means, but it’s going to be a riot. Maybe literally. Any time you get nearly a thousand creatives in one place, ask them to compete, and make that competition ridiculously absurd for prizes one can easily find in a dollar store, the possibility of security intervention is high. I’m hoping for fewer arrests this year.
Why is it so important for designers to connect with each other at events like this?
You ARE the conference. I’m also speaking at the conference, I’ll be talking about how to build story in our design work. And there is nothing I will say from the stage that will be more valuable than what you will get from talking to each other in the halls or over drinks.
Will you learn something new at HOW Design Live? Yes. But the people you encounter become your posse. They become the opinions you covet when you need an outside perspective on a design, they’re the voices you hear encouraging you when you doubt your ability. There is no speaker you will hear that will change your professional career more than the people who are sitting right next to you. They ARE you. Just with a nicer laptop bag.
What has HOW Design Live meant to you over the years?
HOW Design Live has always held a special place in my heart. It was the first design conference I ever attended. The first at which I ever spoke. My posse almost exclusively comes from the people I’ve met at this conference. But it’s become even more special for me as my daughter has grown into the young creative that she has become. I have a picture of her and me at the first HOW Design Live I ever attended in San Diego. She was just a toddler. And now, as she graduates high school and has found her love for design just like I did, she comes with me to the conference and experiences it first hand. It was after HOW Design Live in Boston just a few years ago that she told me, “This is what I want to do.” And I know exactly why.
Find your posse, tap into your inner goofball (and try not to get picked up by hotel security) at HOW Design Live. Join Stefan Mumaw and a couple hundred of your soon-to-be-closest friends at HOW Connection to kick off an amazing five days. Register by April 1 for your best rates.