For many years, I was part of the planning team behind HOW’s annual design events—and those multiday, junk food–fueled brainstorming sessions remain among my favorite memories of my work with the HOW brand.
Everyone who attends HOW Design Live (in 2018 featuring The Dieline Conference and introducing HOW Marketing Live) immerses themselves in the event’s creative community and intensive learning experiences the result of all that planning. Well, the planning plus months and months of inviting and engaging speakers, planning logistics, sorting out details, handling customer service … well, you get the picture.
So, what goes on behind the scenes as the programming team plots the speakers and agenda for HOW Design Live?
Planning starts right away.
Like, within two or three weeks after the event wraps. “What surprises most people is that we start planning next year’s event almost immediately after this year’s,” says HOW Events content manager Amy Conover. “That means we don’t get much of a break but the upside is this: everything is still fresh in our minds.”
Conover, along with HOW Events VP Gary Lynch, marketing team members, and program partners Debbie Millman, Andrew Gibbs, Ilise Benun and Zachary Petit, gathered at the School of Visual Arts in NYC in June for an intensive planning session like the ones I remember so well. Everyone brought ideas to the table: speakers, session topics, formats, activities and other facets of the event. The program partners’ deep connections in the design field help HOW Design Live stay at the forefront of the industry.
It starts with a review.
What went great? What were the hiccups? What did the events team experience personally? “We shared stories and anecdotes about our own experiences of the conference, impressions of our favorite keynotes, and of course, a few ‘oops’ moments,” Conover says. “Yep, those happen.” She also notes that the team took a look even further back to see how the event has evolved over its 27 years.
It includes input from attendees.
This feedback, culled from the post-event attendee survey and from conversations during the conference, helps the planning team design the event that the creative community needs and wants. “We spend quite a bit of time going over the attendee survey and reading all the comments—most of which are super positive. And some are tough to read, but oh so important,” Conover says. “It’s great to hear what went well, but we also need to know what wasn’t as amazing as we had hoped so we can improve on it moving forward.”
After programming team reviewed the big picture of the 2017 event, Conover says, they dug into the details: “How many days should the conference be, how many tracks, what should they be, how many keynotes, sparks and break-out sessions, what topics should we cover, what type of speakers should we recruit and what should the mix be? What fun activities can we add? How can we make our Exhibit Hall more engaging for our exhibitors and attendees? The list is long and the conversation is fast and engaging.”
Five months after that planning session happened, the 2018 program continues to evolve as new speakers are added to the roster and new topics are confirmed. So now’s where you come into the process—by envisioning yourself in the audience at HOW Design Live 2018.