Stefan Mumaw on ‘Equitable Mentorship’

If it’s HOW Design Live season, then it must be time for an interview with Stefan Mumaw about the merits of connecting with other designers at the event.

For the past several years, Mumaw has hosted the HOW Connection, a kickoff session at HOW Design Live that’s all about networking—in the most comfortable, authentic way. It’s where longtime friends reunite in a massive group hug that embraces first-time attendees in equal measure.

These connections are a vital part of the HOW Design Live experience—and you’ll want to act quickly to join in: Registration savings of up to $500 expire at midnight March 15. Register now.

We recently asked Mumaw, author of Creative Boot Camp, Caffeine for the Creative Team and Caffeine for the Creative Mind, and creative director at First Person, a digital agency headquartered in San Francisco, about the power of those HOW connections.


We’ve talked at length about how people who self-identify as introverts can step out of their shell and meet people at HOW Design Live. Let’s talk about the super social people who just don’t get the value of networking.

Most traditional networking is a very self-serving enterprise, and it’s designed to be so. When you go to a networking event, you hope to leave there with business. That’s the objective.

But at HOW Design Live, it’s less about a selfish motive and more about professional companionship. It’s about finding someone with whom you can connect on a business level, but it’s also much more personal.

That’s because work we do is incredibly subjective—there’s no good or bad, only more or less effective solutions to a problem. That, and also because of design’s connection to art in general, there’s a piece of us that goes into everything we create.

That personal nature of what we do really changes how we as designers network. It’s as much about finding people who can offer opinion as it is about finding people who can check off certain business goals for you.

What I’m really looking for is someone I can interact with in a way that’s mutually beneficial on both the personal and professional level.

“You could gain the information you get in sessions in other, remote ways. But you can’t duplicate those shared experiences. You have to be there.”


I always think that attendees themselves fill the role of teacher just as much as speakers do. And if someone misses the conference, they miss the chance to perhaps influence or inspire someone else. It’s like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life: If you don’t go, then someone doesn’t get to hear what you have to share.

I call it equitable mentorship. There’s a traditional sense of mentorship where there’s a wise sage that gives us the benefit of their experience that we don’t have yet. And that can certainly be valuable.

But there’s also benefit in this idea of equitable mentorship, where you’re both learning from each other. It’s a symbiotic relationship. There’s this element of teaching that happens at HOW—and you’ll see the value of that in the interactions in social environments, like the HOWie Facebook group. Most of the conversations there are peer-to-peer mentorship questions: Can someone give me feedback on my resume? Can someone help me identify this typeface, or figure out this software program?

What people miss if they don’t go to HOW Design Live is the opportunity to find an equitable mentor. Trying to manifest that within the context of your existing group is hard because they’re the people you work with. The value of mentorship is connecting with people from a different line of work, from a different part of the country, from different cultural backgrounds—they influence the way you respond to a problem in a new and different way.

People at HOW have made these incredible, deep connections. And those connections play out beyond the conference. Like, they help each other get back on their feet after a challenge, they help each other find jobs, they commiserate about client idiocy. What’s unique about the HOW experience that fosters those connections?

It’s not really HOW—it’s the people that go to HOW.

HOW Design Live attracts people who are inherently good people. As I mentioned, there’s a piece of us in everything we produce—you can’t say that about accountants. When you put good people together and ask them to engage in a shared experience, where everyone takes off their masks, we end up sharing things that we don’t share with other people.

The HOWie group, they care for each other. When they travel, they meet up. They’ve created relationships that are human, not just business-oriented. When you bring together 3,000 people that care about each other, it’s really powerful.

Some people might look at the HOWie crowd and think it’s an exclusive group they can’t break into. What say you?

The reality is that everyone who goes to HOW is technically a HOWie. Everyone’s automatically included. The only thing that changes is how you choose to interact, how you choose to use your voice.

You can sit in the lobby and watch the interactions of people—I’ve done this—and the introduction of someone into a group is constant. What that tells me is that people are always meeting new people and joining group conversations.

I’ll give you an example: Last year in Chicago, three or four of us walked into the hotel lobby after dinner. There were a bunch of HOW people sitting around in the bar, and went over and sat down with them, and so now there are maybe 10 of us in the group. As we were walking in, someone came up to me and asked me about my session that day, and he happened to tell me he was there by himself. So I said, “Hey, come here and join us.” Three days later, I saw him walking around the conference with a handful of people who’d been part of the group that night.

And this has to happen in person because these connections are based on shared experiences. Those shared experiences become stories. When I talk with people I’ve met, we don’t define HOW conferences by years—we define them by location, by shared experience, by the stories we have. That’s why you have to be there.

You could gain the information you get in sessions in other, remote ways. But you can’t duplicate those shared experiences. You have to be there.


With these personal connections, you must be present to win. Missing HOW Design Live means missing those contacts. Don’t miss out: Register today.

Time is of the essence: You can still save up to $500 on your HOW Design Live experience—but those discounts expire at midnight on March 15.