Draplin, Sagmeister and My #HOWLive

If you’ve been keeping up with our daily posts, you know that this year’s #HOWLive was bigger than ever before. As a first-time attendee and speaker-introducer, I expected to be a little overwhelmed, a little overstimulated and a lot inspired. I think it’s fair to say that these expectations proved true.

It is overwhelming to be one of nearly 4,000 people at one of the industry’s main events. With so many things happening at once (the buzz of the bookstore, the attention-grabbing nature of the colorful SVA subway posters, the variety of sessions to experience and choose from), it was a bit overstimulating, albeit in a good way. The best part, however, was the abundance of inspiration that flowed from the sessions as well as from conversations with animated fellow attendees.

While the end of a conference usually comes standard with low energy, a sexy line-up of design pros gave tired attendees the boost they needed to get moving. Hell, I introduced Frank Baseman’s 8:30 am session, and there were plenty of people filling the large ballroom. In fact, Frank’s talk on collaborative and interdisciplinary design was such a big hit, the question and answer portion of the presentation nearly ran into Aaron Draplin’s session, which followed in the same ballroom. But before I get too ahead of myself, here’s a brief rundown of each (totally amazing) session:


Frank Baseman: Collaborative and Interdisciplinary Design

If you’ve had a chance to read Frank’s post on design lessons, you’ve had the pleasure of snagging a #HOWLive session sneak peak. This session gave an insider look at the Philadelphia University’s Design Workshop, which focuses on bringing students from different majors together to solve real-world design issues and complete projects for actual clients. While this session looked at creative collaboration from the perspective of professor who uses these techniques in the classroom, the message could easily be applied to any working professional.

The point I found to be particularly hard-hitting was when Frank stressed that the designers weren’t limited to contributing design ideas. If a writer had a good idea for how the website animation should look, she should feel free to speak up, even if it isn’t her area of expertise. The designers or writers would eventually execute the design or writing part of the project, no individual owned the ideas, and they could (and should) come from anywhere. This is a good lesson for anyone who works with other departments on a regular basis. The end goal should always be to work together to blow away the client’s expectations.

Aaron Draplin: The Art of Artifacts

If you’ve seen Aaron talk before, you know what to expect. A whole lot of real talk infused with funny anecdotes and a moderate stream of cursing. His presentation at #HOWLive didn’t disappoint. Delivered to a jam-packed room, Aaron discussed how creatives can use “junk” to influence their work. From garage sales to flea markets, Aaron showed the hidden gems that inspire him to create an impressive hoard of throw-back style logos. Why go digging for this so-called trash? To keep the forgotten design genius of the past alive for future generations to enjoy.

In my opinion, some of the best parts of Aaron’s presentation were when he spoke about his family and the things that mattered to him. Although the presentation had some hard takeaways, including a particularly funny bit about how to negotiate better prices when shopping at an antique mall, it was interesting to get a no-bullshit look at the things that motivate him to create. His emphasis on family was touching, and cliches aside, I think it made for a good message about the things that really matter. It was so engaging I forgot to take a speaker photo…


Stefan Sagmeister: Design and Happiness

Speaking of the things that really matter, Stefan’s talk about design and happiness provided an interesting look at his work through the context of a larger idea about what makes people happy—and what doesn’t. The coolest part was watching a 10-minute clip of The Happy Movie, a documentary on happiness Stefan has been working on. In the clip, Stefan does things outside his comfort zone based on the sentiment that “Having guts always works for me.” Some of those things include complimenting complete strangers, asking a girl for her phone number, telling cabbies to turn down their horrible music (my words, not his) and giving his true, honest thoughts on students’ portfolio pieces.

As it turns out, singing in groups is a source of happiness for many people, so it was only fitting that Stefan would ask the audience to stand and belt out a song that details many designer complaints, including making logos bigger and getting paid “peanuts.” It seemed to work. Stefan asked attendees to rate their happiness level at the beginning of the talk and following the group singalong, and more people reported “loving life” after they participated in the karaoke session. Not exactly scientific…but it was a lot of fun.

Following Stefan’s session, people ran to catch planes, trains and buses back to their jobs. Although my day ultimately ended with spending an extra, unexpected night in Boston, my first #HOWLive was a great experience. Until next year, fellow HOWies. See you in Chi-town!