Design Therapy + Comedy Improv: Stefan Mumaw at HOW Design Conference

In anticipation for this year’s grand event, we’re celebrating what HOW means to the people who have made it such a huge success over the years. From attendees to speakers, HOW has had a profound impact on thousands of design professionals around the globe.

What’s YOUR Design Live, Stefan Mumaw?!

Stefan Mumaw, HOW Design LiveIf you’ve been fortunate enough to experience HOW Design Live sometime in the past decade, you may have seen Stefan Mumaw rocking his creative prowess on stage. He’s been a tried-and-true HOW speaker for very good reason.

Stefan is the ideal conference speaker: nimble, versatile and constantly stretching and reinventing himself in the design world. He’s funny, approachable and adds just the right amount of intellectual juice.

We recently caught up with Stefan  to find out how he’s gearing up for the new HOW Design Live program – and how he’s changing up his HOW routine with the new freedom to move among sessions and programs like never before!

The Completely Customized HOW Design Conference 2014

Hey, Stefan… so tell us what’s keeping you busy these days? The agency has been humming along nicely; we’ve picked up a few new clients which has allowed us to delve into some new industries, which is awesome. I’ve been recording a few new online Creative Training courses which has been a challenge, but super-energizing.

One of the projects I’ve been most excited about is a side project called 180 Films that I’m doing with two incredibly talented storytellers in the Kansas City area. We are creating a series of 3-minute shorts films by breaking each film up into 1-minute segments, each of us doing 1-minute of the 3-minute film. The hook is that we are all telling a part of a story without knowing what the story is until we get the minute of film that came before. Then we have to interpret where we think the story should go from there, film our 1-minute segment then give that to the next storyteller to add their part. It’s a fantastic creative exercise and one that has been so much fun to execute. Our first film was all shot using iPhone cameras but now we’re moving to more feature-rich restrictions. It’s a challenge but so cool when you get to see the finished piece.

HOW Design Conference, HOW Design Live
You’ve got the bonus plan speaking not once but twice at the conference. How does that impact your conference experience? Yes, I’m actually speaking on Day 1 AND Day 4, so I get a nice bookend experience. Even if I wasn’t speaking on both ends of the conference, I’d absolutely be staying for the whole burrito.

I typically take in as much of the conference experience as I can, and this year I have an added incentive to hit up every offering possible because, for the first time, I will be bringing my daughter Caitlyn (or, as I call her, “The Goose”) to the How Design Live conference. When the conference hits, she’ll be heading into her junior year of high school, and she’s told my wife and I that she wants to study design. I am so incredibly stoked to show her the best of the industry at HDL this year. Let’s hope I don’t embarrass her… Too much.

Now that’s super exciting: Seeing it through a first-timer’s eyes. What was your very first HOW Design Conference like? The first HDL that I attended was in San Diego in 2004. It was incredible. There were halls full of people who loved the same things I loved, were experiencing the same growing pains I was experiencing, it was like design therapy. That was the year I found Kevin Carroll and his book, Rules of the Red Rubber Ball. It had a profound effect on my creative career. And it was at that same conference that I pitched Caffeine for the Creative Mind to F+W, so it holds an extra special place in my heart.

Looking at the 2014 program, is there a session (or sessions) that you’re especially eager to see? The conference is absolutely loaded this year, but the session I’m looking most forward to is David Sherwin’s “Creating Creative Superteams”. He’s one of the smartest creatives I know, and there hasn’t been a single session he’s ever given that I haven’t learned 10 new things… It’s exactly what I hope to do in my agency every day, and if the session is half as valuable as his book, Success By Design, I won’t have enough pages in my journal to write it all down. He’s an absolute rock star in my eyes.

I couldn’t agree more, Stefan… Now, let’s talk YOUR sessions. Pretty cool that you have two! How do you psych yourself up before or blow off steam after? My first session is a workshop on comedy improv techniques for designers, so if I ever need to gear up, it’s for that one. I’ll be running that workshop with a few talented improvisers so we’re going to have to make sure we’re prepared. Of course, there’s only so much preparation that can be done when you’re using improv as a training technique, but we’ll make sure we have the structure tight so everyone attending gets the most out of it.

My second session is about conjuring creative solutions on-demand like a witchdoctor. There’s lots of visuals that come to mind when you’re talking about witchdoctors, I’m sure I won’t need to get in costume or anything for that. You know, that’s not really my style… Right?

Afterwards, my decompression comes with a great dinner with friends that I only get to see once a year. Hopefully, they can refrain from telling stories of conferences past and the sketchy decisions I may have made. Like the year when Von Glitchka and I decompressed after our workshops by running out to White Castle and bringing back massive amounts of sliders for everyone in the hotel lobby. Or the year Von and I were caught singing “Baby Got Back” karaoke by Justin Ahrens. Those are the types of decompression stories I’d like to keep quiet. What happens at HOW, stays at HOW, right?

Well, I hope so for your sake! Speaking of HOW moments, what’s that super-special (even borderline cheesy) HOW experience that sticks with you? On the first night of the conference a few years ago in Chicago, there was a group of us, about 15 people or so, hanging out in the hotel lobby after the festivities of the evening had passed. It was late but none of us wanted to leave. We sat up all night taking silly pictures and talking about our lives, careers, struggles and victories. We reminisced of conferences past, told stories of poor decisions and missing friends. We laughed. A lot. In my opinion, these are the moments that make the How Design Conference special and why I would never, ever miss it.
So for 2014, what is YOUR Design Live? I have had the privilege of becoming friends with many of the speakers at this year’s conference. I’m looking forward to sitting in the front row of their talks along with mixing in a few new session topics that I am hopeful can help me become a better design, creative, director and person. Right now, I’m going Malcolm Gladwell, Paola Antonelli, Seth Godin, David Sherwin, Stanley Hainsworth, Justin Ahrens, Moira Cullen, Maria Papova, Sam Harrison, Dan Pink, Scott Lerman, Jake Barton, Christine Mau, some schmuck, Jim Krause, Matthew Richmond, David Sherwin again, Sagi Haviv, Andy Epstein, Aaron Draplin and Stefan Sagmeister. Just think about that list for a second. That list is ridiculous.

We couldn’t agree more, Stefan. It’s our most impressive list of speakers to date… Don’t miss this epic event!

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