Rule29’s Justin Ahrens Back at HOW Design Conference

“Designing for good”?? It’s a phrase that’s become buzz-worthy in the design community, but who’s walking the talk? We know one man who is. Designer and go-to HOW Design Live speaker Justin Ahrens, Principal of Rule29, has consistently proven his commitment to designing for the greater good.

Here at HOW we’ve been following Justin (and Rule29’s) work for some time. The projects go beyond the typical design spectrum and integrate outreach, new perspectives, global initiatives and more. Justin has a rich history of moving crowds and inspiring other designers to stretch themselves. This is why we’ve tapped Justin yet again to motivate the folks at the HOW Design Conference with fresh ideas that exemplify what it truly means to “design for good.”

This year Justin’s team is up to new and exciting adventures with positive change at the core of their efforts. Want to find out what Rule29 has been up to? Just ask… We did.

Speaker Justin Ahrens Back to Inspire at HOW Design Conference

HOW Design Live, Justin Ahrens, HOW Design Conference

Justin Ahrens in Kenya

Okay, the classic question: What’s been a favorite project as of late? We’ve worked on an economic development initiative launched with one of our clients, Konjo. Konjo sandals are handcrafted by a group of vulnerable, previously unemployed women and men in one of Africa’s largest slums, Kibera, in Nairobi, Kenya. The leather sandals are made of local resources and use recycled tire tread for the sole. Each pair of sandals is unique – one-of-a-kind – just like the people who make them, who are now gaining a sense of empowerment and breaking free of the poverty cycle.

Rule29 helped get Konjo off the ground by providing both strategic planning advice and creative services. From designing the shoes (creating templates and instructions for the workers) to developing the name, logo and e-commerce website, Rule29 worked to strategize, collaborate, design, and market the Konjo brand that showcases the beauty of both the products and the people.

Rule29; HOW Design Live, Justin Ahrens, HOW Design Conference

It seems like most successful designers have some sort of side project. How about you? We recently helped start a side business called InstaThis was born from a desire to bring cutting edge technology together with tangible art; to make it possible for our lives and our stories to be shared beyond social media platforms. Since mobile photography and digital cameras have made it possible for everyone to capture the world around them, our mission at InstaThis is to help you print your moments, help you bring them into tangible existence. InstaThis allows you to take art you create, or connect straight to your instagram to print on wood, aluminum or coasters. It’s been an interesting experience to be both creative and client. This is one of 4 projects we are both creative and part owner – watch out – more to come.

Wow. I’m definitely checking that out!

So, in thinking about the span of your career, can you tell us about one piece of advice that made a significant difference to you? The piece of advice that I’ve always remembered is to always make time to create space to pause. Pause to reflect, celebrate, mourn, meditate and plan. I just take time for myself to do those things, uninterrupted and focused.

We typically ask designers about charities they give their time to – or specific causes. Obviously “designing for good” sort of defines Rule29? There is no shortage of problems in our world, and there is certainly no shortage of ways you can make a difference … We think the key is to do something you’re passionate about. For the past five years, Rule29 and Wonderkind Studios have traveled to Africa in order to understand extreme poverty and the burden poverty places on the world’s most vulnerable people.

After last year’s HOW Conference, I realized that my team and I could not afford to become stagnant. We needed to continue to push ourselves to make a difference. We wanted to get out of our comfort zone again. Therefore, instead of a trip to Africa, during the summer of 2014 we’ll be riding 1,000 miles – from Boston to our hometown of Chicago. We are calling our ride Wheels4Water. On the way we will stop to ask for water whenever we need it and tell everyone we can about Africa’s reality. We will share that experience with people every step of the way.

My team at Rule29 and others are chipping to do what they are best at, and coming together to try to help change 1,000 Ugandans lives half a world away.

HOW Design Conference

How did you land on your topic for this year’s presentation at HOW Design Live? (Especially after so many years presenting!) Being at this stage in my career, and traveling to Africa, has really made me start to think, “What if there is more to being ‘successful’ in this industry than just getting business, creating good designs and helping clients sleep well at night?” What if there are opportunities for personal refinement and betterment  – transformation, even? What if reaching our full potential (professionally and personally) means identifying the things that move us, the things that awe us, the things that touch our hearts and inspire us toward action? And what if we are supposed to use our particular skills and expertise to create movements of change, wonder and influence?

What advice or information are you most excited to share during your presentation? (In other words, can you give us a little teaser for your session?)

3 Main Take-Aways at the HOW Design Conference:

1. How to redefine your ideas of success and potential in your creative career.
2. How to identify and move toward opportunities that inspire and motivate you to take action outside of your familiar context.
3. How to use your expertise and creative skills to make a difference, having a career/life focus that influences matters beyond the design industry and reaches its true potential.

What’s your favorite:
app – Cardstar – allows me to have all my giftcards with me. Boring, practical and I love it.
website – I really enjoy colossal. I visit there once a day:
book – Life Kerning…I know a shameless, self -promotional plug

Don’t miss your chance to see Justin Ahrens rock the stage at HOW Design Live 2014! Reserve your spot today. 


HOW Design Live