What’s YOUR Design Live, Keith Smith?

Designer Keith Smith is what you’d call a HOW Design Live aficionado. A devoted veteran of 15 years, he knows a lot about what to expect at this world-class event.

By day, you can find Keith, or “Smitcat” as he’s often called, contributing quality design to the world at Pacific Communications in sunny California. By night, Keith is up for just about anything fun: checking out a new brewery or gastropub, grilling at home or hanging with friends. He’s the guy who gets people together to celebrate, the ringmaster, if you will.

And who better to connect with in advance of HOW Design Live? So in preparation for the May experience in Boston, I caught up with Keith to get the low-down on what to see, who to meet and why he keeps coming back for more!

Veteran HOWie Keith Smith on HOW Design Conference

Keith Smith, HOW Design Conference

What does the “choose your own design adventure” mean for you, a 15 year veteran?
That’s a great question. As a vet (we call ourselves HOWies), HOW Live has become more than the conference alone–it’s also become a reason to reunite with old friends. This year, I’m focusing on spending even more time onsite at the conference connecting with attendees, vendors and speakers. My challenge is to make 5-10 new contacts each day of the conference. I’ll seek out design professionals from other industries that may expose me to new and different approaches to my job and career.

Wow, sounds like you’re taking the approach of a first-timer again! Way to keep it fresh.

So, how do you see yourself as an ambassador-of-sorts for the HOW brand?
The takeaway from my first HOW conference was HUGE! Meeting fellow designers (both attendees and speakers), I realized that I was part of a larger design community than I had ever dreamed. I’ve literally met thousands of like-minded design industry professionals in my 15 years at the conference.

As an ambassador for the HOW brand, I’ll be reinforcing a key point: that attendees, speakers and HOW Staffers connect and stay connected before, during and after the HOW Live Conference. I’ll be leveraging my connections to introduce a wide-eyed newbie to a speaker or another HOWie who may share common interests or disciplines.

HOW Design Conference

What are you known for at the HOW Design Conference? 
I’m sort of known for reaching out to Newbies and other attendees traveling solo to make sure they don’t feel isolated during the conference. I read about an attendee at a past HOW Live event who went up to her room every night after the day’s sessions were over because she did not know what post-conference activities were going on. After that, with the help of an unlimited texting plan and later, Twitter, I have made it my duty to share any info about parties, dinners and even drinks in the lobby with conference attendees. This year, I hope to leverage the eSocial and Who’s Attending lists to make it easier for attendees to connect before HOW Live even starts.

I’ve also heard you’re the go-to pub crawl guy (wish I knew that last year!). What fun after-hours gatherings are you pulling together for 2014?
The pub-crawl has become more of an ice-breaker, since I schedule it earlier days of the HOW events. This year, I plan on spending time at the conference functions -Opening/Closing Receptions and Resource Center Happy Hours. I think most after hour events will be at various Boylston Street bars  – McGreeveys, Dillons and Lir have been very welcoming to HOWies in the past.

I’m also working on negotiating HOWie drink and food specials, perhaps late-night happy hours scheduled after the HOW Conference events are done for the day. I’ve discovered that there IS power in the numbers that a conference the size of HOW provides. We should use these numbers for a win-win for attendees and local businesses. And I may also organize a (no-host) party with a dance floor… because HOWies MUST DANCE!!!

What is it about HOW Design Live that keeps you coming back year after year besides the obvious – amazing speakers? 

The speakers and sessions are always great. The vendors and host cities continue offer something new and unique for me as well. And, reuniting with old friends is always a blast. But hands down, the number one reason I have come back year after year are the HOW “newbies.” I meet 5-10 new people each year that remind me why I chose this field as a career. And the excitement on their faces reminds me of how I felt when I first attended – and how I didn’t want it to end …

What are a few MUST DOs at this year’s event?

  1. Explore Boston: Schedule some time (I always recommend adding a day before or after the conference) to go site-seeing, shopping, eat at as many restaurants as possible.
  2. Make Connections Now: Yes, BEFORE you get to Boston. The conference experience (as well as exploring the city) are so much easier with a group.
  3. Make It Your Own: Take advantage of this year’s open conference format to attend sessions that you normally wouldn’t be able to. If you are an in-house manager, go to some freelance sessions. If you work mostly in print, check out the interactive offerings. If you are a beginning designer, attend the leadership or die-line sessions.
  4. Meet (at least) 2-3 Speakers. The folks at HOW have done a great job of making the speakers available to the attendees. Between sessions, at receptions, in the resource center and bookstore, go up and talk to these guys. They are actually eager to meet you.

The Completely Customized HOW Design Conference 2014

HOW Design ConferenceWant to map out YOUR Design Live? Check out the full program and lineup your conference plans today!