2009 In-HOWse Designer Conference Report

Sarah and I arrived in D.C. Wednesday evening and hopped a Super Shuttle to the Rennaissance hotel, which turned out to be right around the corner from Chinatown and tons of amazing restaurants. Chinatown? I had no idea D.C. had one. If you’ve never explored this area before, I highly recommend it. If you get hungry, check out Matchbox, Nando’s or Zaytinya. And if it’s your birthday or anniversary, get a reservation at Zengo.

The pre-conference workshops started bright and early Thursday morning. Jeni Herberger explained why and how in-house teams should institute a charge-back system, while John Ranalletta shared how understanding different personality types (including our own) can greatly improve working relationships.

The conference kicked off with an inspiring opening keynote by Chris Pullman, who was vice president for design and branding for more than 30 years at WGBH, a public broadcasting station in Boston.

A few key takeaways:
• The people who are successful as designers like to solve problems posed by other people. If you like to solve your own problem, you’re an artist.
• Don’t look at your coworkers as clients. Instead, approach them as partners.
• If you don’t market your services as the best available, you are sunk.

Next up was Dyana Valentine, a consultant of sorts (more of a super smart, inspiring leader) who walked us through an interesting worksheet where we identified our greatest strengths and weaknesses and then brainstormed in small groups to create a strategy that would address one of the weaknesses through one of the strengths. Even though her session was followed by The Creative Group-sponsored happy hour, many people stayed in their groups and kept solving each other’s problems.

Finally, everyone gathered in the lobby, networked and checked out the conference sponsors during the happy two hours.

Friday morning began with the wit and wisdom of Stanley Hainsworth, who’s worked in-house at Starbucks, Lego and Nike. Here are just a few gems from his presentation:
• It’s all about building relationships across the organization, which is very difficult, if not impossible, for an outside agency to do.
• Never show a concept you don’t want to execute, invariably, that’s the one they’ll pick.
• Create a visual brand book to help you communicate with your clients. It will become a common platform that you can all speak from to remove some of the subjectivity when reviewing design work.

Megan Slabinski, executive director of The Creative Group, was up next with a great presentation about managing people through times of change and uncertainty. Most people respond to change gradually and experience four stages of emotion when faced with a change: Denial, Resistance, Exploration and Acceptance. Everyone will spend a different amount of time in each stage.  If you don’t know how the members of your team deal with change, check out The Change Style Indicator.

Then the tough choices began with concurrent afternoon sessions. Sarah attended Creative Leadership and Management with Michael Lejeune from Metro LA, while I sat in on Andy Epstein’s session Show Me the Money. Andy, who has a long career as an in-house manager explained how to prove your team’s worth to your company through sales tracking and industry benchmarking. If you ever have the chance to hear Andy speak, he’ll change the way you think about managing an in-house team.

Choice number 2 took Sarah to Jennifer Miller’s session about creating a tiering system to help you align people, processes and priorities, while I attended riCardo crespo’s energetic talk about how to present creative work to clients. riCardo, who is the global creative director at Mattel, shared some amazing stories about how learning to speak the language of your audience can help you persuade them that your design solution is the right one. (You can listen to an interview with him at Accidental Creative.

Saturday morning brought the whole group back together for a panel discussion. Attendees had submitted questions all day Friday and Sarah and I combed through them that night to come up with a good mix and order. In the morning, seven speakers took the stage while I peppered them with a huge variety of questions—from “How do you keep your designers creative within strict brand guidelines?” to “How would you bring unity to a team diverse in age, personality and experience?”

Delivering a great presentation is one thing, but all the speakers were also able to offer thoughtful advice about a range of topics on the spot. (Big thank you’s to riCardo, Andy, Stanley, Michael, Jennifer, Chris and Megan for sticking around to answer our questions!)

Finally, ad industry veteran and writer Sally Hogshead brought the conference to a smashing close with her take on how to create fascinating brands through archetypal triggers like lust, mystique, power, trust and more.

The challenge now is to keep up with all the great contacts we made in D.C. Check out the In-HOWse Conference group page on Facebook and, while it’s lightly trafficked right now, we could always revive the In-HOWse Conference Forum. Let’s keep this conversation going!

Posted by Megan

0 thoughts on “2009 In-HOWse Designer Conference Report

  1. Dyana Valentine

    the inHOWse Conference ROCKED! I was blown away by the speakers, attendees and the HOW staff–everyone truly showed up and took action. I was truly moved by watching people connect with colleagues around the world and find new ways of growing their work.

    Keep on being fabulous, folks!


  2. Jeff Bruzdzinski

    The conference was invigorating; it was nice to hear similar stories and learn some new strategies for creating value. All of the speakers were engaging and encouraging. I enjoyed the overall pace of the conference, and I look forward to the next HOW Design Conference in Denver next June. Thanks HOW!


    Jeff Bruzdzinski
    Art Director
    Federal Aviation Administration