Speaker Spotlight: Chris Elkerton, Dave Gouveia

creative stuff book design exercisesLas Vegas was the perfect venue for the debut HOW Design Conference appearance of Chris Elkerton and Dave Gouveia in 2006. The two Toronto designers, formerly partners in 3Dogz Creative, made a huge splash, with a buzz-worthy presentation that gave the audience tons of fuel for their creative engines. On the heels of their brand-new book, “Creative Stuff,” these two creative instigators are back for an encore performance at HOW Design Live in Boston. Like their sessions, “Creative Stuff” is energetic, funny and a little non-linear; it’s like a kids’ activity book for creative pros. Chris calls it, “an alternative to grabbing another cup of coffee.”

I recently chatted with the guys about their Vegas gig, their book and the importance of keeping in touch with your inner kid.

Let’s help readers who don’t know you from 3Dogz or from your 2006 and 2007 HOW Design Conference appearances get to know a bit about you and about what you’re up to these days.

Chris Elkerton: I’m Chris, formerly of 3Dogz and I’m now working with Zygoht Partners, which is an event-based company. We do events for subscribers of Canada’s largest newspaper and the largest women’s magazine. I’m the creative dude behind branding these events.

Dave Gouveia: After 3Dogz closed, I had a kid, and decided that freelance was the way to go because it would allow me the flexibility to stay home with him. I still work with some of our old clients on a freelance basis.

Think back to your presentations at the 2006 HOW Conference in Las Vegas and 2007 in Atlanta. Those sessions were legendary, even as you were up onstage. What about those presentations do you think really connected with the audience?

Chris: As Dave and I were doing these, our focus on keeping things simple and really knowing the content inside and out. Even if we were ad-libbing or joking around, we wanted to know our stuff so well that it flowed. That’s where a lot of the energy came from. We felt really comfortable and engaged and passionate.

Dave: Having been attendees in the past, we wanted the audience to connect with us. We didn’t always see that from other speakers. We did the presentation in Keynote; at the time, other speakers were using PowerPoint. We wanted it to look great, and we wanted to stand out. We wore costumes and had games and prizes, and then we gave them a sketchbook. We wanted them to leave knowing they had some fun, they learned something, they left with something.

Let’s talk about “Creative Stuff”—it’s just recently come out. You guys have always talked about finding outlets for your creativity beyond client work, so was the book an expression of you doing exactly that?

Chris: It was that concept of putting something creative together, getting our brains out onto a page this time instead of in front of people in a live setting. So we pitched it, and we got a ‘yes.’ It’s all about looking for creative outlets. We’ve preached it to death, but it’s true. The day to day grind in the studio or freelance, a lot of people don’t get a lot of satisfaction out of that, and at the time we were feeling the same way.

What I love about the book is that you could have stopped at including a bunch of creative exercises that are fun for the sake of fun—but there’s a lot of real instruction in here.

Chris: We approached this the same way we did our presentations: there’s structure. It so easily could have gone off the rails, but it came down to, What do we want to make this? We brought in Roberta Judge, our third partner, and she brought a ton of research and content to the book as well.

HOW covers creativity all the time—there’s a special issue of the magazine devoted to creativity, and a column in every issue—and I’ve always thought it kind of funny that we have to remind creative people to be creative. Why do you think designers lose sight of the need to keep their creative juices flowing?

Dave: People get stuck. Being a designer, I’d say that the overall day-to-day work can be tedious and sometimes boring and didn’t allow us to be creative. So we had to look for other outlets, whether it was doing personal work, or becoming involved in the industry outside of work, just to stay fresh.

Chris: It’s the client beat-down; every single person who’s done creative work for a client has started off being creative, and then you run into ‘no, that’s not gonna fly’ or design by committee. So you wonder, ‘why am I even pitching these creative ideas’? It becomes this cloud. So you say, ‘screw this work stuff—let’s have fun somewhere else.’ You need some satisfaction out of your creativity, and you have to figure out how to do that on your own.

When you pitched the book, you had some preliminary ideas for what you wanted to include. So how was the process of filling out 192 pages worth of creative stuff?

Chris: Did we start drinking heavily? Yes!

Dave: We’d come up with this great concept for a book, and we had half a dozen puzzles and exercises, and then we realized we had to come up with 100 other things that are challenging and exciting and engaging, that we would want to do if we were reading the book … and that was hard stuff!

Chris: One of our strengths is our collaboration. We were accountable to each other for what we put on the page.

What are your favorite activities from the book?

Chris: Throwing a pencil line on a page, and every day you add something to the page and just see where you get in a week or two. I’ve been doing that since I was a kid, in meetings or when I’m bored or at home. I read a posting by Art Chantry on Facebook, and he wrote that you can’t compare the brain-hand connection of working on a computer to working with pencil and paper.

Dave: I have two favorites: One is the typography section as a whole; doing the research was exciting for me. The activity I like the most is a word find puzzle called “The Devil’s in the Details.” This particular word find is a ridiculously large square, and some individual letters are upside-down and some are rotated, so it’s really, really hard to do.

The guys are hard at work on developing a killer presentation for Boston; they’ve given each other creative briefs for fictional projects, and they’ll show those results to illustrate the creative process. And they plan to have the audience challenge them with a project that they’ll create live onstage.

Learn more about Chris and Dave’s session and the rest of the HOW Design Conference lineup—and be sure to register by March 30 to save.

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