Reflect on What’s Next

by Jenn + Ken Visocky O’Grady

The best designers seem to thrive on change. They embrace risk. They are forward thinking, trend setting, and early adopting. Design as a culture embraces, preaches and praises these qualities. We hone them as students and admire them in our heroes.

Yet inevitably the by-product of such skills lead us to not only question traditional design and business conventions, but also ourselves. Constantly plaguing us with a single, recurring question: “What’s Next?”

In context of your career, we suspect you’ve been hearing those same nagging whispers.

Most designers split their skills between Type A tendencies like analysis, systems thinking, adherence to production schedules, and Non-Conformist tendencies that lead us to sketch instead of type, question authority, and take the occasional blind leap. Sometimes that’s a confusing mix. In our years of experience with students and professional creatives alike, we’ve noticed a couple of other common themes: we want to like what we do (Love over money. Not that we don’t like money too…), and we’re insatiably curious. It’s no wonder What’s Next is always on our mind.

This past weekend at the HOW Design Live Conference in Chicago, What’s Next manifested an almost physical presence in our lives. What we’ve recognized is how invaluable community can be to answering those internal questions. Our community, in this instance, was an awesome 3000-strong pack of creatives crammed into one gigantic hotel conference center. Some were talking, some typing, some sketching, plenty tweeting, but almost every single one of us was internally processing “What’s Next” And there’s something kind of magic about being crammed together while doing so. Part of it is simply the time. How often do you get three days full of time to think about nothing but your own professional development (sometimes with a free cocktail)? Part of it is the exposure. How often do you force yourself to look at the best your field has to offer and compare your own efforts? Not just aesthetically, but from business perspectives, social relevance, satisfaction levels, creative joy?

We’ve discovered that we don’t have to approach each Next from scratch. It’s okay to borrow from the lessons your community has collected. (The blind leap creative will make those lessons your own, and the inner analyzing neurotic will ensure that you’re not infringing on copyright.) And better than the borrowing is the building. It’s hard to be an island at a conference. Even the wallflowers mingle. So whether you head home with a stack of business cards or an upped “friend” count, what you’ve really left with is a community—one that you can lean on, but more importantly, one that you’re responsible to.

At Parse, we’re taking the next two weeks to grow, but promise to return to you with a bright shiny batch of What’s Next in short order. Cheers to your own efforts mulling that question. May you do so with with friends new and old, and perhaps a bit of sunburn on your nose.

plug being removed from socket
We’re taking some time off after the conference to put together new material. We’ll be back on July 11th with new writers and new content.

Quick Tips
1. Find a conference buddy. It’s easier to navigate social situations when you have one point of contact.That being said, Don’t Be Clingy. Attend different sessions. Meet new people and share your discoveries.

2. We know it sounds silly, but bring something to write with. In this age of smart phones, iPads and laptops, nothing beats a pencil and paper for rapid capture.

3. Come open. You’re here because you can’t know everything.

4. Can’t afford the conference? Get involved with professional organizations like AIGA and RGD and start by volunteering at local events. Consider it conference practice.

5. Follow-up on professional crushes. Do more than collect business cards. Use them. Create a conference peer group and bounce your What’s Next ideas off of them throughout the year.

Dig Deeper!
1. Save the date for HOW Design Live in Boston, June 20th-25th, 2012.

2. Mark your calendar for the first HOW Interactive conference in San Francisco November 2-4 2011.

3. Check out AIGA’s Pivot conference in Phoenix this October!

4. Expand your peer group across the border at RGD Ontario’s DesignThinkers conference in Toronto, Canada this November.

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