WMC Fest Recap 2012: Cleveland
If there’s one thing I can say I brought back from Cleveland last weekend at Weapons of Mass Creation Fest, it was a kick-in-the-pants to do something more. Not only to do more, but to do more of what I love.
I must admit, working here at Orbit is pretty darn lovely. I spend most days working on projects with lots of creative freedom, working with clients that love us, and now, more than ever, creating beautiful pieces of work that have super user-centric functionality. So, I’m not the designer that goes home every night feeling stifled and held back. But, as a design team, we are always looking to be better at our trade, so it was great to take this trip together and get amped up for the future of design, ourselves, and this company.
Yes, we work hard, we come into the office every day with our best intentions to kick a$$, we sometimes stay until the wee hours creating meticulous design work for the masses, we really care about our clients and the goals/objectives of our projects, but what else? Maybe it sounds like a lot to process, but I had to ask myself, what else am I doing?
Austin Kleon, a writer, artist and best-selling author, was a great inspiration. He talked about how we could all get something valuable out of reading more often. Read books that you really love, and branch out from those authors. Write in your books – make notes (except library books of course). Good reading leads to good writing and clear communication will inevitably make you a better designer. As designers, we don’t just make things look pretty, we also have to explain the purpose and functionality of our choices.
Have More Hometown Pride
Not only did I realize how much I love the C.L.E. Cleveland clothing line this weekend, but Mike Kubinski made me love Cleveland again. I went to college in Ohio, my family lives in Ohio, and I’ve always loved Ohio generally for its people, sports fans, and friendly atmosphere…but I had never really had a particularly soft spot for Cleveland. However, driving away Monday morning, I was thinking about all the people that call it home, and the pride they have for their city made me appreciate it that much more. Also, I got my husband this sweet Cleveland Vacation tee to remember our trip. Now that I’m back in Chicago, I should find a way to infuse my piece of design with this city.
Give Back More Often
Not only does Jen Myers run a successful coding education program called Girl Develop It in Columbus, she’s also a brave woman that generally rocks for inspiring other women to take on the male-centric community of developers and IT professionals. I remember having a similarly intimidating experience in a computer science class in college, but the difference there is that I didn’t ask for help, barely passed, and quickly retreated with my tail between my legs. I’m glad there are people out there like Jen who are reminding women that they have the right to be there, AND they should stick it out and learn to code. Support your colleagues in the quest for more skills and savvy; share your knowledge.
I never remember quotes, but this guy, Nate Utesch from One Lucky Guitar, (someone who also typically doesn’t use quotes in his talks) said something that stuck with me, “You can’t be anything you want to be, you can only be more of who you are.” I love that statement and I love when people take old cliches like that and change my view. What this means to me is that growing my talents and combining forces with other creatives is where the magic happens. It’s a lot like working at Orbit – I feel I’m becoming a great designer because of the company I keep. Surround yourself with other great designers, developers, thinkers, and marketers, and together you will create some unbelievable stuff.
Also, Nate’s work is uh-maze-ing.
More Side Hustling
While Rachael Novak is an illustrator for American Greetings, she is also an illustrator for herself and her fans at etsy. This double life is true for many artist/designers out there, but Rachael is very successful with her “side hustle” as she calls it. What stood out to me was her comment about being comfortable at your day job – you’re paying the bills, you’ve got your weekend off, you don’t have to make side projects. But, in fact, you should. Make a date with yourself this week to make something you love, and your day job will reap the rewards of your refreshed creativity.
Use More of What You Got
Chuck Anderson has been around for as long as I can remember, but I’ve never seen him speak in person – what a nice and uber talented human being. I adore his work, and I especially remember his work for the Chicago Marathon and Under Armour – really fantastic, beautiful stuff. Chuck grew up in Chicago suburbia (not exactly the mecca of art and design), but went out in search of greatness with a camera and an empty parking lot as a canvas and now he is, literally, a design icon. Get out your tools and start working on something – it could lead to working with some of the biggest brands on the planet.
Embrace More of the Strange
To end an incredible day of speakers, incredibly, Johnny Cupcakes took the stage. I had no idea who this guy was when he walked into the auditorium and as he talked about his home life, clothing business mantras and personal preferences, he made such a radically memorable impression on me. This guy has been working since he was a kid with goals in mind, building his personal and professional brand experience. Whether that’s selling itching powder to his classmates or building life-size working ovens to display and sell t-shirts, he’s making it memorable. Sure, the clothing line is very cool, but the physical act of experiencing the Johnny Cupcakes store is that much more strange and wonderful. People talk about brand recognition, this guy has got it down to a science. Find what makes your product different and make sure your customers know it – blow them away so they can’t forget you.
There’s More Beyond the Desk
Brian Andrew Jasinski of Grey Cardigan told us to break out of our comfort zone and try other mediums. If you reach just outside your comfort zone and take some risk, you will find that magical place. If you are a graphic designer, that doesn’t mean you are sentenced to a life of three-fold brochures. Get away from your desk. Get out paper and pencil. Draw something before you go straight to Photoshop. Before running to stock photography, try taking your own shots. Go out into your city and see what you can do to change the face of organizations and public events. As designers we have to remember that we are changing the face of our cities and towns. Be a part of a moment and a movement.
Make More Things that You Like
One of the biggest pieces of advice I took away from this whole event was the talk by Matt Stevens – great designer, husband, father of three. I’m a new mom, myself, but people living busy lives still find ways to put their nose to the grindstone and make more work that they love. Matt was in a rut, ready to quit the design field, when he decided to take a chance on a project that ultimately led to real success and personal fulfillment in his life and career. Yes, he did some work for free because he enjoyed making it, and now that work is being seen all over the world. Practice your art so much that people have to notice. And always keep your level of design high – you never know who will see it.
Don’t Be An @$$HOLE
Ok, so this doesn’t pertain to my “more” theme, but this is good advice for anyone from Tuesday Bassen, a New York-based illustrator. You will not get anywhere in this field with a big ego or crappy attitude. You might be awesomely talented, but being awesome isn’t usually enough. Get your panties out of a wad, smile more and try to enjoy yourself. Treat people with respect, and be a nice person. Enough said.
Be More Popular
Jeff Finley said it best when he said you have to stay connected. Be relative and recognizable. It’s not necessarily the most talented people that rise to the top; sometimes it’s the most vocal, visible, likeable, and unselfish people that find time to share their insights and ideas. I loved when he said, “Don’t wait for people to host a party. Host your own.” That statement is so true. You can’t expect for people to follow you in droves if you don’t have a niche or something to share. You cannot rise to the top of your field without others – make friends.
More Liking Does Not Make You a Better Designer
Kate Bingaman Burt – WOW! This girl was on fire! When she started her talk, there was more energy in the room than the whole weekend combined. I literally walked out of the auditorium Sunday night with my face hurting from smiling so much. Kate is so incredibly thrilled to be an artist and designer. Aside from her awesome artwork and her enthusiastic interest in obsessive consumption, Kate said something that really stuck with me. Just because you go around the internet “like, like, liking” everything you see (so fun!), and making massive sets of Pinterest boards (also so much fun!), this doesn’t make you better at your craft. It hit me that, I spend a lot of time on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram daily doing just that: adding cute little hearts to photos I like, “liking” items that show up in my Facebook feed, retweeting other interesting tweets. But, I should be making things to put out there. Don’t get caught in the “like” cycle, people – do your craft. Do! Make! Create!
Wish I had more time…
I wish I had more time to write about every single one of the speakers because they were all incredible, but I have to prioritize my time so that I can read more, have more hometown pride, find a way to give back, collaborate, use what I’ve got, embrace the strange, get away from my desk, be nice to people, stay connected, and go make more websites!
One thing that I decided to do on Tuesday was get back into my artwork that I’ve let fall to the side since I became a new mom. I put pen and paper in my purse with a plan to do 100 drawings in 100 days. It may not make me a design icon, but in the end I’ll be happier and my design work will reap the benefits.
What would you do differently after reading about my experience? Did you attend the conference and have a similar reaction? Are you a native Chicagoan with ideas to transform our city with design? Please share your thoughts, I’d love to know what makes you a better designer.