Recently, Swim sent designers Cody Paulson and me to the 2017 Brand New Conference in Chicago. It was AMAZING. We both walked away feeling refreshed and inspired. It wasn’t just seeing big-time designers in real-time, it was finding out that they were just like us. They face deadlines, they balance work and life, they make mistakes. It’s obvious, I know. But it’s easy to emulate their lives without thinking about the day-to-day details. This trip was a telling and emotional experience that reignited my love for design.
Every presenter was awesome, but here are my top presenters.
Tosh Hall’s presentation felt like he was reading straight from my brain. He talked about the importance of maintaining a work/life balance, which is something I strongly believe in. He used the analogy of two knobs; one for work, and one for life. He noted that when he started out he had cranked his work knob to 10, while unknowingly turning his life knob down to one. Many things resulted from this. He made great work with talented people while working for large brands, but in turn, his marriage crumbled and eventually ended in divorce. At that point, he realized that he needed to turn down the work knob and turn up the life knob. He left us with this anecdote: “You can’t achieve perfection, but you can try hard to get there.”
Tom Crabtree talked about leaving Apple (WHAT?) to start his own agency in San Francisco. He believes that design in San Fran moves too fast, like a sprint. He noted that when you’re moving at a neck-break speed, you miss important details and don’t take time to consider what you’re doing. AKA: You miss the big picture. He designed his agency to “jog.” When you spend time taking in the environment, you come up with better end results.
Jennifer Kinon’s presentation was easily the most emotional. Jennifer owns OCD (Original Champions of Design) Agency in New York City. Her agency was chosen to design all of the campaign materials for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Over the course of the presentation, she broke down the project day by day. This is when this important political landmark happened, this is how the team responded. 70 straight days. No breaks. All in the name of a lost election.
After all of it, she said, she felt like she had failed her country. She had tried and she had fallen short. Her failure had changed the course of an entire country’s history. The whole presentation was compelling and heartbreaking, and we all stood and applauded her at the end. No matter what side of the political spectrum you’re on, you would have been riveted by her presentation abilities.
Jackie De Jesu’s presentation really spoke to the power of branding. Jackie had discovered a problem that 90% of women deal with: women don’t wash their hair every day, but shower caps are fugly. As a designer and natural problem solver, she set out to try and solve this particular problem. She researched shower caps. This was no light reading. This was testing out the good, the bad and the ugly of the shower cap. Turns out, they aren’t comfortable, don’t fit and are the opposite of stylish.
That was before Shhhowercap. Her new design used a better-suited material that women actually wanted to wear. Now she needed to get her product to the masses. With her branding expertise, she made Shhhowercap look, feel and act professional right out of the gate. Like $15,000 worth of sales within 10 days professional. Her strong branding compelled women to reconsider using a shower cap. Her product is now in stores nationwide, including Bloomingdales, Sephora and other boutique fashion stores.
As a designer, going to the Brand New Conference left a mark. It reminded me that failure happens and that you have to learn from it. It strengthened my belief that design can make a huge impact — on a company and on a country. It was great to meet others who understand the challenges and the importance of what I do.
Best of all, this conference left me feeling revved up to make things. Let’s design some shit.