It's hard to believe the HOW Design Conference was taking place several weeks ago. The days have just flown by since returning from Austin. However, that time has given me an opportunity to reflect on the conference a bit.
My perspective is always a bit different than the average HOW Conference attendee. I have yet to attend a conference where I was not also a speaker. I've made a variety of presentations at conferences in New Orleans, San Diego, Chicago, Boston and now Austin. I was also a speaker at the last Creative Freelancer Conference in Chicago. My attendance at conferences in Las Vegas and Atlanta, where I was not scheduled to be a speaker, was preempted by my dealing with my past chronic vertigo.
There was no doubt that things were going to be different at the HOW Conference this year. We are all going through an unprecedented time in our lives, jobs and careers - and the design industry has been significantly impacted by the global economic issues.
While in Austin, I was asked to sit in on a roundtable (actually a rectangular table) discussion about the conference with HOW Magazine staff, long-time sponsors, attendees, speakers and executives from F+W Media (the parent company of HOW and all of its brand elements). It was great to have the opportunity to discuss past HOW Conference experiences, make suggestions of possible changes or improvements, and share impressions of the Austin experience up to that date. I was a bit stunned when asked if we thought attendance numbers for the conference were down due to Austin being the event location.
Had the person making this query not heard of the current economy's impact on independent designers, small design firms, larger agencies and in-house departments? Taking everything into consideration, I think HOW did an incredible job bring so many designers - and sponsors - to Austin. In fact, in one of the large initial sessions over half the audience stood up when asked if they were attending a HOW Conference for the first time. That's amazing - especially in a time when the budgets of designers or in-house departments are being stretched to the limit.
I remember the surprising large number or attendees at the Chicago HOW Conference a few years ago. It seemed a bit overwhelming. I liked the very manageable size of Austin event. Smaller sized sessions allowed for greater personal interaction between speakers and attendees. That interaction extended to outside of the session rooms, where much of the most valuable conference networking takes place. The sponsor Resource Center was not so crowded that attendees could not view products or visit with representatives. The larger than usual HOW Conference Bookstore, with a good variety of products, provided a more enjoyable shopping experience than past in past years. It's not a HOW Conference without the official parties and - rather than being body-packed, panic attack triggering, sweat fests (I know some remember the bouncing, vibrating, scary dance floor in San Diego) - the music-filled Austin events were a lot of fun. F+W bean-counters may have been only concerned about the "numbers," but the Austin conference reminded me of the very successful smaller conferences of days gone by.
Austin was incredible as a conference location. Friends had always told me that I'd love Austin and that it "isn't like the rest of Texas." I'd never really understood that last statement until I'd arrived in the city. The food. The music. The hospitality of the people. However, this wimpy Pacific Northwest guy must say that the 105-107 heat was just a bit much...
Note: Check out a bit more about my 2009 HOW Conference speaking experience in the bLog-oMotives entry A clown walks into a conference.... You may also want to read Looking back at the HOW Conference: Part 2.
© 2009 Jeff Fisher LogoMotives