Looking back at the HOW Conference: Part 2

This is Part 2 of my look back at the 2009 HOW Design Conference. You may also want to take a look at Part 1.

I hate to be one of those "back in the olden days" people. However, when comparing past events to the 2009 HOW Conference in Austin, I did find myself missing some things from past conferences. Newbies would certainly not even notice. Some of the "glitz, pomp and rah-rah" of previous conferences was missing. I'm sure some if it due to budgetary concerns. There weren't the daily morning cheerleading sessions (often with live music) to send attendees, many having been out all night, off to their morning sessions. The brunch for all attendees on the last morning was gone. At some past conferences, that event had been a great last minute networking opportunity for all. The announcement of the 2010 location of Denver was a bit of letdown. Not that the conference will be in the great city of Denver, but that the news was not delivered with production number enthusiasm.

The "meat," or real value, of the conference was certainly there. I heard very few complaints about the sessions attended by designers. A few complained that some product-oriented presenters seemed to simply be doing a commercial for their wares. A couple attendees expressed disappointment that a supposed learning session turned into little more than an unexpected portfolio review. Most of the feedback I heard was incredibly positive. It's no surprise that there were many raves about the presentations of Marc English, Von Glitschka, Scott Belsky and many others. If I have any criticism of sessions at all, it is that the opening and closing keynotes didn't seem keynote-ish to me. Both provided great information, but the presentations were missing that "rah rah, let's go kick some serious ass as designers" quality. They seemed very much like regular individual sessions in a bigger room with a larger crowd.

I was unable to attend the raved-about Scott Belsky session as I was attending one of the best sessions I've ever attended at a HOW Conference. Michael Osborne's "Design That Matters" had an incredible impact on everyone in the room. I've always been a huge fan of Osborne's work and his One Heart Press. In just over an hour we learned the incredibly personal and emotional story of what makes Michael Osborne "tick." His Joey's Corner project, created to honor his late son, is an amazing model of how design - and designers - can make a difference in this world. I would hope that readers of this bLog-oMotives entry would take a look at Micheal's work, project and Joey's Corner. (You may also follow the work of Joey's Corner on Facebook.) I regret that I didn't have the opportunity to actually meet Michael Osborne while in Austin.

My first HOW Conference, years ago in New Orleans, was a panel discussion moderated by then HOW Art Director Tricia Bateman. Panelists included design educator Peg Faimon (author of the new HOW Books offering The Designer's Guide to Business and Careers), Willie Baronet, Pash (née Matt Pashkow) and myself. The panel format was a great way to encourage interaction with conference attendees and address their specific needs or questions. Following the 2008 Boston HOW Conference, "Speakers Gone Wild" pals Jeni Herberger and Steve "RDQLUS" Gordon, and I discussed our fondness for the panel discussion and we pitched a "Blazing Designers" presentation for Austin, featuring ourselves in a takeoff of the film Blazing Saddles. Our proposal was "shot down" by the powers-that-be; one making the comment that our pitch was a "scary, good idea.

The TOO early in the morning Design Economic Summit panel - Steve Gordon, Daniel Schutzsmith, Andy Epstein, myself, Megan Slabinski of The Creative Group and moderator Jeni Herberger. Photo by Karen Larson

Months later, as the economy was tanking, we were approached by HOW Conference organizers to be participants in a "Design Economic Summit" (I still detest that session name) panel to be held at 8:00 one Austin morning. The other panelists were Daniel Schutzsmith, Andy Epstein and Megan Slabinski of The Creative Group (photo above). I was really surprised that we got as many as many attendees as we did for an extra session so early in the day. Panelists were still answering questions half an hour after the alloted time. I do think the panel format has a valuable place in future HOW Conferences - perhaps something scheduled as more than an hour long.

I was very pleased with the response to my own session. A filled room with people having to sit on the floor is always a good thing for a speaker. My only complaint is that 75 minutes is a very short period of time to cover a topic well and allow sufficient time for questions. I felt bad when some attendees wanted to visit afterwards and I had to run off to the HOW Conference Bookstore to sign copies of my book Identity Crisis! and the PDF on CD version of The Savvy Designer's Guide to Success at a hastily rescheduled event. (There's more information about my session in the bLog-oMotives entry A clown walks into a conference....)

I'll admit, I drank the "HOW Kool-Aid" a long time ago. I've been featured in HOW Magazine numerous times, written for the magazine, been a speaker at many HOW sponsored events and have upcoming Webinars and a Designers' Bootcamp. HOW Books is also the publisher of my two previous books, and the one I am currently writing. Still, attempting to set any bias aside, I would give the 2009 HOW Conference in Austin very high marks. The location was invigorating and a great deal of fun - even in triple-digit heat. The speakers were inspiring. The networking energy between attendees, speakers, sponsors and the HOW staff was incredible. I had opportunities to meet with people one-on-one like never before. I really appreciated attendee Brad Dressler, from Texas A&M, taking it upon himself to coordinate an in-house designer luncheon and an Austin gay bar pub crawl that was too late for this design-o-saur. Having Donovan Beery broadcast The Reflex Blue Show from the convention center was a huge plus. The "HOW Gals" busted their butts in making the event one of the best HOW Conferences ever. All involved deserve a big "THANK YOU!"

I could go on and on - but I won't. I would suggest that designers start planning now to attend the HOW Design Conference in Denver, June 6-9, 2010.

Note: Check out a bit more about my 2009 HOW Conference speaking experience in the bLog-oMotives entry A clown walks into a conference....

© 2009 Jeff Fisher LogoMotives

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