HOW Design Live Conference Recap

As a young designer, the idea of becoming burnt out was not really at the forefront of my mind. That was until I made it through my first annual report season. I finally had the opportunity to work on the projects that I admired as a naive intern. But with big projects, comes big burn out. I needed something to spark my creativity, re-inspire me, remind me of why I became a designer. Let’s just say, the HOW Design Live conference in Chicago was everything I needed and more. It was an entire week of design inspiration, workshops, communication tips, and the opportunity to hear from some of the greatest in the industry.

Since I’ve been back, everybody has been asking me: how was the conference? What were some of your favorite sessions? Did you learn anything? The thing I’ve realized about HOW is that the overwhelming amount of information and inspiration I received over the week is incredibly hard to explain to people in a way that doesn’t sound like endless word vomit of design quotes, tips, processes and stories. So in an effort to share some of the greatness that is HOW Design Live, I’ve narrowed it down to four things that I’ve taken away from HOW. Trust me, there’s plenty more where this comes from, but these four things are a good start.


Individuals don’t own ideas. The team owns ideas.
Ben Callahan from Sparkbox discussed the importance of building a human-centered culture in his session. According to Ben, valuable collaboration should be at the core of a human-centered culture. With collaboration at the core, the idea that “the team owns the ideas” is inevitable; it’s also something that I know I’ve struggled with as a designer. When you feel like you came up with the best typeface solution to use on that new report, you want to take ownership from then on out. You hold that project so closely to you that you begin to reject the ideas of others because how could they possibly have anything valuable to add to “your” project? Seems reasonable, right?

As designers, we become attached to our work in an emotional way, making it difficult to stay open to the ideas of others. We look past how much stronger a project could become with the contribution of other creative thinkers. We rather take ownership of the project as our own instead of looking to others for how you could make your work that much better. After Ben’s session, I knew the idea that “the team owns the ideas” was something I wanted to work on personally, as well as bring back to my peers. With collaboration at the core of our culture, our projects will be stronger and the success of projects can be celebrated throughout the entire team.

Approach design as a practice, not as a profession.

After following Timothy Goodman on social media since I was a freshman in college, I was without a doubt, fan-girling when I finally got the chance to hear him speak. Through his social media, I’ve noticed how Tim is constantly working on projects that show people who he is. He helps to inspire others to use their skills to tell their own story–an ability that us, as designers, sometimes forget that we have.

I get so buried in the many projects at work that sometimes I forget my graphic design roots started with a passion for the industry, and that I can tell my story using this skill. As visual communicators, we have the ability to make an impact and share those stories through social media and other platforms available to us. After hearing Tim talk, I’m determined to figure out a way to use my skills to tell my story.

Design thinking is bullshit.

Natasha Jen from Pentagram started off her presentation in a controversial way. “Design thinking is bullshit.” There it was, on the big screen of the main ballroom for everyone to see. Where could she be going with this? As designers, we pride ourselves on our ability to use “design thinking” to solve any problem that is thrown our way. But why are we forcing ourselves into this box when creativity is a random and spontaneous process that can’t be narrowed down into a boring step-by-step process. During her session, Natasha said something that really resonated with me. “Design thinking simplifies the process and makes it seem like anyone can be a designer.” Natasha explained that as creatives, we need to figure out a process that works for us. A step-by-step process may work for some designers, some designers might need a more fluid process, and others might be able to slap a sketch down on a napkin and create design gold in the middle of a crowded restaurant. Design thinking may not be entirely bullshit, but I value Natasha’s view that designers need to develop a design process that works best for us.

Body changes mind. Mind changes behavior. Behavior changes outcome.

Social psychologist Amy Cuddy had to be one of my favorite keynote speakers at the conference. As someone who has always been an introvert, Amy’s talk gave me some insight to take control of my shyness and do something about it. Amy focused her talk around the idea of being present and “power posing.” She talked about how things as minor as our posture or arm placement can convince our minds that we feel a certain way. When we are slouched over with our arms across our body, our minds go into defense mode. But when we are up straight, expanding our bodies, we begin to feel more powerful. What I took away from Cuddy’s talk was the idea that I am in control of how I handle high pressure situations. Going into any situation where the pressure is higher, I’ll know to check my posture–stand up straight, be present, be powerful.

If you want to learn more about her expertise, I encourage you to check out her Ted Talk.


HOW Design Live was so much more than I could have ever expected it to be. I was reminded of why I became a designer in the first place and came home feeling inspired and ready to work. The creative industry can be exhausting, but after attending HOW, I’m so grateful to be part of it.