Highlights from HOW Design Live 2017

Highlights from HOW Design Live 2017

I spent last week in Chicago, attending the amazing HOW Design Live conference for the first time ever. It was a jam-packed week full of seminars, keynotes, exhibitors, and more. I’ll probably need at least another week to properly process everything. But in going through my notes, I realized there were quite a few speakers who distilled their ideas down into very quotable bits. And I wanted to share some of those here today. There’s wise words, words to make you think or chuckle, and a good overview of a lot of the topics covered at this year’s conference.

“Instead of minimal viable product, aim for maximum f**king love.”
Brian Collins. I always thought the idea of minimal viable product was a really low bar. I’m not sure ‘love’ is necessarily the prescriptive solution, but it’s a move in the right direction at the least.

“’What do you do for a living?’ Whatever I can get away with.”
Timothy Goodman on his adopted slogan. I wasn’t super familiar with his work before, but seeing some of his series on Instagram has gotten a few ideas cooking for me.

“People in the center are never going to be the big change makers.”
Sam Harrison on being weird. His advice: do so many uncommon and unusual things that you surpass weird and enter genius territory. I can get behind this.

“A great visual identity system creates space for great ideas.”
David Turner on the importance of a codified and scalable visual identity system. If the rules are clear, it actually frees you up to think creatively within them.

“It’s not what the brief or identity standards says you can or can’t do; it’s about what it doesn’t say you can’t do.”
Stefan Mumaw on creative villainy and circumventing the rules.

“‘Design thinking’ packages a designer’s way of working for a non-designer audience by codifying their processes into a prescriptive, step-by-step approach to creative problem solving – claiming that it can be applied by anyone to any problem. This is bullshit.”
Natasha Jen on why a single way of thinking or single process is not the panacea of design. Design is messy and complex, and one approach is never going to be good for every possible problem and project. Amen to this.

“Brands that recognize our feelings and validate our humanity are hard NOT to engage with.”
Valerie Aurilio on the eternal truths of design: empathy and storytelling.

“There is always a crossover between print and digital.”
Indra Kupferschmid on how no project is strictly one or the other.

“Color is only ever and always 3 things: hue, saturation and value. Knowing this makes working with color so much simpler.”
Jim Krause on how distilling color down to its basic parts makes finding that perfect shade easier.

“If you’re ever in a rut with your work, ask ‘what might get me arrested?’”
Kelli Anderson, regarding her project of printing and distributing a fake New York Times edition that painted the world as a better place than it is. She is up to some cool stuff, definitely check her out.

“The desire of the manager to speed up the process and impose a deadline on the designer is the single most detrimental thing to creative people, the biggest killer of good design. […] The single most important skill for a creative life is getting the world to back off.”
Malcolm Gladwell speaking directly to every designer’s soul, even though he’s not a designer himself. Everyone should check out his podcast: Revisionist History. I could listen to this guy talk for hours. Not because he has a particular melty voice (he’s no Benedict Cumberbatch), but just because he’s so interesting.

Yeah, we had an impressive lineup of speakers and presenters. I hope you enjoyed some of these tidbits and maybe clicked thru to connect with some of these creative minds.

Do you have a favorite quote from above? If you also attended HOW, what’s a great quote that I missed?

(a girl can’t be in every session at once, after all)

2014 Freelance Conference Recap

The first ever Freelance Conference was this past Tuesday. It was billed as an event “created by freelancers, for freelancers […] those who leave a J-O-B with the dream of freedom, better income, and the ability to control our own careers.” I had met the founder, Emily Leach, through some networking events and heard her talk about this new venture. And I was excited for it. I’d never been to a professional conference before, not having an employer to sponsor my travel & ticket (looking at you, HOW Design). This one not only had an affordable ticket price, but was also right here in Austin and geared specifically towards the self-employed. That’s the holy trinity of conference specs as far as I’m concerned.

To say I jumped on registration when it opened is not an exaggeration; it turns out I was the very first person to buy a ticket. Emily actually called me out up at the start of proceedings for being the first person to support the Freelance Conference. I didn’t get the face-burny feeling I usually get from blushing, so hopefully I handled that surprise ok. Thanks, Emily!

Ok, so the conference itself. I’m glad to say it lived up to what I was hoping for, especially for an inaugural event. Here’s some highlights:


  • Affordability: it was $92 for a ticket. No problemo.
  • The time & location: Abel’s on the Lake was a great location (free parking, great water views) and I liked that the conference didn’t start super early (I’m not a morning person) or run very late.
  • Having Brad Closson start off the day’s panels with a fun twist on networking was brilliant. I liked this panel MUCH more than I thought I would from the website description, and met some lovely people as a result.
  • The Clients From Hell panel during lunch was well-done – interesting enough to entertain, but didn’t require note-taking so you could actually eat your meal.
  • All of the panels were at least interesting and kept my attention, though some were more applicable or organized than others.
  • Being surrounded by people who actually get all of the ups and downs, perks and heartaches of freelancing was awesome.


  • Technical difficulties regarding the Skype call with Brennan Dunn. His was the panel I was most excited about, and it was cut short because of this. But it works out ok, because I’m taking his free email class on the same topic now.
  • Hard wooden chairs all day. There was bruising. ‘Nuff said.
  • While all of the topics were great, not all of them included actionable steps on how to apply this new knowledge. I like my workshops/panels to be practical, too, not just theoretical.

Overall, I had a lot of fun, and I’ve come away with some new connections and a ton of new ideas for my business. Plus, of course, all of the great swag. 😉 And apparently the conference for 2015 is already in planning stages, so it will be happening again next year. I, for one, will jump on that registration bandwagon right away.

What’s the best conference you’ve been to?

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Amanda Guerassio

From freelance designer to studio owner, I've been a self-employed, independent graphic designer for over a decade. I love helping people find the right visual voice for their businesses and projects. Let's talk!