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Creative Works 2015: What We Learned

By | October 26, 2015

The design team again had the privilege  this year of attending the Creative Works Conference. Our experience last year was near-spiritual: a coming together of the design community in a real, raw, and vulnerable way. Allie and I left feeling inspired, connected, and most importantly: ready. Ready to challenge ourselves and our work and learn.

This year’s Creative Works was nearly double in size, leaving it still as a fairly intimate affair of 250 people or so. One really nice aspect of Creative Works is that Josh Horton, the organizer and founder, wants everyone to hear every talk – so there is no shuffling and picking-and-choosing who you can see and not see. Which, as one can imagine, is great. There were a lot of exceptional speakers this year.

Our Designer’s brains were overflowing with awesome inspiration!

Each speaker tended to frame their talk with the goal of a takeaway for the audience. Not just what their work looks like, but how their experience can lend us a hand as fellow designers and commercial artists. We’d like to share a few of these takeaways with you, and our thoughts on them.

  1. Personal work is important, even if it doesn’t lead to anything.

One trend it seemed to me were that each speaker had ambitious little side projects. Many of those side projects either directly translated into work: the pieces were licensed or a company asked to use the concept within a campaign, or they indirectly translated into work: the project got them press and then were asked to do work in an adjacent style.

Not all personal projects lead to anything, but isn’t that okay? Your most interesting ambitions come out within personal projects and, as is demonstrated by many of the speakers, create an authenticity in your portfolio that’s hard to replicate.

2. Vision and Mission are synonymous, nor are they mutually exclusive.

The creative director of Charity Water spoke and (one of) the many things she said really resonated with me. Vision and Mission can be different, and it’s important to differentiate the two. For instance, if Charity water’s mission is to bring clean water to the third world, their vision is to re-invent how charity works. These two points are very different, yet work in tandem with each other. They inform each other. I think keeping this in mind really allows for goals to stay grounded and cohesive

3. Put your goals into words

This was a really simple takeaway that still resonated pretty heavily with me. How many times do ideas float around, nebulous and half formed, until finally a word is put to it. The color blue wasn’t considered a color until a word was associated with it. In that same process, goals aren’t real until words are put to them.

4. Start a business. Or don’t. But just make your actions deliberate and considered.

The guys at The Cotton Bureau talked about their successes as business owners and highlighted some really good points. They didn’t just say “do this, my way is the only right way” – they gave considered reasons for both sides of each argument. The takeaway, of course, is to make that big decision (or don’t) – just make sure that before you do it (or don’t), you’ve really put some careful thought into why your decision is what it is.

5. Don’t be afraid to get a little creative

Dan Christofferson made a good point about how, as he said, “smart phones are ruining my stories.” About how today in our smartphone, connected society we stop leaving room in our minds for wonder. It was a good plea: Let your imagination wander, and leave a little room for “folklore” in your stories. This expands to your work as well: Leaving room for your imagination to play is a key part of the ideation process. Maybe now I’ll fact-check less on stories and just enjoy the idea that you totally met Johnny Depp at a party three years ago.

6. It’s okay to hesitate before you leap

Big decisions are hard. They wouldn’t be big if they weren’t. But another take away was that it’s okay to feel that hesitation. Not everyone is Elon Musk. In fact, everyone seems to have bumps before they hit a successful pace. I was told in college that successful freelance careers (if that’s what you’re looking to do) take 5-8 years to really cultivate, and it seems that most speakers reinforce that idea. So stop worrying about how you’re not a prodigy and take a breath. There is always time.

7. Iterate, iterate, iterate

This one hit back to every art class I’ve ever taken. An incredibly important element to design solutions and composition is to make many, many iterations before you finalize. (My required fifty thumbnails per illustration assignment in school is beginning to feel all to understandable). Iterations are like spitballing… visually. They allow you to get out the bad ideas before the good ones show up. It’s important to remember to allow yourself that time, rather than just punching through deadlines one after another with no creative breathing room.

8. Stand behind your work by standing behind the clients you work with

Meg Lewis (whose speech really resonated with me and the rest of the team) said she tries to be a good person, and as part of that she tries to only work with good clients. It seems like a no-brainer, but this may be like #3 – she put it into words. How do you create good work if you don’t respect the client? The ad world has its haters and can get people down, but standing behind what you do by standing behind the clients you work with is a great way to work against that mentality.

9. Community.

The last and biggest point made by speakers, the attendees, and the conference itself is: Community. Where are we without community? Finding those creative minds and allowing for collaboration and commiseration, not just competition is important for growth and peace of mind.