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HOW 2006

HOW Could 4000 Designers Be Wrong?

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Without the dingdingdingding of slot machines clattering in our brains, we were able to formulate some coherent thoughts about this week’s HOW Conference, the largest annual gathering of designers in the country. You can read full coverage of HOW 2006 here.

Great general sessions. We were big fans of the design-based mainstage speakers (juggling, not so much), who had admirable careers and offered a good range of entertainment and education.

Otherwise, obvious content. Besides the superlative presentation skills of some speakers–and Ze Frank, who should have been a main-stager–the response we had to most presentations was “Duh.” Most information seemed a little too introductory for it to be useful.

No sessions on sustainability. In the Age of Al Gore, it was embarrassing not to see a single way for attendees to learn how to practice design more responsibly.

HOW is in the house. The in-house designer, new freelancer or student are the real winners at this conference, mainly because all the sessions are divided into categories which service those who seemed to be starting out, isolated within a larger corporate environment, or working alone:
- HOW to convince other people of the value of design.
- HOW to stay inspired and motivated.
- HOW to acquire new technical or design skills.

Advanced social skills. In an informal UnBeige poll, 4 out of 5 HOW attendees said the main reason they come to the HOW Conference is for “the people.” For many of these attendees, it seems like this is their only chance to really feel like a part of a design community, so they go nuts. But we don’t think we want to see designers getting quite so excited about hanging out with other designers. It makes us uncomfortable.

Don’t get us wrong, conferences are designed for drinking. But we were looking for a bit more substance to counterbalance the substance abuse. If you’re looking for the frat party of design, HOW delivers. But if you’re really serious about advancing your critical thinking, it’s time to graduate to another conference.

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Going Sally Hogshead Wild

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Sally Hogshead, copywriter to the stars–Wieden, her own shop at 27, Crispin Porter–has written a book named Radical Careering, where she interviewed 1000 professionals between 25 and 45 about the apathy gap in today’s workplace–what happens when people stop loving (or never loved) their jobs. Interestingly enough, after finishing the book, Hogshead also stopped loving her own job, and now does speaking engagements like the closing keynote at the HOW Conference full-time.

We’re guessing a handful of people in the room of 4000 might have seen Hogshead’s presentation before, but we know we’re probably the only one in there who saw Hogshead speak seven years ago, when she was at the height of her ad-stardom, and we were debating between careers in art direction and copywriting. We remember squirming in the cool plastic chair at our hot little school in Atlanta as she smiled at the final slides of her Gold Pencil-winning work. Watching her speak about what she loved to do, we were suddenly so freakin’ positive that writing was our primary passion, too.

Hogshead’s keynote this year was not terribly different from that presentation seven years ago (she showed a lot of the same fabulous ads). It was a great resource for anyone needing to switch it up at work. But frankly–and this is sad for us to say, seeing as she’s our hero and stuff–we liked it better when it was a sharp, smart ass presentation about her own great advertising career.

Five Freelance Facts From Petrula Vrontikis

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She’s a stately golden-throated Greek goddess, but Petrula Vrontikis is also one heck of a savvy businesswoman. In her session Freelancing 101 at the HOW Conference, Vrontikis (“little thunder” in Greek) outlined some basic and not-so-basic tips for the often scary world of freelancing. Five that caught our ears:

1. Negotiate both your rate and your terms. Sure, you’ll spend hours making sure your bid is right, but you should also work out what percentage of money you’ll get up front, after 30 days, etc.

2. If you think a project will require you to change your original bid or rate, tell your client right away. Don’t ever wait until it’s finished to ask for more.

3. If you have a specialized skill, charge more. If you can demonstrate that you’ve got exceptional experience or a technical talent in a specific area, don’t be afraid to raise your rate.

4. You must function as a businessperson, even if you feel like an artist. Forget your ego, your talent, your portfolio. You’re the owner of a small business and you have to do what’s best for that business.

5. Just call people back. A huge, huge advantage for any freelancer is that you have the time and resources to give exceptionally personal attention to your clients. Stay in touch.

Vrontikis seems to draw from this vast reservoir of cool, and once we found out she studies and teaches yoga, it became obvious that this woman is totally in control–spiritually and enterpreneurially (hope that’s a word). Read the awesome story about why her firm’s website address is 35k.com.

Don’t Cha Wish Your Conference Was Hot Like HOW?

The crowd shot we uploaded when our ears were still ringing from “Paradise City” didn’t do justice to the fine selection of feathers, sequins and fedoras HOW conferencers donned for the closing party’s vintage Vegas theme. howglo.jpg In a huge warehouse-like space dotted with tiny, pretty appetizers and plenty of Neenah folks passing out extra free drink tickets (thank you!), HOW-ites spread the love to the tune of a more-than-decent 80′s cover band.

Late night, the packed dance floor circled around the shrine they had constructed and prayed to the Gods of the Greasy Breakfast.

Overheard at HOW: Ze Frank

Not exactly overheard, but a few bits from Ze Frank that we couldn’t leave behind.

On crap: Best worst designed MySpace page ever. (turn sound up, scroll alllll the way down)

On art vs. design:

“Design has to work, art doesn’t.”
-Donald Judd

“Well, it works for me.”
-Annoying Art Student

On Target: “Every time I go to Target I’m reminded of all the things I need to buy to complete my collection of Everything In the World.”

Simply Ze Best

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The man needs no introduction. But if we must: Ze Frank, everyone; everyone, Ze Frank. If you haven’t been to his website today, go. No, seriously, you might have been there before, but now Frank does a daily show that he shoots, narrates and edits every single day. It’s true! Today is June 14, 2006, and he’s in Vegas.

Nose around his site a bit to get a feel for what he does. This guy spent 8.5 months creating a new project every single day (the games and other diversions on the homepage are some of these results). Frank simply plays with the way we play, which is, in turn, the key to how we interact with design.

Frank talked about the rise of authorship in design (MySpace, YouTube, his own comment-addled website) and that it’s an opportunity designers can’t afford to squander. “When someone comes to look at something, you build value just by getting them to do anything.” Your audience is quickly learning your language (“They even know what Verdana is!” says Frank) and they just want to have a conversation with your brand, your company, your experience, you.

No matter what you design, says Ze Frank: “Have a conversation with your users.”

Some people we’ve spoken with before think Frank’s presentations are Design-Lite (funny web stuff, cool things he made, no big heavy concepts). But we actually think Frank’s commentary was one of the most thought-provoking views into the future of design we’ve ever seen. Which is even more incredible considering he said the word “penis” approximately 32 times.

Overheard at HOW: Day Three

Just before Ann Willoughby’s session, one designer turns to his friend with a life-changing decision: “I’m gonna start wearing a kilt, I think.”

Hmmm, an aspiring Marc English?

Hard Core HOW

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Okay, so remember how we said that the people at HOW were as stoked as a gospel choir? We just found the HOW Conference zealots. The members of HOW’s Graphic Design Forums are the super-stoked folks you see running to get the front row seats; they’re the ones who threw a pajama party last night; and they’ve got an honorary leader named Kat (correct us if we’re wrong) who is walking around today with five pounds of cookies to give away. Even if you’re not here in Vegas, you might know what we’re talking about because those who couldn’t attend the conference are holding little get-togethers all over the country!

Ann Willoughby’s Little Brown Book

Our journal entry from Willoughby’s session on journaling at the HOW Conference.

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Oh Boy! It’s Moira!

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This morning, the room is dimmed way dark, perhaps in preparation for the Lady in Black, formerly of Hallmark, currently of Coca-Cola, Moira Cullen. Looking stunning, we might add, in a black and white floral coat.

Getting a seat at the table means making design part of corporate policy. Cullen’s presentation explores how it’s mostly the languages of business and design that are so different on the surface–because nothing makes business people more scared than zany designer speak, right? You’d be surprised, though; they’re a lot more similar than you’d think.

But here’s the hot stock tip Cullen gave us that blew our mind (keep in mind this is a UK stat; FTSE is a London Stock Exchange term):

A fund of 63 publicly traded companies renowned for their use of design outperformed the FTSE 100 Index during the 90′s by 200%.

So design is good for business and investments? Add that to your portfolio.

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