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HOW 2006

The Incredibly Happy People of HOW

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You know at conferences when a speaker gets up there and says “Hey, ________, how do you feel?”, or something like that, and then there’s a dead, hung-over silence?

That doesn’t happen at HOW.

If a speaker at HOW asks you how you are, or tells you to shout out your favorite food, or instructs you to turn to your neighbor and punch them in the stomach, the HOW-ites will obey. With vigor. At 9am.

Even more incredulously, from the stories we’re hearing about rumjungle around midnight, we’re almost 100% positive that 70% of these people were out all night drinking.

The enthusiasm is so unbridled, it’s almost like we’re at some kind of Pentecostal tent revival…if there weren’t so many cocktail waitresses in shiny pantyhose.

Spotting Ideas With Sam Harrison

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Two of the best sessions today at the HOW Conference featured southerner Sam Harrison, who told us not only where to look for ideas but how to sell those ideas to naysayers. Harrison crafts his popular presentations on his two books: Zing!: Five Steps and 101 Tips for Creativity On Command and the thicker and more recent Ideaspotting: How to Find Your Next Great Idea. Both these books are peppered with catchy technique, and Harrison gathered quotes about creativity and inspiration from dozens and dozens of inspirational folks. Best advice for staying focused and psyched: “Ask yourself about everything in your life. Does it inspire you or tire you?”

Full disclosure: Harrison taught us pretty much everything we know ’bout writin’ at a hot little school in Atlanta.

Overheard at HOW: Day Two

Two designers attempting to navigate the post-keynote 4000-attendee flow in the incredibly cramped hallways of the Mandalay Bay convention center:

Designer 1: We’re like salmon.
Designer 2: It’s not as bad as last year, though, remember?
Designer 1: Wait, are we like salmon or sardines?

Think Cards, Pink Shirt

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The session was packed. Packed like we’ve never seen a design conference session packed before. They were here to see the pink-shirted, pink card-carrying Andy Stefanovich, a wise choice for the post-breakfast digestion slot. As the super-dynamic proprietor of Play, an “innovation and creativity company” in Richmond and Mexico City, Stefanovich must hold the best client meetings of all time.

The pink cards are Think Cards, notes on life and creativity he’s collected throughout the years. Some of these are reproduced for attendees in the resource book–a binder with outlines, notes and information from every speaker, and a great idea that we haven’t seen at conferences before.

Stefanovich’s Think Card highlights:

- Sincerity is the new irony.
- The way you work today does not have to be the way you work tomorrow.
- The importance of something is based on the clarity in front and the passion behind.
- Remember we’re all part of the same thing.

A HOW Conference Mix-er

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For all our scoffing, it seems THEhotel is THEplace to be for THEconference, namely Mix, topping THE64-floor tower. Last night we braved the ear-popping elevator ride for a well-worth it taste of Alain Ducasse in the desert.

The space-agey lounge has a huge outdoor deck where the Strip glitters below you like a hyperactive circuit board. Seated indoors, just inside a blown-glass teardrop chandelier (said to cost $500,000), Ann Willoughby sketched under the dinner table in her omnipresent journal (she’s speaking about journaling at HOW). Petrula Vrontikis, Stefan Bucher, Kelly Goto and Rockport editor Kristin Ellison bemoaned their worst conference speaking experiences (Ellison spilled water on her notes; Bucher’s fonts got corrupted, rendering a key phrase to read something like “ASSPOOP”).

Coca-Cola’s Moira Cullen breezed through in yet another glamorous shade of black. Jen Bilik chatted about the importance of writing and designing at the same time–she’s an especially talented writer who turns good words into cool stuff at her Venice, California shop Knock Knock. We also made great friends with the hilarious David Schimmel of And Partners who ordered two of the famous Ducasse desserts…and graciously shared.

It’s Not Our Fault, We Swear

If the HOW Conference is the creativity, business and technology conference for graphic designers, scratch “technology” out:

- There’s no wireless in public areas.
- The one place with free wireless was down this morning.
- It’s at least a mile back to our room where we pay $11.99 for 24 hours of wireless, then bolt back within 10 minutes for the next session.

We’re trying our best.

Balls In Moschen

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Spectacles are popular for opening events such as the HOW Conference. But we’re always a bit skeptical of the spectacle. Before our last design conference, for example, we thought for sure we didn’t like magic. But card-stickin’ Ricky Jay did a great job of convincing us otherwise.

We’ve successfully avoided Cirque du Soleil after roughly four dozen Vegas trips, but today, Cirque de Soleil has hunted us down and pelted us with little hot pink balls. Keynote speaker Michael Moschen received the MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” for his work with the Cirque…but from what we can tell, he’s just a really good juggler. Good thing we’re easily mesmerized.

Overheard at HOW: Day One

One designer to another designer in the elevator: “Since nobody really knows what we do, we can make up whatever we want. If I come back and say, okay, everything has to be purple this year, they’ll all be like, okay.”

Welcome to Fabulous HOW

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Spotted: Immediately after an extremely bumpy descent into Vegas, speakers Petrula Vrontikis, Stefan Bucher and Kelly Goto (oddly enough, we last saw Goto at an airport, leaving another design conference). Outside the keynote hall, Moira Cullen, lovin’ her new gig as design director of Coca-Cola North America, was looking typically stunning in signature black. Sitting in the waaaaay back of the keynote were Tim and Dan of Design Army, the hot young D.C. shop you may have seen sprinkled around your design annuals.

HOW editor Bryn Mooth intros the conference, saying that at about 4000 peeps it’s the “largest annual gathering of designers in the country.” Maybe it’s because you can bring your drinks inside the hall but damn, these people are psyched to hear that. Someone planned their wedding in Vegas on the Thursday after the conference so all the bride’s friends who she’s met over the years could attend.

Now that’s design conference spirit.

THEconference Begins

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We’ve got a great view of the wave pool here at Mandalay Bay, where all HOW Conference-ness occurs, but we’re sure it’s nothing compared to the views at THEhotel, THEslightly more posh tower across the way. We make a mental note to see what all THEfuss is about.

As we do our RSI exercises we reconsider, wondering how much besides THEconvention center we’ll actually get to experience. Will we ever be tossed by the wave pool that churns below like a forbidden sea? Will we ever be transported to another hotel via the air-conditioned Monorail? Will we ever go outside?

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