Last week we traveled to Austin, Texas, to join over a thousand industry experts, students, and lifelong design lovers at the 2022 Brand New Conference. Event organizers Bryony Gomez-Palacio and Armin Vit packed so much into two short days, from exciting case studies and showcases from renowned designers to inspiring panel discussions and opportunities to network with expert creatives from around the world. We left inspired, encouraged, and challenged, eager to take all we had learned back to our practice. Although impossible to boil down all we gained at the Brand New Conference, here are five highlights that impacted us the most.
1. Details. Details. Details.
We thought we were going to a Branding Conference…we never expected to attend an immersive branding experience. From the second we arrived and picked up our dimensional name tags, we knew this wasn’t your grandma’s design conference. Bryony and Armin don’t take their role as facilitators of creativity lightly. To capture the essence of Austin with their “Keep Austin Weird” theme, they considered everything…. the look, the feel, even the sounds. From GEO’s beautiful and dynamic lettering that moved across the screen to the echo of movement in the springy-latex handles on the goodie bags, you could feel the excitement and intentionality of this event. Even the music, which combined honky tonk guitar riffs with auctioneer calls and spoken words, reinforced the weird yet exciting vibes of the city and the conference itself. As creators, we not only enjoyed the attention to detail but also left inspired by their incredible ingenuity.
2. People First. People Second.
Regardless of where you work or what you do for a living, it’s impossible to ignore that our culture has shifted its focus to one that lives to work. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, we have forgotten that people are more important than our work and how we make our money. This point was foundational to the first speaker of the day, Alex Center of Center, the award-winning design and branding company based in Brooklyn, New York. Alex’s talk was engaging, informative, relevant, and practical. His thesis was summarized at the end of his presentation, standing in a contrasting white-on-black, fully justified series of statements behind him. While the entire paragraph was hugely meaningful, the first three staccato-like sentences cut the most: “People first. People second. Work third.”
The people in our lives are more important than the work we do as designers. Alex’s presentation drew a decisive consideration. Don’t get us wrong; our jobs are integral to a well-rounded life. Our work should be done with the utmost care and enthusiasm, but when you are on your deathbed, will you wish you had gotten that one last client or developed that one final logo system, or will you be thinking about the people who made your life meaningful? We would all do well to heed Alex’s advice to “Leave work at 6. The very latest 7. Don’t make it 8.”
3. Stop Comparing. Start Learning.
Creatives tend to have egos. There we said it. In many ways, it is because we wear our hearts on our sleeves and may find too much value in the work we create. Sometimes when we think so highly of ourselves, it can be jarring to meet someone who seemingly is working on something better, more exciting, or more “important.” But here’s the thing: while we all have our unique vantage point on the world and our work within it, holding too tightly to our expertise and importance can cause us to miss out on learning from each other. Maybe you’re working on a branding project for Taco Bell or simply focused on building a brand for a small local business, but can we stop being hindered by each other’s success and start seeing the beauty in the creative work of others? Maybe then we can replace our puffed-up egos with a learning curve that, in the end, will make us all better designers.
4. Strategy with heART.
There’s effect-driven design, and there’s effective design. While relying on fancy tools, computer programs, and design trends is easy to push out quick, punchy work, is it making a difference? Strategy matters. Just because you have the skills to draw a unicorn doesn’t mean you should. Is it affecting business? Is it helping your client’s target market move the needle? Is it really effective? At the same time, relying on algorisms and market research may make a design effective, but it isn’t always going to resonate with consumers. Enter: Art. When did we decide that design and fine art were two separate roads that never intersected? The truth is good artists make better designers. As noted by the brilliant Artist Allan Kaprow, “The young Artist of today need no longer say ‘I am a Painter’ or ‘a poet’ or ‘a dancer.’ He is simply ‘an Artist.’” Maybe it’s time to step away from the computer and get out your paintbrush. Put the art back into your design, and you might find it takes on new heart.
New York-based Designer Abraham Lule approaches his work through the unique lens of his background as a Dancer and Choreographer in his native Mexico. Bridging the world of art, dance, and design, Lule has an impeccable attention to detail that encompasses visual art with movement and texture. As easy as it would be to use Photoshop to create layers and texture in his projects, Lule chooses the road less traveled, constructing images with tactile materials, layers, lighting, and textures, then photographing them for an effect that is both engaging and thoughtful. Passionate for dance and movement, Lule used dancers from his newly formed dance studio to creatively express letters through choreographed dance and gestural movement. The result is both moving and effective, creating an entirely new way to view and understand typography and its use in art and design. Such out-of-the-box use of multi-disciplined art has a more profound impact on the audience. If it’s true that people don’t remember the work you make as much as the way it makes them feel (Thanks Alex Center), then Abraham Lule’s creative approach to art and design certainly leaves a lasting impression.
5. Never Stop Making.
It’s impossible to attend such a rich event with so many talented artists and designers and not struggle a bit with information/creative/inspiration/ “you-name-it-we-felt-it” overload. Enter: Marcellina and David Kampa. Most of us are still in the “grind” season of our careers. We work hard, strive to better ourselves creatively, and all hope to leave a mark. Marcellina and David Kampa each had a full and robust career. Back in the day when designers worked by hand, David made his mark by creating hand-drawn typography. Marcellina fulfilled many creative roles in her career, both in supportive and project management roles and as a creative maker herself. After pouring into others for decades, “retirement” wasn’t an option. So, they kept making, following their inspirations and passions into new endeavors like welding, photography, laser wood-cutting, and a unique obsession with cardboard. And through it all, their love for each other and for art keeps them moving forward. They’ve spent 40 years together as co-workers and partners, and they’re still going strong. As they like to say, “He makes it, and she makes it happen.” The day will come when our creative endeavors will be replaced by those younger than us, with newer ideas, newer technologies, and newer skills, but let’s be encouraged by the Kampa’s and never stop making. Let’s love what we do, be authentic with who we are, and embrace the time we are given.