My top 5 takeaways from HOW Design Live


We all like to think our problems are unique, don’t we?

If you’re honest, I bet you’ll admit to having responded to a well-intentioned suggestion with “Oh yes, but that wouldn’t work in my business.” Am I right?

Here’s what 15+ years of working with creative entrepreneurs (12 of those as an entrepreneur myself) have taught me; we all share the same handful of problems, we simply experience them differently.

Here are a few oldies but goodies:

  • The industry is changing so fast, I can’t keep up
  • There’s so much competition, I don’t know how to stand out
  • I know I’m not fulfilling my potential, but don’t know what to do about it
  • I have a great idea about how I could fulfill my potential, but it scares the sh*t out of me
  • I’m so busy that I don’t have time to pursue my ideas (oooh, this is a good one because no one can argue with busyness, right?)
  • I don’t have any structure or processes in place to build a successful business

What’s a creative to do?

Learn from people are have been there, done that, and written the book. That’s what!

Which was exactly my motivation for attending How Design Live this year. I wanted to know what was going on in the industry and learn from people who were shaping the future of advertising, marketing, and design.

And you know I didn’t want to keep all that good stuff to myself, so today’s blog post is a round-up of my top 5 takeaways from the conference.

Takeaway #1: Challenge your tropes

There tends to be a lot of complaining around the state of the advertising and design industry, though not from creative leaders, Nick Law and Brian Collins, two of my favorite speakers.

Both Brian and Nick talked about the need to challenge the old advertising and design tropes that haven’t changes in the last 50 years. Brian’s answer was to embrace curiosity, imagination, and serendipity and work from the inside out instead of the outside in, while Nick positioned it as adopting a bottom-up instead of top-down approach (more of that in takeaway #2).

How this applies to your business: When we’re working in our business, we tend to do things the same way, either out of habit or laziness. It’s a passive approach and passive rarely leads to innovation! Question your process and approach and reasons for doing it that way. Is it just because you were taught to do things that way? For example, is there any reason why strategy needs to take months and end with a complicated findings document that no one knows what to do with? Could it take weeks or even days? Could the findings be presented in a more meaningful way?

Takeaway #2: Design an experience

As a creative, you’re in the business of creating experiences that inspire people to take action. Yes, that experience will take the form of some kind of deliverable (a brand identity, a website, an app, a video, etc.), but the experience and outcome is what clients want from you.

Nick Law demonstrated how he transitioned from advertising creative to Global Chief Creative Officer of R/GA where he spearheaded award winning campaigns for Nike, Beats by Dre, and Google. He talked about his defining moment coming in the late 90’s when he realized the web was going to “eat the world.” Instead of being freaked out by this huge shift, he applied his creative-brain to a business challenge.  The result was an organizing principle that brought the story (narrative thinkers) + systems (design and architectural thinkers) together, creating the holistic approach and healthy tension needed to create innovative campaigns that spread like wildfire.

So, how do shift from selling deliverables to selling an experience? By inverting the traditional process. So instead of working in the following way:

Traditional, top-down process:

Positioning/branding→ story/image → messaging/campaigns → pushing it to the consumer

You start from the end (the user) and work back.

New, bottom-up process:

User behavior → story/interface → branding → campaigns → engaging the consumer

How to apply this to your business: Think about how you might invert your process to have the end-user lead your design. Can you define the behavior you want to illicit from a user? Do you want them to share something? Buy something? Donate something? Start there and design from the end.

Takeaway #3: Know yourself (and work to your strengths)

We all have different temperaments, along with beliefs about what those mean in terms of our ambition and ability to lead. In Susan Cain’s talk How to Harness the Strengths of Introverts to Transform How We Work, Lead, and Innovate Susan shared how important it is that we find our sweet spot be between stimulation levels, our energy, and our productivity. Creative originality requires some level of solitude and knowing this can help us structure our days and bring our best work to the table.

How to apply this to your business: Organize your days to work with your energy and productivity levels. For example, I “bundle” my time meaning I dedicate chunks of time to specific activities. For example, my client sessions are bundled into three dedicated days/week. Tuesdays are dedicated to marketing and content creation and Fridays are admin days.

Takeaway #4: Assemble your board of mentors/advisors

It takes courage to throw out the old playbook and do things differently so you’re going to need a posse of supporters and advisors to keep you on the straight and narrow. In her talk Building Your Brand as a Creative Professional, Dorie Clark bridged the gap between having ideas and spreading ideas (because we all know and idea that doesn’t live in the real world means nothing).  She suggested putting together a mentor board of directors to help make those ideas happen (and you didn’t even have to tell them they’re on your board if you don’t want to!).  Apparently, the act of seeking out the people who embody the traits and skills you want and learning as much as you can from them (books, articles, talks, etc.) has a great impact on your output and productivity.

How to apply this to your business: Identify the traits you admire in creatives, leaders, entrepreneurs, etc. (fun side note, I also learned that the desirable traits you identify are also your core values, 2 for 1!) and either reach out to them, read about them, or consume the content they create.

Takeaway #5: Co-create VS Collaborate

We all like to think (and say) that we’re collaborative, right? But Brian Collins made a really interesting distinction: when we collaborate, we start to design by committee. We try and get consensus and, well, we all know where that leads. But when we co-create, we invite all the parties to the table and build an idea together which circles back nicely to Nick’s organizing principle in takeaway #1.

How to apply this to your business: How can you make your design process more inclusive? How can you bring the people who will be involved into the process earlier so that they might shape the outcome? This is a tricky balance to strike as you need to be confident and willing to stand behind your ideas and defend them. Practice makes perfect!

I know this is a lot of information (believe me, there was a lot more I didn’t even come close to sharing), but if I were to wrap everything up with a neat bow it would be this:

Embrace the future. Be optimistic about it. Look for problems to solve instead of reacting to them, then do what you do best; develop and spread a big idea that shapes the future.

If you’re ready to look at your business completely differently and start shaping the industry rather than simply responding to it, I’d love to hear from you!  Leave a comment below and share ONE way in which you plan to embrace and shape your future!




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