The first time that I attended HOW Design Live was back in 2013 in the beautiful city of San Francisco. Believe it or not, I actually hadn’t been to many design conferences prior, so I didn’t know really what to expect.
I was invited to speak as part of The Dieline track by my friend Andrew Gibbs who had only months prior invited me to tell my story on a stage to a room full of people for the first time.
As someone who would sometimes get flustered when he had to order delivery food, I was both nervous and incredibly excited. This felt like the big leagues, like I had finally made it. That week Kanye West had released his boisterous album Yeezus and it made for the perfect soundtrack in my earbuds. (hurry up with my damn croissants!) It was my time to shine.
As excited as I was about speaking on a big stage, I was equally thrilled about getting a big ticket to attend the full week of speakers. To this day I will never turn down an opportunity to hear another designer share his or her journey. I can’t get enough. So over the course of the four days at HOW Design Live in SF, I went to as many talks as I possibly could and was blown away by the diversity of speakers, topics and sessions. I found that each talk left me with a new perspective on my own work.
I saw a great talk from David Turner (founder of one my favorite studio Turner Duckworth) that stuck with me and I still reference from time to time.
I saw James Victore completely crush a room of what felt like 10,000 people and immediately made it my life goal to one day keynote at HOW Design Live.
Johnny Cupcakes was hilarious, inspirational and I loved the story behind his incredible brand. (Also, a super nice guy in person and to this day the only recommendation that I have on my LinkedIn.)
As for my audience, I was going to have to work it. I was scheduled to speak at the same time as the insanely talented Jessica Walsh and one of my heroes Debbie Millman. (Rough right?) In an attempt to gain attendees, I spent a good amount of time trying to convince people to choose me over these amazing women. I knew this was a tall task considering even I was bummed a little I couldn’t attend their sessions.
Despite the scheduling conflict, I totally crushed my talk and a few dozen people were there to enjoy it (kidding.) It was great, but the true highlight of my week at HOW Design Live would come later, when I had a chance to meet Debbie face to face. I was so excited (nervous) to meet her that I remember completely interrupting her in mid conversation (pro tip: don’t ever do that) and just spurting out how much I admired her work, how her book was literally in my backpack (Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits, available now wherever books are sold) and how I was the biggest fan of her podcast, Design Matters.
She didn’t blink an eye and quickly responded, “Why don’t you come to my studio and be a guest on Design Matters?” I was shocked. I was definitely not expecting that. I didn’t deserve to be on a show that had guests like Massimo Vignelli, Paula Sher and Milton Glaser! These were my heroes. I didn’t belong on that show.
That Fall, as promised, I recorded my very own episode of Design Matters. And to be perfectly honest, it changed my whole life both personally and professionally. It wasn’t because I had a whole new job or a ton of new freelance work after or anything like that. Just hearing Debbie’s smooth podcast voice do the intro over the RJD2 music with my name and my story, it changed something inside of me. It made me a believer in me. I know that sounds cheesy and dramatic (it is) but everything after that moment wasn’t quite the same. If Debbie Millman believed that I was Design Matters material, then I had to believe it myself. It was as simple as that.
I was instantly prouder of the work I had done and brought a new energy to the work I did after. Since then I’ve gone on to speak at 30 or so other design conferences around the globe, all of which I have thoroughly crushed (kidding, again).
I love telling my story on any stage, to any amount of people, but no conference means quite as much to me as HOW Design Live. In my opinion, it’s the best design conference in the world. I can’t wait to come back this year and hit that stage for the 4th time. It’s such a huge honor and I truly hope they never stop inviting me. After all, it changed my life. Well that, and Seamless.
Register for HOW Design Live 2017 by January 24 for the best prices!