Last Monday morning it was a rainy day in New York City where a group of creatives convened with one mission: explore the future of our industry and how to lead it. Among the panelists and presenters were some of the most influential and - dare I say - prolific creative leaders that are forging the way. The two day Reach conference, presented by HOW and held at NYC’s School of Visual Arts, was the type that you leave feeling smarter just for having been in the same room as so many creative pioneers… and also a little exhausted because your mind has been stretched and crammed full with so many great insights.
When the amazing (and adorable) Debbie Millman opened the conference by telling us that the role of creatives in our society has fundamentally changed and is becoming more important than ever there was a silent sense of acknowledgment from the crowd that we were all there for a real purpose. This wasn’t just about design. This was about the role of design in today’s world. And also I’m sure everyone in the room was like: hi Debbie it’s me your biggest fan I love you.
Automation, data revolution, and channel proliferation have created a CRAZY increase in demand for creative content. It used to be that brands had months at a time to plan content for primarily three channels: tv, radio, newspaper. (We all know how outdated that model is.) With so many opportunities for brands to interact and engage with consumers, creative leaders have a responsibility to ensure that the relationships that are formed are positive. — Alex Withers, Chief Marketing Officer, InMotionNow | @inmotionnow
Gretchen Rubin, author of The Four Tendencies (and former clerk to none other than Sandra Day O'Connor) talked about really getting to know what your personality and the personalities of those you work with is in order to lead and communicate better. She got maybe one-third of the way through her presentation when a lady in front of me in the audience leaned over to the person next to her and said: screw my coworkers, this is the best marriage therapy I’ve ever had. We all laughed but then quietly added the book to our Amazon wishlists and Rubin’s The Happiness Project podcast to our queues. On her transition from law to a creative field: “I would rather fail as a writer than succeed as a lawyer.” SWOON (@gretchenrubin)
Mike Rigby, VP & Executive Creative Director at R/GA talked about using design as a tool to help people and not just to sell shit. (His words, not mine but AGREE.) When you are a designer, you are a communicator and not a decorator. Designing logos is kinda pointless, especially when all you’re doing is applying a beautiful veneer to a failed business plan. Branders have a unique ability and opportunity to help shape business and design a brand that communicates their values. Ultimately, design is a business asset and a competitive advantage to businesses that embrace design thinking. (@mikerigby)
The incomparable Stephen Gates caught my attention because he talked about how designers are a lot like chefs: “Just like a chef, designers all get the exact same ingredients to work with. It’s what we do with them that matters.” It’s also why a designer is not a designer is not a designer. If you don’t select carefully, you may end up with the designer’s version of a gas station tuna fish sandwich. Stephen is awesome and as long as we’re adding podcasts to the list, his podcast, The Crazy One with Stephen Gates, should be at the top of the list. (@sdgates)
Jessica Walsh Of Sagmeister Walsh talked about the joy of constraints. Designers love feedback because, like we’ve said before, it matters just as much knowing what doesn’t work as what does.
At this point, Day 1 was over and all our minds were tired. Champagne and city lights to the rescue!
Day 2 opened with the one and only Jonathan Adler who was nothing short of delightful. Listening to him talk about his design process and how he once struggled to balance his aspirations to be both a potter and an affluent Jewish American Prince (again, his words) will make you head straight to JonathanAdler.com and buy this mug, which features the faces of both Run DMC and Kanye West, just to make sure this guy never ever again has to sit out at a rain-soaked craft fair. You’ll do it knowing that he’s already a bazillionaire but you don’t care: it’s for the art. And because he had this life-affirming piece of advice about not being afraid to put yourself out there and fail: “Failures don’t matter - things move too fast for anyone to care!” (My mug will arrive gift wrapped in approximately 5 business days.)
“No one is going to fall in love with your slide deck... they are going to fall in love with an EXPERIENCE.” - Moira Cullen (Did I mention that Moira was in charge of that simple little branding update at a little company called COCA-COLA?!)
Carole Bilson, from DMI, reinforced how valuable design is to business. Design is a force multiplier and should not be considered a “below the line” activity. Comparing the Design Index to the S&P 500, we see that companies that invest heavily in design and value design thinking outperform the rest by over 200%. That’s money in the bank, y’all.
John Maeda is the Global Head of Computational Design & Inclusion at Automattic (@johnmaeda) and he dropped so many gems that he could have his own sub-bullet section. The best? The reason why his job title is about design AND inclusivity is simple: inclusion is central to design and is just good business. Creating an inclusive strategy about technology means combining access to things in an equitable way as well as making things economically viable. Also, any friend of Paul Rand’s is a friend of mine.
Pentagram, the eponymous NYC design agency, continues to impress and guide me. Eddie Opara, a partner at Pentagram described how the flat hierarchy of the company allows them to be nimble and responsive. With no pesky account managers to muddle up client communications and no CEO to throw the power balance out of whack, Pentagram operates lean and mean. He reminded me that there’s so much power in simple 1:1 communication.
“The best search results don’t show up on a web page... they show up in people’s lives.” — Robert Wong, who spoke so casually about the fact that he led the entire redesign of all the Google products and interfaces that you would have thought he was giving you directions to the nearest Starbucks. Which, coincidentally, is something Google is really good at doing in a beautiful user-friendly way. Because the best search results ensure that you end up with a hot coffee in your hand.
So much good, right?! Among all that there was to take away from the brilliant minds who spoke at the Reach Conference, among the most significant is this: you have to blaze a trail that is right for you. You can’t get caught up in what other people are doing, and you can’t lower your behavior, or standards, to meet someone else's. Do you. Take risks. Create.