My colleague Cricket and I really enjoyed attending the HOW Design Live conference in Atlanta last week.

Cricket and I are both very versatile in our creative roles and work. In addition to designing and facilitating CN events and conferences, we are graphic facilitators, art directors, and presentation designers. So it was through all of those lenses that we were able to experience the simple joy (and—at times—the angst) of being a conference attendee.

We saw HOW as an opportunity for us to immerse ourselves in the world of ideas, find inspiration, and learn from other designers. It delivered! The days consisted of small breakout presentations (if you consider 150+ people, small), bookended with keynote speakers. The best parts of the conference—and what we most looked forward to—were the keynotes.

Here were a few highlights:

More love sandwiches for everyone
First we heard Tiffany Shlain, a filmmaker, author, and founder of the Webby Awards give a talk about Let it Ripple, her white label not-for-profit film series. She also shared portions of her film series “The Future Starts Here,” and focused on ten stages of the creative process: The hunch, talk about it, the sponge, build, confusion, take a breather, love sandwich, premature breakthrough, revisit your notes, and know when you’re done.

Creating a business of belonging
Then we listened to Jonathan Fields talk about his Good Life Project. He challenged the audience to think about what it takes to live an extraordinary life – and what he’s learned from thousands of interviews with others about connection, finding the awesome, and making meaningful contributions.

Finding the B7 chord
The next day opened with James Sommerville, Vice President of Global Design for Coca-Cola, sharing the evolution of the Coca-Cola brand and what Coca-Cola—and all of us—can learn from the Beatles. What did I learn? Use my childhood influences to amplify my current work.

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story
All keynote speakers were highlights in my mind, but truth be told, Oliver Jeffers gave an exceptionally fantastic talk. He’s a master of story, a brilliant artist, and, kudos to him—a superscribing pro.

A couple of Jeffers’s books have been in heavy rotation at our house for the past 10 years (10!) and now that my son, Henry, has a book about a book eating boy named Henry, I expect this run to continue for quite some time.

But what—really—did I love so much about his talk? It’s complicated. Maybe it was that he’s a true storyteller. Or maybe it was that he used a Wacom during his talk (again, kudos). Or was it because his art is equally as meaningful and beautiful as his books?  Or perhaps it’s because I couldn’t stop wondering if he and Mo Willems ever met for coffee in Brooklyn.

Find your inner weirdo
James Victore is the kind of guy you wish was your college professor. The person who tells you to grow up, “design like you give a damn,” and be passionate about your work. He’s radical, brutally honest, and he’s a MoMA artist.

He was the guy who you were afraid was going to single you out, or stop his presentation to call you up on stage, and simultaneously embarrass and teach you a lesson.

And as it turns out, he does teach. AND, he hosts a dinner series (think: The Table for creatives).

So, yes, we had an awesome experience. We geeked out at a #pixelsoffury party and attempted to buy clothes at CVS (another story for another time), but most importantly, we both gained real insight from our two days.

Finally, a short list of pointers for anyone attending HOW next year, or any other heavily-attended conference:

  • Arrive ridiculously early. And expect a long registration line. We arrived 40 minutes before the first speaker but completely missed it because the badge pick-up line was over half a mile long.
  • Sit in the front row. Less distraction of other attendees, and more immersion into the content and speaker.
  • Beware of click bait. Session titles are submitted months in advance. A few times, sessions with great titles and descriptions didn’t deliver as promised. Needless to say, have a backup and be prepared to switch sessions.
  • Your luggage matters. Bring a suitcase sized for 4 days, but packed for 2. It will be raining swag and you will want to bring it all back to share with your colleagues.
  • This is mostly for Cricket. Make sure you have a hotel reservation. And if not, make sure you attend with a roommate-compatible colleague who remembered to pack their pajamas.


HOW Design Live is an annual design industry conference that is hosted by HOW brands. HOW was founded in 1985 as a print magazine and has since expanded its footprint into events, design competitions, online courses, books, etc. The attendees ranged ranged from freelancers to people in design firms and in-house creative departments, to newbies fresh from design school graduation.