HOW Design Conference 2015

I had the opportunity to attend HOW Design Conference in Chicago this year, hang out with the Workfront Marketing team, fill in as the corporate tweeter, and listen to a few amazing presentations. Here are my notes and takeways from the conference.

Lessons in Design Leadership

User Experience is still young, but becoming the forefront in strategic thinking for companies. It has become a trend in the last three years for companies to purchase an agency to gain design leadership (articles noting the trend in 2013 and 2015). Why? Because design matters. Companies make more money when design, aka User Experience, is a core pillar and competency. This leads to the question, why are companies acquiring agencies instead of hiring and growing a team? Are we not doing a good job of growing design leadership inside of organizations? Are UX designers too nomadic or are organizations not mature enough to let design culture flourish? Does a lack of a solid design leadership make it impossible? As a designer, how do you get a seat at the proverbial table and really influence your company?

Companies who desire to be design-driven face leadership gaps. It’s hard to foster design leadership without business structures that support design. And because of this, there’s a dearth of design leaders in companies. The current industry talent model is more about finding leaders than developing them. Teaching designers management basics can improve the overall effectiveness of design-driven organizations. This type of management training needs to be specific to design management, which includes developing designers who can lead and think, not just manage a production line.
—, The Design Leadership Gap,


Act Like Thought Leaders, Not Craftsmen

Alex Center, design lead at Coca-Cola, spoke on the future of In-house Creative Teams. 

  1. We need to be good at design thinking and solving complex problems.
  2. In-house teams are exposed to many facets of the business and better equipped to make decisions.
  3. All companies will become design companies. Consumers expect it.
  4. Design led companies outperform.
  5. Design for people, not products.
  6. Designers belong in the boardroom. There should be a Chief Design Officer.
  7. In-house is no out-house. Act like a thought leader, not a craftsman. Design skills are the cost of entry. You're not there to make powerpoints and graphics.
  8. We are really close to the driver's seat.
  9. As the design lead, be the brand.
  10. Think like a politician. Being an in-house designer is like running a presidential campaign.
  11. Don't wait for the brief! You work inside the company. If you have an idea, pitch it. You have direct access to the approvers.


Future Proofing Your Creative Team: Learn How to Manage Your Team's Workload


David Lesue, Creative Director of Workfront

Your team can handle a normal week, but when a bigger load comes, what then?

  1. You can't keep up, so you'll be replaced with an outside agency
  2. You'll be overworked, teaching your company to abuse you
  3. You can create excessive overhead and process so that NO work gets to you

The key is negotiation, not blind assignment, and discussion, not wish fulfillment.

Rhythm. Create a rhythm of completing work, usually weekly.  Projects aren't best for managing workload. Break the projects into smaller chunks and place the chunks into sprints.

Estimating. In the beginning you will be wildly inaccurate and you will hate it. Overtime, you'll get more accurate and the team will do it faster and by habit.

Capacity. Track your work and how much you are currently working on.

Transparency. Make it visible to others so that you can control the flow of work.


Design Fearlessly

Ron Burrage, head of global design at Hershey

How do you know if you've gone too far or not far enough? Be yourself, do your homework, be confident. Be true to yourself.

{I loved Ron's slides. He worked at Disney previously, and I wonder if he picked up some tricks there because the transitions between his slides were mesmerizing. Each one had a landscape or background that would animate as it transitioned into the next one, as if I was watching a scene. Well illustrated as well. I was trying to pick it apart in my head to figure out how he had built it.}

At Hershey, they needed a redesign. They had lost their voice. Everyone with Powerpoint could design the company logo. He thought he had come up with a brilliant logo redesign. They launched the campaign and he headed on his honeymoon. The next morning, he checked UnderConsideration to see the article. The first comment was "Err...steaming pile of $H*t?"  He couldn't even say, oh crap. Hershey's PR department decided to run with it and not pull it back. They felt it had a solid base and would grow to mean something more than an emoticon. As Ron showed the rest of the branding campaign, there was depth to it, and one little brown flat hershey kiss icon will quickly become associated again with chocolate and candy...still, do your homework. 


Brand & Identity

Michael Bierut, Partner at Pentagram

This was my absolute favorite presentation and Michael's descriptions of how he created the user experience of each project was entertaining. I can't do it justice here. You need to find a recording of him presenting his case studies. Brilliant storyteller.

How to destroy the world with graphic design: every little design counts. (Florida ballot design)

How to be fashionably timeless: take an old logo and make it new.  You need to start with something.(Saks Fifth Avenue refresh)

How to place a sign on a building that people can see through:think differently (Signage for the NY Times building)

How to shut up and listen: if you're digging a hole in the wrong place, digging it deeper won't fix it. 

How to get where you need to be: New York walk system. Attention to the details in logos, typography, placement, color, all come together to build a way finding system. The tip of the leg on the R is the same as the tip of the dress on the women's bathroom icon!

How to save the world with graphic design. His logo design for L!BRARIES evolved into a specific space for each library.



My final thoughts on these design leaders are that they are most noticeably authentic and love their work.  They are passionate about what they create. They consistently take the initiative to solve problems without waiting to be assigned or hired. They restate and clarify the problem through storytelling, despite the creative brief or initial request. They can also figure out a plan to get from A to B, and they own it. Over and over, throughout their careers, they repeated these patterns.

Keys to design leadership: be authentic, have a passion, clarify the problem, take the initiative,  and own it.