Friday, July 01, 2011

HOW Design Live: A Life Changing Experience

I had given up on this blog for the most part, but I really wanted to document my HOW Design Live experience, and this seemed like the best place to do it. I will be upfront and say that this will most likely be the longest blog post I have ever written because I have so much to say and to be honest, I don't want to limit myself for the purpose of entertaining reading.

I had been awaiting this conference for a while now. Things had been starting to feel a bit stagnant for me. I haven't been posting much on Operation NICE. My job has been stressing me out to no end. And I feel as if I have creatively and professionally plateaued. Know what I mean? So I was not only excited to see my friends, meet new people, and party like a wild woman, but I was ready for a creative recharge.

Friday, June 24, 2011
I should have known it was going to be an amazing trip right from the start. I like to bring a little box of chocolates for the flight crew when I travel. They have tough jobs and get more grief than appreciation. So I handed it to a flight attendant on my way in and said, "This is for the crew, just to say thanks." They were really grateful and ended up giving us a free bottle of wine!

Every aspect of the travel was perfect. We got to baggage claim and our bags were on the carousel. We walked up to the train station right as the train arrived. We got to the Hyatt Regency Chicago, and because they love people who tweet about them, we got upgraded to a junior suite. Everything was perfect.

And to make things even better, my BFF Maria was already there, waiting for me in the lobby. I hadn't seen her in almost two years, so it was a wonderful reunion!

(Reunited and it feels so good!)

I headed to the conference area with Maria to pick up my badge and she went off to a session. As I waited in line, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around to see Nate, a friend I made at the Denver conference last year, who promised me a hug in Chicago. Well, he delivered. As soon as I turned, I got a quick "hi" and then I was launched into the air and spun around at least four times. Seriously, this was a hug so good I had to blog about it. Oh yes, this was going to be a good conference.

Now THAT'S hawt.
(I like to ruin perfectly good photos.)

Later on in the day I met up with Maria, Nate, and some others at a balloon-filled happy hour. I was finally starting to get into the conference groove. HOW speaker superstar, Von Glitschka, had mentioned me and Operation NICE in his session earlier in the day (how lucky, right?!), so I got this a lot: "Hey, are you that nice girl?" Yes, yes I am. "That nice girl" is a pretty great way to be recognized. I handed out some buttons and met some new, super-cool people.

At this point, the Impenetrable Force was united when Amy arrived! Maria, Amy, and I met at the HOW conference in 2005, which also took place in Chicago, so it was a real treat that we could have this reunion. And by the way, they aren't just "conference" friends. Amy and Maria are my family, my true blue bestie best friends. And yes, it sucks that they live out in Arizona, but it really makes moments like this so much more special.

Reunited and it feeeeeeels so goooooood!
(We're much better looking now than we were in 2005.)

Keynote time! The topic was about being available in the moment. Well, we took advantage of the moment and snuck out the back. It was not something that I found useful. What I DID find useful was our trip to Walgreen so I could get some Advil for my splitting headache and some 5 Hour Energy drinks. We got back to the conference as the resource center opened and piled into a chunky stew of designers fighting for free tees and posters.

As the crowds wound down, we parked on a couch and got to know our new friends, like Mike and Ali, sitting next to me and Nate here. Also, I am holding a Blues Brothers rubber duckie, courtesy of my girl Jamie at Neenah Paper. :)

Check out my prize

I love HOW. Can you tell? My heart hurts actually thinking about it because I love my friends so much, and I know I won't see a lot of them for a long time. Depressing, right? I know. Thank god for the interwebs or I would be a lonely, lonely girl.

Photo bomb!

After the resource center, we made our way to the lobby bar. I swear, the lobby bar was the most inspiring area of the entire conference. That's where the good conversations took place. Amy and I spotted a dude with a giant fruity-looking martini, so I walked over to ask him about it. This is where I must make a note. I am NOT a typically social person. In fact, I tend to avoid social situations unless Rob (my crutch) is with me. Would I ever do this back home? Probably not. I sometimes joke that at home I'm Melissa, but at HOW, I'm Mel. Two different personas. And I need to infuse a little Mel confidence into my Melissa life. Okay, back to the drink.

Savannah Peach

This is the photo

One two three GO!

That was the first of three, thanks to Jason and Justin who kept us well-hydrated. Eventually, knowing we had to wake up for 9am sessions, we headed off to bed. One day down, two and a half more to go.

Saturday, June 25, 2011
At past conferences, it was not unusual for me to treat it a bit like college and skip a class here and there to catch up on my sleep. However, this year, I went to every single session because I didn't want to miss out on anything. And I'm so glad. Saturday started with a session by Sam Harrison, who happens to be the author of the HOW article "Putting Lines Around Ideas" that I contributed to a few months ago. He spoke of the importance of being playful and silly. Well, I got that in the bag! He also told us to make mistakes. We must "fail earlier to succeed sooner." Also, question whether parts of my life are inspiring or tiring. This is something I definitely need to do more often. Also, did you know that I am the best Melissa Morris Ivone-style designer in the world? Because I totally am.

Galumphing at Sam Harrison's session
(The session ended with some galumphing.)

The girls convinced me to hit up the session by Method's Matthew Loyd next. I love me some Method products, and it was worth going just to check out how they work. One thing he said resonated with me. He talked about how soap is NOT exciting. But they do amazing work with a product like soap. So of course, that made me think of my own career. Although hospice might be a little trickier than soap.

After a delicious lunch skillet, we went to Brian Miller's Above the Fold: From Print to Web session. I've been doing the Lynda courses in Dreamweaver because I really need to up my web game. This session has some useful nuggets but was pretty basic, even for me. And then it was off to Mig's session. I met Mig in Denver. This guy is so amazing that you totally want to hate him, but you can't help but love him. So smart, talented, and incredibly nice. Which is why we had to heckle him.

Heckling Mig's presentation

Mig's talk was entertaining and inspirational. I keep repeating his one quote, "Inspiration is temporary." Gotta take advantage of it when it arises. He really encourages trying everything and making lots of stuff because you never know where it might lead. If you have an idea, run with it. Why not? And it's okay to create work that sucks. We all do it. Even Mig.

At this point in the day, the girls and I snuck in a quick nap and got ready for the Shutterstock/Big Stock party.

Prom pics! :)
(Well coordinated, as usual.)

Free drinks! What what! And they had a "photobooth" set up. Not quite a booth though. But we stopped by the get a few photos.

One two three SCREAM!

And one with Mig.

Hamming it up with Mig and the girls.

And later on in the evening, a few with Nate.

So fierce.
(Seriously though, how bad ass is this photo??)

A few more drinks, a few more photos, and we were ready to move along to a new spot. I'm going to give you the super fast synopsis of this part of the evening. Beers. Watching people eat chili dogs. A really swervy cab ride. Me not feeling so awesome. Humiliation. Aaaaaaaand back at the lobby bar. As Steve would say, I earned my sleep that night.


Sunday, June 26, 2011
The morning started out sad with Maria leaving. She was there for an earlier conference so she had to get back to her family. Sad face. At least I get to see her in August!

So even after my rough night, I got up and headed to my 9am session with James Victore. Thank god he had the good graces to blow up the place with some fantastically timed F bombs! Woke me right up from my stupor! "F*&K Adobe!" was one phrase I will hold with me forever! Okay, okay, I'll stop relying so much on my tools and start innovating. James Victore thinks, "I've always wanted to see chickens walking on my work," and he makes it happen. Seriously.

Next was a session I was really looking forward to. I was lucky enough to meet Justin Ahrens last year at HOW, although we didn't have much time to connect. Thankfully, through the power of the interwebs, I've been able to keep up with him. He is really passionate about making a difference through design, and unlike a lot of folks, he follows through immensely. Through trips to Africa and working with Life in Abundance, Justin has made a huge impact on the lives of many. He even worked to create a documentary film called This Is My Normal which illustrates what poverty is like for those living in Nairobi, Kenya. Amazing. So Justin was speaking about "seeing and doing different." He posed two thoughts that have stuck with me. First, "Are you living the life you were created to live?" Well crap, I probably am not living to my full potential by taking a gazillion naps. And two, "What in this world drives you crazy? Change it!" That's what I started to do with Operation NICE, but I haven't done enough. Clearly. People believe in me. I just have to believe in myself.

Amy and I had a lunchtime "session" where we discussed how difficult change can be. All of these sessions tell us to follow our dreams and reach for the stars, but that's incredibly scary for a gal lacking high self-esteem and possessing a high mortgage. We ate our chicken nuggets and commiserated.

After lunch came another one of my favorite sessions. Is it possible to have like five favorites? Anyway, Amy and I were going to have a post-lunch nap, but I wanted to check out Chris Chapman, Creativity & Innovation Director at Disney. For some reason I didn't take notes, and there was so much that he covered, so I hope he posts his presentation. Or I may need to get the mp3. I'm blending together his session and his panel which took place on Monday morning. I think this came from the panel. "You're office is not where you work, it's where you execute. Get out of the office." I don't know how well that will go over for me personally, but it's so true. He also had a great comment about what happens when an outsider makes a comment like, "Can you make that bigger and green and maybe have it glow?" I get that kind of stuff a lot. Ask the question, "What is this piece NOT achieving?" and then go from there. The response might allow for a better solution. "Have them tell you what needs to be achieved, not how to do your job. You are the designer." Also, don't let the haters hate. Even Walt Disney had naysayers, but he believed in his ideas. Good thing because I really want to go to Disney World in November!

And my last regular session was from the folks at Design Army. Meh. They are awesome, for sure. But this session wasn't exactly something I could apply to my situation. So I just looked at the pretty pictures.

Aaaaaaaaand, it's night time. Time for the big ole closing reception. Theme this year? Night of Chicago Blues, heavily influenced by the Blues Brothers. So Amy and I put our thinking caps on a month or two ago and started plotting our outfits. Somehow we came up with a Gaga-infused Blues Brothers get up. This was the result.

She's got legs...

I think it's safe to say we were a hit! I felt like a prop because everyone wanted a photo with us! Papa-paparazzi! We strut our stuff like we owned that ballroom. Or PWNED that ballroom. A total HOW highlight came just a few minutes after arriving. My girl Cami walked over with none other than Chris Chapman, Mr. Disney! And he started talking to me about Operation NICE! WTF. Seriously? Fangirl alert! He even told me a nice story that he experienced at the airport. Ohmagah, I was frozen. He is a huge supporter of kindness and positivity and authenticity. Kick ass. KICK ASS! Okay, I'm still being a bit fangirl about it.

The rest of the party involved more photos, more drinks, more dancing. And a big group shot.


After the party it was back to the lobby bar. This is where the real meat 'n potatoes of the conference happened for me. I got some quality one on one time with Nate where I got to pick his brain, ask a bajillion questions, hear his opinions...real conversation. Not that I don't love drinking giant martinis and making jokes about 80's sitcoms! But the entire conference was loud and fast and overwhelming, and I really wanted to sit down and learn something from a friend. Hearing about his experiences and sharing my own was comforting yet also motivating. And I'm so grateful that I got that. I don't think I can thank him enough, but I'll try!

Nate and I were lookin' mighty fly at that #howlive party.

At one point, some other friends joined my and Nate's conversation. Nick, Mig, Amy, Julie, etc. And it turns out, they all have way more faith in me than I have in myself. Hearing them talk about Operation NICE or about how they think I'd make a good speaker or liking my sketches, well, it made me want to bawl my eyes out. It felt so good. I felt supported. I really needed this since I had been having some serious doubts lately. It was a great night. A long night. I don't think I went to sleep until after 4am.

Monday, June 27, 2011
It was back to the ballroom at 9:45 for a creativity panel. Great, fine, dandy. And then the closing keynote with Sally Hogshead. Great, fine, dandy. I actually really enjoyed it, but my brain had been so full at this point that nothing else was getting in. And after the keynote it was time to say goodbye to Amy. Sad face take two!


And as one last event before everyone left me, we had a big group lunch. This was also really awesome for me because Rob and I were able to ask Nick and Nate their opinion about what to do with Operation NICE, and they had fantastic advice. They were positive and encouraging, and now I'm sure I can do anything. :)

My guys

And one more group shot!

Group shot after our final lunch together

Followed by a giant group hug! I'm in the middle there. :)

Group hug!

And well, that's my experience in a nutshell. A really long, drawn out nutshell with a lot of detail. I don't really expect anyone to read through this. I just wanted to document it for my own purposes, so in two months when I start to fall back into my routine, I can read this post and remember that people believe in me...I am awesome...and I need to get off my ass and make them (and myself) proud! It's time to change the world.


Nicola said...

"At one point, some other friends joined my and Nate's conversation. Nick, Mig, Amy, Julie, etc. And it turns out, they all have way more faith in me than I have in myself. Hearing them talk about Operation NICE or about how they think I'd make a good speaker or liking my sketches, well, it made me want to bawl my eyes out. It felt so good. I felt supported. I really needed this since I had been having some serious doubts lately. It was a great night."

I love that. They are all absolutely right, Melissa. You ARE an incredibly talented and inspiring individual. I'm so glad you had a great time! :)

five dot design said...

great recap- and I totally believe you're going to take Operation Nice so many great places :-) I was the geeky fangirl getting to meet you after the closing reception, so I totally appreciate you taking the time to chat :-)

Melissa said...

Nicola, you are sooooo sweet! I hope one day you can join me for a HOW conference!

Kirsten! No way! I've been a total Five Dot fangirl for years! :) I wish we could have had more time to chat. Gah, there's never enough time for talking. Too much to do and the time just whizzes by!

brooke @ claremont road said...

So very jealous that I haven't been able to get to HOW since 2009, but also so glad to hear that you continue to gain so much from the experience, Melissa! I am also on board as an Operation NICE cheerleader and I know you can do amazing things with it -- I hope you are starting to believe that, too. If ever you need a helping hand or a sounding board for ideas, you know where to find me :)