Why I love the Y.

The gathering of the faithful.

Design conferences are kind of like old-fashioned tent revivals that southern churches use to hold. Once a year, you need to re-energize your faith, stand up and say, "Amen, I believe, sistah!" So once a year, I take some time out, turn off the email and drink some of the creative Kool-Aid at the AIGA Y16 Design Conference. As a self-employed creative with well-trained clients that I communicate with via email, it's all too easy to work in a vacuum.  I have to go out of my way to collaborate and reconnect with other creatives. The Y is one of the the best ways I have found to spark my  creativity  and remember the reasons why I got into this business to begin with.

Design by Aaron Draplin for print screening with Sezio.

Makin' shit.

The Pacific Northwest made a strong presence at the Y with Aaron Draplin of Draplin Design Company. (Tagline: Midwesting the Northwest.) Aaron charmed everyone with his candidness and ability for telling it like it is. He is a big proponent of doing creative work whether or not you have a budget. “There’s equity in helping people,” he said. He encouraged designers to “be the client and make shit happen.” We were challenged to get out there and get dirty. He closed his talk and set the mood of the conference with these gems:

  1. Work hard and love this shit.
  2. Say yes maybe a little more than you say no.
  3. Do good work for good people.

The shape of design.

Fellow Portlander Frank Chimero took a more cerebral approach to design, asking the questions behind why we do the things we do:

  • How vs. Why.

How is about being capable and taking your tooks and forcing them to your will. Why is about the reasons we do things, and often, this part of the conversation is neglected.

In the relationship between message and format, designers deal with the tone.

  • Message (what you’re saying)
  • Tone (this is the area designers deal in, the bridge between message and format)
  • Format (what is the medium: web, poster, print, ad, brochure)

Frank urged designers to explore beyond the tone and become the client – becoming responsible for content. “If I’m assigned an article and it’s crap, I can’t come up with a good illustration.”

Other speakers were fabulous. Illustrators and design duo Sarah Labieniec and Ryan Meis of Lab Partners were simply delightful in their story of how they work together. (Love my husband but I could never work with him.) Peter Kragh shared details about his job – swimming with great whites while filming IMAX films. (What's his life insurance like?)


Thinkshops were smaller, more intimate workshops. To balance the creative inspiration of the mainstage speakers, I selected more practical Thinkshops. Luke Mysse of Crossgrain led a Thinkshop on how to hire clients and the steps you can take to market yourself to attract the type of clients you want. The insights I gained from this workshop were the most important ones I took home from the conference.

Thomas Marchesello of Nine Multimedia shared how to create killer aps. The secret to good app design he said was “ to think in layers.” Thomas mentioned why you always have to entertain with an app: “Just think about it, what’s on your phone is personal –  it goes in your pocket.”

Hanging with fellow design freaks.

But perhaps the best part of any conference is what happens outside the auditorium. The sharing, the interaction and meeting of fellow design nerds. Who else would agree to try out a new restaurant just because the graphics were so cool?

Why go to the Y? I guess Frank may have said it best, “We come together to get better.”