It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

The big day had finally arrived – I’d been counting down the days for months, and struggled to fall asleep the night before.

No, it wasn’t December 25, but the 2 days each year I’ve come to affectionately call my personal “Design Christmas”.

For the past 8 years I’ve treated myself to attending the Design Thinkers conference in Toronto. Two days immersed in a world of design without deadlines!

Each autumn, the Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario hosts a conference inviting speakers from near and far to share their views on design, creativity, communications and business. It is one of the anchor events of their calendar year and helps further their mandate of advancing Graphic Design through education, advocacy and recognition within the Canadian community.

Attending the conference is truly a gift that lasts. I have a stack of notebooks filled with insights and quotes from some of the world’s greatest design and business people.

I would like to take a moment to share a few notes from this year’s conference.

“There is no creativity without confidence and self-esteem”.  – James Victore, Graphic Artist

Once we develop the self-confidence and self-esteem to create freely, we can begin to look beyond ourselves. When we use our creativity with the goal of helping others the true magic begins to happen. Not only do we have an opportunity to create exceptional work, we get the added benefit of feeling great for helping others.

James’ presentation was highly quotable. One of my favourites was, “if you don’t have beauty and/or magic in your life, then stop – what are you creating? People don’t need more ‘business’.” Use your spark to infuse all you do with that special trait that only you possess.

“Sometimes the only way to move forward is to take a big step backward.”

Art Chantry, known for designing evocative and wild punk posters, made the scary decision to say no to working with “jerks” with big budgets. When he cut out these seemingly powerful people he turned his life around, was happier in his work, and ended up making more money, winning more awards and becoming more involved in the communities that mattered to him. In short, working with jerks is bad for your health, so do yourself a favour and work with awesome people.

“Connect with people when you don’t need them, so they will be there when you do.”

Sree Sveenivasan, Chief Digital Officer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, talked about the power of social media and online spaces to tell stores and connect people and organizations.

His presentation shared just a few of the many ways The Met is using online spaces to engage. Are you afraid that “giving it away for free” online will hurt your business? Don’t be. Use these moments to look for storytelling opportunities and grow connections. The Met is experiencing attendance record highs because they’re making their art accessible and mining those moments.

“Have fun and embrace weird opportunities” – Hjalti Karlsson of Karlssonwilker

I consider myself extremely lucky to work in a creative industry, but when things get busy it’s easy to want to put your head down and just get through the list.

Design projects afford the opportunity to try something different, so instead of just filling in the blanks when things get tough, maybe it’s time to go on a tangent. “Find a unique voice for each project  – there are no stock answers.”

“Nothing is original” – Austin Kleon, Author, Steal like an Artist and Show Your Work!

This may sound contrary to the point above, but hear me (and Austin) out. Design and art isn’t always about doing something that’s never been done, but doing it in a way that’s never been done. Each projects is an opportunity to make something your own (see? That wasn’t so different after all).

Design is emotion – John Furneaux, Principal at Projektor

Design is about more than the visual; it’s also about the verbal, tactile and emotional attributes. What is the experience of your brand and each touch point? If you see your business card as a handshake, what is it like? Thin and flimsy, or strong and smooth? Delicate and peaceful?

“Sometimes the question is more important than the answer” – Frank Chimero, Design Director at Habitat

What are you really trying to accomplish when you begin a project? You may think that you’re just designing a website, or writing a social media campaign as outlined in the brief… but what’s behind that need? Those projects have a purpose, and a website or campaign may only be one answer to that question. Is a hashtag the best way to solve “how to give a voice to children who lack access to education”? Start by asking how, and keep asking.

It’s been less than two weeks since the conference ended and I’m already dreaming of next year’s Design Christmas!

What do you look forward to on your professional calendar? How do you stay inspired? Connect with me in the comments, at, or on twitter @PatchDesign.

Posted on November 26, 2015 in DESIGN, INSPIRATION, PATCH CULTURE

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