What I learned at the 2015 AIGA Y Conference in San Diego

My partner Cris wondering Y I’m making him take this photo…

I remember back when my past employers would pay for me to go to conferences and they would require me to write up something about what I learned.

Now that I fund my own conference-goings, I actually WANT to write something — to share with you and to reminisce in the future.

The theme this year was velocity: design moving forward.

Here’s a rundown of all the speakers and the key things I took away from each of their talks.

1. Sandra Equihua and Jorge Gutierrez of Mexopolis

First off, these two were hilarious. AND, they’re a husband-and-wife team just like my partner and I, so I was automatically interested in hearing their story!

https://instagram.com/p/0vRnP1x3iN/?taken-by=aigasandiego

They taught me to “ask how much they have” rather than proposing a number without any knowledge of my prospective clients’ budget.

They affirmed my belief that turning down work is a good idea in circumstances where the project is not the right fit for me and my team or in cases where I’m asked to make compromises I’m not comfortable with. Plus, turning down work makes you more desirable, so there’s that!

The most important thing I took away from Sandra and Jorge’s talk is that failure is ok.

In fact, I feel as though failure’s ok-ness was a common thread this year — failure is nothing to fear or be ashamed of and it’s actually necessary to move forward.

2. Michael Bierut of Pentagram

Obviously the headliner… I was SO excited to hear this talk. I LOVE all the work the all-stars at Pentagram produce. Their minimalist design is totally inline with my aesthetic.

https://instagram.com/p/0vSzDXEyPp/?taken-by=kovalentco

I love Michael’s perspective on design and I feel like I really relate to him in his style and way of thinking. Charles Eames’ famous mantra “innovate as a last resort” is also high on the list of quotes often quoted by me.

Michael said something that really hit home for me — he said he’s “not conventionally creative.” Hashtag relatable! Back in college I always felt like I just didn’t fit in with my design school peers, and this is why. I’m also not conventionally creative. I design solutions to problems. I ask why and need a reason to design. I don’t create for creativity’s sake.

As Michael stated, “you only need creativity when you don’t have enough information.” Sometimes the best ideas, the ideas that really solve the client’s problem, are the most simple solutions — not necessarily the most “creative” in the artistic sense.

A special speaker-themed clipboard was created by Jonathan Torres and used during the Q&A after each speaker’s talk. At the end of the conference the clipboards were auctioned off. I’m happy to say I was the highest bidder for Michael’s autographed clipboard…

here’s me looking really excited about taking it home (total nerd moment)

3. Julia Seltzer of Hyperakt

Julia showed some super interesting and powerful work. I was definitely inspired to seek out some clients that are making a difference and aid them in their endeavors for good.

https://instagram.com/p/0vmBXbR3mQ/?taken-by=aigasandiego

Julia posed the question “what is the design of the future?”. Her answer — staying nimble. This is a huge reminder to all of us to keep learning and doing new things. Our industry changes at a rapid rate; we have to evolve with it!

4. Justin Skeesuck (the-disabled-traveler.com)

We laughed, we cried, we were humbled and inspired. Wow, Justin is an amazing guy with a highly evolved way of seeing the world!

https://instagram.com/p/0vziUPkyK_/?taken-by=kovalentco

Justin is living proof that you never know where life will take you, but you can get through anything with the right mindset.

Justin taught me that it’s ok to ask for help. In fact, asking for help is a vital step in moving forward. He showed how allowing yourself to be helped is also allowing someone to help you, which in turn is helping them — whoa!

5. Sharon Werner of WDW

Sharon affirmed my recently pondered ideal that “the world doesn’t need more products unless they solve a problem”.

https://instagram.com/p/0v95anR3j7/?taken-by=aigasandiego

I don’t think this was her main point, but it was a key takeaway for me because planned obsolescence is an issue I’ve given a lot of thought to in the past. Now that I’m at the point in my life where I could potentially add to the ever-growing landfill of useless products, this ideal is even more important to uphold.

6. Erik Natzke of Adobe

Back to the failure theme… Erik proposed that failure can be used as a creative catalyst, that “not knowing is ok, not doing is not”, and encouraged me to “know what you don’t know, and let that be a motivator”.

https://instagram.com/p/0x2i3cR3ud/?taken-by=aigasandiego

7. Brian Gartside of DDB New York

Brian managed to keep the post-lunch crowd awake and enthused by showing us his Drinkable Book project. This water filtration project just goes to show that design can save lives.

https://instagram.com/p/0yWWWRx3kF/?taken-by=aigasandiego

Brian made a great point that most of our work as designers, whether at a design studio or at an advertising agency, is really about selling. There’s not really a big difference between the advertising world and the design world — Brian’s work is proof of that.

Brian asked me to ask myself “what’s my role? and how can I use that skill set for good?”. This is a question we should all ask ourselves — and often!

8. Gail Anderson of Anderson Newton Design

Gail showed a lot of her students’ work and I could tell how proud she is of them. She pushes them in a way we’re often not pushed as out-of-school designers. It was a great reminder we need to remember to keep pushing ourselves and learn new things.

https://instagram.com/p/0ybPQhx3t8/?taken-by=aigasandiego

Gail motivated me to learn After Effects and aspire to teach one day.

And she got to touch Obama’s ass… so how could I not be inspired by her!

9. Justin Manor of Sosolimited

I loved Justin’s stories of his team’s beginnings as a band. He encouraged me to “think crazier” and get back to what I enjoy doing and let that guide my work.

https://instagram.com/p/0ymD8bx3ic/?taken-by=aigasandiego

Another quote that stood out to me was in regards to talking with prospective clients. He said to “talk money early on and make sure you’re in the same universe”. Both my clients and myself have a tendency to talk all about their project without addressing the expensive elephant in the room. It’s always a good idea to get on the same page with budget expectations right off the bat!


So that was that! Another amazing Y Conference in beautiful San Diego! I walked away feeling motivated to keep moving forward, to seek out work I’m passionate about, and to not be afraid or ashamed of failures.

A special thanks to AIGA San Diego and all the organizers that made Y20 an awesome conference!

What inspired you this year?

Angela Noble is a designer and partner at Kovalent who specializes in design and email marketing. You can find out more about her and view her portfolio at http://angelanoble.com or follow her on Twitter @AngelaNoble_.

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