Back to musings

HOW did I end up here? Or, my first-ever industry conference

I was the first placement student from Algonquin College that Initiate hired. After just a month and a half with the company, I got to attend the prestigious HOW Design Live Conference in Nashville with the entire team. This is my experience.

Diving straight into the deep end

After a trip into Academia to study film in university followed by 15 years in the hospitality industry, it was time for a change. I completed my Advanced Diploma in Graphic Design at Algonquin College this past year. I did my final semester’s work placement with Initiate and was brought on full-time as a junior graphic designer right after that. To cap off an already fantastic year, I was given the opportunity to attend my first design conference along with the rest of the Initiate team. Beyond being extremely excited for the opportunity, I had no idea what this experience was going to bring.

But how did I get here?

Paula Scher, partner at Pentagram and rockstar in the design world. Also, somewhat the catalyst for the beginning of my design journey. I discovered Paula Scher in a Netflix special “Abstract: The Art of Design.” Her words, and that Netflix special, opened my eyes to the design all around us. It was shortly after watching that special that I started my deep dive into what constitutes graphic design, and how I could get my hands on these skills.

What does Paula Scher have to do with both my initial steps into the world of design and my first design conference? Well, Scher was present for both events.

Never meet your heroes

I went into the conference knowing that a few partners from Pentagram—the world’s largest independent design consultancy—would be speaking. I may have even sprinted to get in line to have them sign my newly purchased Pentagram: Living by Design. Meeting Paula Scher, Emily Oberman, and Michael Bierut was a highlight of the event. (I dare you, dear reader, to check out their work and tell me you don’t recognize… most of it). As I did my best to contain my internal freakout, I was greeted with smiles and kind words from some of the titans of the design world. I am still in awe that I was able to come face-to-face with design greats while also managing to string together a few sentences of praise and thanks.

Meeting Emily Oberman was another highlight. Oberman has designed countless logos and title openers for movies and television. Her designs were especially interesting to come to know and appreciate as they paralleled my studies in film. Christie Volden as my witness, I was approached by Oberman and Jessica Hische at the conferences wrap party. Oberman recognized me from the book signing and came over for a chat. I once again managed to string a few coherent sentences together, while internally freaking out, and that’s how I not only met but was recognised by my heroes.

Curiosity + open-mindedness = my recipe for success

The conference organizers underestimated how many people would be interested in specific talks, so when there were no more seats left, I would go find something else. I ended up in other talks, and took something from every speaker, even though I wasn’t looking for it. That’s the #1 key takeaway I have from the whole thing—curiosity drives designers, and my curiosity is the thing that matters. I always considered myself a jack of all trades but a master of none, but the conference and spending time with the team helped me realize my curiosity is the common denominator and something to be proud of. If you’re not familiar with the full jack of all trades saying it goes: Jack of all trades but master of none, though often times better than a master of one. How fitting is that on the theme of curiosity?!

Most people in the office would say I resembled more of a blur than a person over the course of the conference. I didn’t stop moving is what I’ve been told. Though I may have broken the sound barrier as I ran from experience to experience, it was a recharge for me in so many ways. I just spent 4 years of my life at school over a pandemic. It was a creative environment with like-minded peers, but it was still constrained. Being thrown into a weekend of design, from screen printing shirts and swag bags to scavenger hunts and AI talks, it’s truly the end of one era and the start of the next. So, cheers to curiosity, new beginnings, and to even more great design!