HOW Chicago: How Sweet It Was

Written by in Events

Exhausted, Inspired, Energized … and HOW!

If you weren’t at HOW Design Live in Chicago, here’s what you missed.

What a Whirlwind

Whew! What a whirlwind. As I travel home by train from the HOW Conference in Chicago, I’m exhausted, inspired, and energized by what I saw and heard. For a conference that’s now in its 25th year, it isn’t tired or trite. In fact, it’s one of the best HOW Conferences I’ve been to (and I’ve been to a LOT of them in the last 15 years). So, without further ado, here are some of the highlights.

Dr. Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, talked about the importance of being vulnerable and letting people see and know the real you. It’s difficult to be vulnerable—to open yourself to criticism, shame, or guilt— she reminds us, but doing so allows people to know what you’re thinking and how your feeling, fundamental facets of creative expression.

By the end of conference, I think everyone finally realized that I, Emily Potts, am just a shy, gentle, reserved design journalist with a boundless capacity to see the best in everyone I meet. Well, I’m working on it, okay? Back off!


Karen Larson of LMStudio, showing off her poster
she signed and gave away at the Neenah booth.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a conference without at least two points of a Pentagram. Paula Scher and Michael Bierut were keynote speakers, treating the audience to the trials and tribulations of watershed projects. Scher admits her fondness for Helvetica, evident in her work. Bierut, scheduled to co-present with Jessica Helfand for a talk on Design Observatory, put on a spectacular impromptu presentation of his work when Ms. Helfand fell ill.

Michael Beirut is a pro. No one would have known his HOW presentation was created at the last minute as he entertained us with stories about projects where he thought he had nailed the concept on the first iteration, only to find himself back at the drawing board offering new ideas until his client “got it.” When a design rockstar admits to bad hair days everyone can relate, relax, and take heart.

Sebastian Padilla of Anagrama in Mexico spoke of both his professional work and the importance of personal work. Anagrama has brought grace to Monterrey, Mexico’s visual landscape with beautiful work at more than 50 boutique patisseries, restaurants, and cafes. Each branding program is bold and striking. No two look alike. His presentation was a tour de force of creative energy and capacity.

Ilise Benum interviewed Jason Fried, owner of Basecamp, about how to create a healthy work environment. Fried offered valuable insights on how to hire the right people and create a productive, forgiving, and inspiring work culture. No one tires of  hearing about corporate cultures that put people first.

Thursday morning began with a bang with a keynote by Mimi Valdes of I Am Other. Valdes spoke of her work with Pharrell Williams on the Happy music video, and its phenomenal international attraction (3M YouTube views!). Talk about revealing yourself: Valdez even donned a chicken suit and danced in the video—very well, I might add. At the end of her presentation, she cranked up the song and video as everyone stood up and got happy, pouring out of her session fully alive, awake, and energized. There was no need more coffee after her wake up call.


Von Glitschka signs posters for throngs at the Neenah Paper booth. 

The generous, talented, and kind Von Glitschka signed a signature HOW Design Live poster at the Neenah booth. But he also addressed a topic that concerns all fine and commercial artists —copyright infringement. Von Glitschka has faced multiple infringements of his work over the years so he spoke from unhappy experience. He encouraged everyone to fight back, walking attendees through the minefield of copyright registration with a step-by-step instruction guide he gave away to guests. No one gives more to HOW guests than Von Glitschka.


One of the many inspiring quotes coming from Jessica Walsh.

Jessica Walsh of Sagmeister & Walsh was the conference’s unofficial Energizer Bunny, inspiring a packed house with the fun and often outlandish ways her studio grabs viewers by the collar. She later signed copies of her book, 40 Days of Dating, which Warner Bros. is considering for a film.

In her breakout session, Megan Mead provoked her audience to roar—and the crowd in the adjacent room roared back! She also had everyone “do the wave” and perform vocal exercises. Mead uses such tactics to  loosen up before presentations—and encouraged listeners to do the same. Her point was that we should be prepared, personable, and captivating when presenting our work by putting as much into the story behind our work as the quality of its finished design. You can enjoy her lessons on how to improve your presentation skills by visiting this link: How Not 2 Suck at Presenting Your Work.


Matteo Bologna encouraged the crowd to exercise the courage of their convictions.

The day was capped off by Matteo Bologna, aka Mr. Mucca, a delightful storyteller with few peers. Bologna spun tales of romance, bad type, and awful graphic design—from Italy. Who knew an Italian could do ugly as well as the best of us? And he had photographic proof. He held the audience in the palm of his hand. We laughed at him and with him as he encouraged us to exercise the courage of our convictions and always do our best. Because, he vowed, when we do our best great things are possible.


Molly Z, signs her poster for a new friend at the Neenah Paper booth.

And what is HOW without SWAG? Like Chicago without the Cubs. Jason Wedekind, from Genghis Kern Letterpress, stayed up all night making letterpress business cards that anyone could customize and use; there were multiple poster signings by Von Glitschka, Karen Larson, Molly Z, Amy Reyes, and Ken Lo. Suitcases were bulging as people checked out on get-away day.

In summary, HOW and The Dieline hosted a spectacular event in one of my favorite cities: Chicago. My kind of conference. My kind of town.


Amy Reyes sci-fi poster design was a crowd pleaser.

  1. 05
    Matt Porter said:

    This report inspired me to watch the Happy Video and Megan’s How Not 2 Suck at Presenting. The happy video is so moving. Really. I cannot understand why seeing people just act out in sheer joy and how that crosses all socio-economic divides and cultures is so alluring. Mead’s point that great work badly presented is great work misrepresented. It reminds me of the old adage, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Perception is everything and we in our business are often the worst at presenting ourselves. Nice report, Ms. Potts!

  2. 05
    Tom Wright said:

    I wish I was their and feel like I have now experienced the essence of HOW’s standout moments. Thanks Emily for the upbeat report and your choice of words were exemplary! (inside joke)