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May 11, 2016 Events

Insights from the 99u Conference 2016

David Buivid

David Buivid

Interactive Executive Producer

How do you shift your focus from idea generation to idea execution? That was the theme of the eighth annual 99u Conference held May 5–6 in New York. Our Interactive Executive Producer David Buivid attended the two-day event and returned with insights on how to do big instead of simply dream big. Based on the belief that knowledge shared is knowledge squared, Buivid shares his thoughts below with the Nutmeg community.

Welcome to 99u!

“Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.”
—Thomas Edison

The 2016 edition of the 99u Conference, held at Lincoln Center’s beautiful and recently remodeled Alice Tully Hall, was markedly different from any other essential industry event I’ve attended, including Brooklyn Beta and The Future of Web Design. Designed to deliver more than mere inspiration, this year’s 99u was a motivational, action-oriented showcase of creative experts who embodied and espoused the event’s ubiquitously displayed manifesto: “It’s not about ideas, it’s about making ideas happen.”

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Jason Fried, Founder and CEO, Basecamp

Those in attendance were a selected few. That’s right—selected, not select. Attendees were not determined on a first-come, first-served basis. Rather, all 1,000 were chosen by 99u organizers based on their answers to a series of in-depth questions presented at registration. This approach not only ensured the most diverse audience I have ever witnessed at a tech/design affair, but one that was already highly engaged.

On each of the two days, the schedule encouraged chance encounters between creators and executors, and the first of my chance encounters occurred upon my arrival when I ran right into Rodrigo Sanchez, an independent user-experience designer I’d met years earlier when we’d both volunteered at a similar conference in exchange for access. Turns out he’s still very actively involved in both local meetups and international presentations such as 99u and, for me, as a solo attendee, it was nice to immediately find a friendly face.

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Mornings kicked off with visits to working creative studios and master classes. The 12 presenters shared a goal of empowering the creative community, from the stage to our seats, with an emphasis on community building. Some were explicit while others were more subtle, but the message throughout was clear and consistent: we work in increasingly fragmented environments and, for the digital creative class, there is power in shared cultural touch points that transcend digital and celebrate the physicality of community in the real world.

What did I learn? See my takeaways below. If you’d like to chat about any of the topics in more detail, drop me a line!

Ryan Carson
CEO & Co-Founder, Treehouse

“Start with the end in mind.”

Develop your various personas (i.e., husband, friend, leader, son) by setting a personal mission statement for how you’d want each to be remembered in your absence. Next, write down the attributes that you’d like to be said about each one should you be able to view your own funeral. By setting aside just 20 minutes each week to develop actionable items that will help turn these hopes into reality, you will develop in ways beyond imagination. Ask for honest feedback from your close contacts and work relentlessly towards meeting your soft goals.

Kristy Tillman
Design Director, Society of Grownups

“Invite yourself to the table.”

It’s important to recognize that the best opportunities are usually not the ones presented to us on a silver platter. Instead, get out in the world and create opportunities without asking, or waiting, for permission. When doing so, simply keep the following in mind and never give up:

  1. Welcome surprises.

  2. Suspend disbelief.

  3. Prepare for moments of failure.

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Tristan Walker
Founder, Walker & Company

“Screw content. Context is king.”
To reach the widest possible audience as marketers, we must focus on understanding and context around our creative solutions. The key to Tristan’s success? “I’m willing to ask ‘why’ six times, where others will only ask five.” Another interesting tidbit to consider: Black culture (drives) American culture (drives) global culture. Can we accept this as being true? If so, why isn’t more attention given to supporting the culture where global ideas are being germinated?

Jason Fried
Founder, Basecamp

“Fall madly out of love with ‘the process’ every few years.”

Take a fresh look around and stop protecting the past. Only by tearing down the past can we pioneer the future. This means that if you don’t like the way your new business presentation flows, or maybe you are tired of the standard proposal process, change it! There are no rules. Soon enough, if successful, your method becomes the model for others to follow. Someone needs to take the reigns every once in awhile, so it might as well be you.

William Deresiewicz
Author, “Excellent Sheep

“Everybody wants to be a fucking artist!”

If you are not an artist, stop pretending to be one. Instead, find those with vision and help them bring it to reality. With this approach, everyone wins. Recent advances in the technology and tools have made the ability to create easier than ever before. However, only a relatively select few put in the time and have the creative instinct to do something remarkable. Find those people and prop them up!

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Scott Belsky
Founder, Behance (and of the 99u Conference)

“Life is just time and how we use it.”

Focus on optimizing the value of your audience’s time. Every product will either help us save or spend time. “We fight to save time and are seduced to spend time… at all times.” How to create value? Doing trumps showing trumps explaining. Also, remember to stay grounded. To do this, you can develop a strong personal perspective by asking people to tell you what they think you should stop, start and continue doing. “Nothing extraordinary is ever achieved via ordinary means.

Dan Mall
Director, SuperFriendly

“Consider offering an apprenticeship at your creative firm.”

An apprenticeship is fundamentally different from an internship. Learn more about Dan’s approach here and replicate it if you can. Why? Because we need to increase the pool of talent from which to draw new energy into our creative fields.

Effie Brown
Executive Producer, Project Greenlight

“It’s all about progress, not perfection.”

Effie riffed on the age-old advice that the journey is more important than the destination. If you keep the following tenets in mind as you traverse the unknown, you will undoubtedly come out the other side with a stronger sense of self and appreciation for the process:

  1. Know thyself.

  2. What and why: question underlying motivation.

  3. Don’t be a dick. No one wants to hang out or help ’em.

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Cap Watkins
VP of Design, Buzzfeed

“Pretend you are already where you want to be.”

Echoing Ryan Carson (“Start with the end in mind), Watkins advises: “Don’t fight every fight.” Admitting that you are not zero percent nor 100 percent on every position will build trust with collaborators. If you are more selective with your battles, the ones that you are passionate about are more likely to end in your favor.

Jennifer Daniel
Graphics Editor, The New York Times

“Stop viewing your career path as linear. Instead, think of it as a cumulative experience.”

Failure has been fetishized. Design is a service industry. The future is unpredictable, but if you keep a positive attitude you will be much more likely to find your tribe and thrive.

Yuko Shimizu

“Money or respect: what matters to you?”

Yuko tells us that, “Once you become a professional, stop looking for influence within your own field. This will only serve to make you a better copier.” I had not thought of it this way before. Originals, by definition, do not copy. By looking for inspiration in outside, even unrelated fields, you may find the highest-quality thought-starters imaginable. This being said, it is important to consider the role of spec work through the lens of “you have to show what you want to get.” Spec work isn’t so bad if it requires creating something you already want to do for your own satisfaction.

Tobias Frere-Jones
Founder, Frere-Jones Type

“Chase moments of confusion.”

Critique bad work in order to gain insight without bias. By reviewing good work, you will simply learn how to copy. Bad work can be torn apart, and, from the wreckage, we can gain clarity and insight. The easy answers are not usually the best answers.

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