I almost didn’t make it, but thanks to the kindness of a friend, I attended BlendConf 2013 where I gathered some great takeaways I’m happy to share here.
BlendConf 2013 was a three day conference running from Thursday, September 5th – Saturday, September 7th with workshops on the first day and the conference on the last two. Since I work a 9-to-5, week day conferences are a challenge for me. Real work has a higher priority, and I need to balance spending vacation days on QT with friends & family and other interests. Plus, by the time I heard about BlendConf, I had the remainder of my 2013 vacation days already planned out, so I wasn’t originally thinking I’d be able to attend.
However, when my friend offered me her conference ticket since she couldn’t attend, I decided it was fate telling me to go. I also compromised by only going to the conference and not purchasing a workshop (Thursday) ticket. Though, I think the workshop was sold out anyways. This was a popular conference before it even started!
The entire event was wonderful from start to finish. I can’t believe Bermon put this whole thing on by himself! Anywho, I loved all the speakers who presented before, during, and after the sessions, but I’m going to stick to blogging about my key takeaways for this post. If you’re interested in reading more about BlendConf I’ll post some links for you at the end of this post.
The conference featured three tracks that you could switch in and out of from one presentation to the next. The options were: User Experience, Design, or Development. I ran into a similar problem as I did at Charlotte Startup Weekend where I initially felt a little like I didn’t quite fit into any of the three options. But, the schedule had links to descriptions of each presentation where I could read more to see which presentation sounded most relevant. Fortunately for me, I had no trouble finding options to attend, and I even struggled a couple times choosing between some where a clone would have been good so I could attend both at one time.
I’m going to keep my following takeaway notes short and sweet. All of the presenters had different styles and personalities, but I enjoyed them all. Many covered quite a bit of information, but I’m highlighting the things that resonated most with me in this post.
Path to Polymath (From Glider to Gulf Stream)
My first session, presented by Ben Vandgrift, was the most memorable for me. Before the conference, I had no idea what a “polymath” was. Since then, the term has been added to my list of words regularly used. In fact, I’ve learned that I’m an aspiring polymath. Who knew?!
- “You are not your job” – Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club)
- Definition: poly·math noun \ˈpä-lē-ˌmath\ – someone who knows a lot about many different things (source)
- Leonardo Da Vinci was an intentional polymath – moving from one subject to the next on related topics for a main goal
- Ben Franklin was an opportunistic polymath – moving from one subject to the next on not-necessarily-related topics
- I used to think being interested in many things was a problem – perhaps an issue with focus
- Now I think that if you’re interested in many topics and like learning and mastering different skills, then that’s not necessarily a bad thing – maybe you’re an aspiring polymath, too
- Polymaths are cool
Become a Better Designer with Side Projects
Since side projects and hobbies often rule my life, I was really interested to hear what Tim Smith had to say in his session. He covered a lot of ground in his talk, but here are some of my favorite points.
- If you’re not learning what you want to at work, tackle a side project to learn it
- I used to think side projects could be considered a bad thing by a company since they could potentially cause conflict
- I learned that side projects aren’t necessarily a bad thing from your company’s POV as they can make you more valuable and grow your skill set
- Side projects are also a great way to help people and make new friends
- Side projects are a great way to “Push the limits of your knowledge” and get out of your comfort zone
One of the sessions that pushed me the most to actually do something (like create this blog?) was the one led by James White. This session was also one of the most entertaining and energizing thanks to some rockin music and engaging graphics.
- Be fearless
- You don’t need clients to do the work you want to do
- Don’t let money replace passion
- Build your own reality
- You don’t know where stuff will go if you don’t put it out there
- If you want to do something, just do it – share it online – you never know who will see it and appreciate your talent
Selling Your Design Without Much Bravado
Mindy Wagner‘s presentation felt the most relatable to me since it was about working with clients, and I work with clients all the time as an IT consultant. She covered a lot of great topics, but I was especially interested to hear how she handles feedback. The angle is more for graphic designers, but I think the ideas can be applied to most client interactions in some way.
- Teach your client how and when you want feedback
- Clarify what’s up for evaluation and what type of feedback you want
- Try a “soap opera setup” – review and recap – sort of like how at the beginning of a soap opera, it does a quick summary of what happened in the last episode
- If something is unclear or ambiguous (“Don’t use green”), then dig for clarity (“Why not green”) or get down to the problem (“It sounds like the problem you’re trying to solve is ______”)
- Respond with authority (not defensively or emotionally – this could impact their impression of you as an expert)
- And here’s an all time favorite that I actually learned in college that Mindy shared, too: This or That – give two options you can live with to head off power struggles (seriously – do this)
Hungry for more? You can check out the official BlendConf 2013 Wrap Up page by clicking here where you’ll find a video recap and links to most of the presentations and other conference recaps. A huge thank you to Bermon for putting together such a great event. I’ve already purchased my ticket for 2014 and am looking forward to it!