Working within a small company or team can be isolating. Without exposure to a broader viewpoint, we can miss new ideas and trends that can impact future results. 

Moreover, this is the year the everyone-works-remotely-let’s-all-just-watch-webinars business model became paramount. We have lost the will (time and company budget) to travel outside the cubicle/social media comfort zone and expose ourselves to the real world.

So, per the immense wisdom and nudging of my dear colleague and Ignite 360’s COO, Lisa Osborne - I boarded San Francisco’s inbound L train on Wednesday, June 14 at 8:30 am. My destination? The 2017 VMA Conference. A full-day event featuring stories of design across all media and promising inspiration and practical strategies delivered by some of the industry’s most creative thinkers…with breaks for cookies.


The cookies were good; the content was mind-blowing.


5 Stories about Storytelling (Neil Stevenson of IDEO)

Neil Stevenson of IDEO - perfect storytelling through example

Neil Stevenson of IDEO - perfect storytelling through example

Yes, I would probably listen to a talk about pincushions if it was delivered by someone at IDEO – but they don’t do that. The global design and consulting firm expertly dispatches speakers who effortlessly match inspiration to audience.

Mr. Stevenson led us through a perfect example of how to present a story – through example. He was vulnerable, smart, funny, and left my jaw hanging open while my fellow audience members excitedly reached for their cell phones to snatch a photo of the punchline to his presentation… STORYTELLING IS A MISLEADING TERM. THE REAL ART IS STORY SPOTTING.

What it reinforced: Having a mountain of research, data, and insights is only the beginning. You need to be able to look through the mass, spot the connections and reveal the story.


Tall Tales from a Large Man (Aaron Draplin of The Draplin Design Company)

Aaron Draplin presenting is a much needed open hand slap to your design conscience - photo courtesy of Kimberly Beck Rubio

Aaron Draplin presenting is a much needed open hand slap to your design conscience - photo courtesy of Kimberly Beck Rubio

Designer or no, if you get the chance to see Aaron Draplin speak – stop everything and go. Just go. In a mere 18 minutes Mr. Draplin re-aligned my creative brain. Through poignant visuals and enough expletives to garner a NC-17 rating, he reminded me the importance of design as part of the larger project.

Best sound bites: “You do not have to be a designer to be a creative force” AND “I’ve been paid 20k for a logo and I’ve been paid with a burrito. Both jobs were worth the experience and can proudly sit side by side in my portfolio.”


Brian Dougherty shares the evolution of the ingenious lightbulb package - photo courtesy of Kimberly Beck Rubio

Brian Dougherty shares the evolution of the ingenious lightbulb package - photo courtesy of Kimberly Beck Rubio

Challenged with packaging a lightbulb with an (at the time) unheard of $30 price tag – Celery Design wins the award for thinking “about” the box. Brian Dougherty explained that the solution started with developing a package that turned into a lampshade and evolved into a design partnership that yielded a cult lighting brand for their client.

Take away: allowing design to disrupt product development can deepen your brand experience.


The power of a well-chosen conference (aka 3 BIG Reasons You Should Attend a Conference in Your Field)


Well-chosen conferences will expose you to new information, relevant contacts, and innovative ways of conducting your business that lead to greater productivity. Taking time in advance to research the event to make sure you connect with the content will yield (at least) 3 payoffs. You will:

1.     Learn

Nothing sends a jolt of adrenaline to the brain like learning something new in your field (especially when you think you already know it all).

2.     Engage with professionals that share your passion

Networking happy hours have their place - but industry specific conferences are akin to incredible county fairs filled only with the rides, food, and games you want to consume. 

3.     Discover new vendors and suppliers

Finding partners to help make your next big idea happen is exponentially easier when they are all lined up in one place ready to shake your hand – and meeting face-to-face changes the dynamic for the better.


Yes, our days are busy, budgets are tight, and we can access valuable industry information via the Internet or our inboxes. But, the truth is, breaking free of your bubble and human-to-human connections are more important than ever. It is the people and in-person experiences that deliver the ROI to your time spent at a conference.

Have you been a to mind-blowing conference or event lately? Share your experiences with us on FacebookLinkedInTwitter or Instagram.