On Saturday, Win, Crystal, and I represented Papercut at TopCon. Held right here in Chattanooga, TopCon is an independently organized design conference that takes its name from the word “toponymy,” the word for the study of places and their names. This was the inaugural conference, and it was exciting to have such a unique and highly anticipated event right in our own backyard.
The conference was founded on the idea that “good design should function as an investment in community,” and event organizers brought together three designers to share some inspirational thoughts for Chattanooga’s own community of creatives:
A native Chattanoogan, Robbs left the Scenic City when his career took him to MailChimp in Atlanta. He now lives in New York City and works for Kickstarter. It was really cool to learn about his experience at MailChimp and get some insider info on the process behind the design of the MailChimp site, which really struck a chord with the community and has influenced designers across the country. He spoke about the importance of consistency and simplicity when designing for the web and “delighting” users.
Lydia Nichols, an illustrator who works for Pixar and Chronicle Books in San Francisco, spoke about finding your voice as a designer. I really loved how she said that creative people look at the work of other artists and designers but that they shouldn’t try to copy their style because it can prevent them from finding their own voices as creatives. To summarize her presentation, others can influence or inspire you, but in the end, your work should reflect your own voice.
The final speaker was Aaron Draplin of Draplin Design Company in Bend, Oregon. I remembered seeing an article about him on The Great Discontent before attending the conference. He seemed like a pretty cool dude, and I was interested to hear what he had to say. Little did I know, he was going to blow my mind.
I’m going to break his talk down into a few very important themes:
1. Love what you do. Draplin continually spoke about his love for his job and how it has allowed him to provide for his family and himself. We are pretty lucky to be in an industry where we get to be creative every single day, whether you are a designer solving interface dilemmas (like me) or a backend programmer getting to solve a complicated functionality issue. We get to be creative in the way we think, and that is pretty dang cool.
2. Crutches. Designers use a number of excuses (creative blocks, non-designers that don’t understand design, etc.) when we feel we can’t do a project or when our work isn’t what we wanted it to be. These are all crutches, but we need to look at them as dilemmas we can SOLVE. We are creatives, and our job is to create good design, even under circumstances we might not be able to control.
3. It isn’t always about the money. We are professionals, and we certainly need to make a living. However, we can take the time to use our design skills to help others who truly need it. Sometimes, the most rewarding projects are those that come with no paycheck at all.
4. Appreciate the originals. Draplin showed a few slides of simple, classic logos and symbols he’s found over the years by digging through what others considered trash and paying attention to road signs while driving across the United States. As a designer, viewing older work can be a humbling experience because you realize how much patience, precision, time, and skill went into creating the design in a world before computers and Command + Z. We know the designers we learned about in college and the ones that are featured on our favorite design blogs, but we should never forget the unknown designers who got no fame but created much of the work that surrounded us years ago and influences so much of what we see (and do) today.
Draplin is the man. I have been lucky enough to see a few speakers throughout the years, but I believe this guy was born not only to design but also to speak to others about his passion and offer inspiration. He’s passionate about design, living life to the fullest, and thinking about the actions you take each day. His core thoughts and ideas easily translate to anyone who hears him speak. I wish I could do a better job of articulating just how great his presentation was, and I would highly recommend seeing him if he is anywhere near you! If you want to learn more about his thoughts on design, check out his blog.
I think I speak for Win and Crystal as well when I say that I really enjoyed TopCon. The speakers were truly inspirational, and it was wonderful to have the opportunity to interact with other local web and design professionals. Chattanooga might not be the biggest town in the world, but it has a diverse community of creatives who are invested in creating good design and helping the city retain its pool of design talent.
To the folks who organized this event, congrats on a job well done. There was a great crowd, and I think everyone there was enthusiastic about the conference and what it means for the design community in Chattanooga. I feel very lucky to call Chattanooga home and to be a part of the passionate community growing here.
I’m already looking forward to TopCon 2014. See you there!