Lunch with a Speaker – Christopher Chapman

Christopher Chapman

Tuesday I was supposed to take part in a roundtable lunch with a speaker. I signed up to dine with illustrator Eleanor Grosch. After meeting with the other six designers at the table (including the infamous “other Kelly Anderson” from Sports Authority) we started to eat our sandwiches, then our side dishes, then our desserts. Over 20 minutes in and Eleanor Grosch still hadn’t showed up. Finally, one of the event organizers came over and apologized that our speaker hadn’t showed up and invited us to go to another table. I decided to head two tables over to a speaker who had one guest and an assortment of TOYS! I couldn’t pass up the opportunity, so I sat down, soon followed by the rest of my former table.

Our new speaker was Christopher Chapman, an in-house designer who worked for the company in charge of making merchandise for the Disney Store and the theme park gift shops. He was speaking at the In-Howse conference, which was why I hadn’t heard of the session he was having later in the day.

Despite working for a company like Disney, Chris’s challenges were similar to most other in-house designers: designers not being involved as early in the process as they should be; clients trying to design for them; trying to defend and expand the brand.

Chris’s solutions to his problems were very proactive. He recommended always involving the client, so they feel as so they are a part of the process, and they will be more likely to support and defend the final design. This also allows you to make changes earlier in the process, which saves significant time and effort on the designer’s part.

His next big idea was to educate your client. You can do so in a very straight-forward manner, or, my favorite option, give your clients design books for Christmas presents. He recommended Orbiting the Giant Hairball as a great gift for a new marketing manager or other business person who doesn’t understand the value of design and the design process.

Finally, he also pointed out that sometimes your client is right. It hurts the pride, but take a step back, look at the suggestion as if it had come form another designer and then decide if it’s a valid point. Just because your client didn’t go to art school doesn’t mean they can’t recognize a flaw in the design.

Overall, it was a great lunch, and I found myself actually happy that Eleanor hadn’t shown up. Chris gave everyone at the table a Vinylmation Micky toy (I got the Godzilla Micky) and some great recommendations for further reading on in-house design.

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IdeaSelling – Sam Harrison

“If they birthed it, they can’t kill it.”

Sam Harrison is the author of ideaSELLING a book for creatives to improve their presentation skills to clients. His session was on how to survive and successfully sell your idea pitch to a client. His ideas were deceptively simple. While they are most relevant to agencies, they still apply to in-house designers.

  • Understand your client. What does your decision maker do on Saturday night? Where does he/she sit on the buyer’s bench? Why should he/she care?
  • Ask the right questions. Open-ended questions are always better than “yes/no.” Your last question before exiting should be: “What else should I be asking you?”
  • Involve your decision makers. “If they birthed it, they can’t kill it.” If they feel like they own it, they’re less likely to be defensive, and more likely to buy in and be excited about your idea.
  • Understand the business. It makes for better concepts, and your knowledge will show when you present.
  • Know the room. Know where you’ll be presenting. Have a feel for how loud you will need to talk, where to set up, whether people in the back will be able to see you.
  • Practice. Practice. Practice.
  • Avoid handouts. But have leave-behinds.

Harrison’s 5 Big Secrets

  1. Have 1 theme or big idea. You should be able to say it in one breath. It will make your pitch more focused, and you more confident.
  2. Have a strong start. Open with a story, a question, a fact, a quote, your objective, or with a some straight talk.
  3. Use simple language. Keep it short and sweet. Reduce, round, relate.
  4. Paint pictures. Help the decision maker visualize your idea, help them see your ideas as reality.
  5. Add drama. Use drama if the decision maker appreciates it, you understand your decision maker’s wants and needs, and you know you have credibility.

And finally, Harrison recommends you remember to prepare to close your pitch. Don’t buy it back. End it simply, strongly, and firmly.

I have purchased the book ideaSELLING, and if you’d like to check it out, it’s in the Graphics area.

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Make Stuff – Mike Perry

Mike Perry is a designer and artist, best known for his work with American Outfitters. He is an avid creator of zines and his style has greatly influenced the graphics community. His presentation was more of a show-and-tell than anything. When it came to giving advice and answering audience questions, he was amusing, but not very helpful. When asked by a designer she could do to become inspired, he actually recommended she smoke pot. In a more serious tone, he did point out that a lot of his success has come from hard work and his constant need to keep actively creating stuff. If you have time, check out his web site.

Some examples of Mike Perry’s Work

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Developing a Personal Style – Eleanor Grosch

Eleanor Grosch is a freelance illustrator who is known for doing flat, colorful illustrations, primarily of animals. Her session was on developing a personal style. A great deal of her discussion was about how she has had to overcome criticism about her style, which is apparently similar to an artist famous in the 50’s. Grosch posed the question for artist faced with similar criticisms to ask “what am I bringing to this style?” She also showed a great deal of her work. I checked out her web site and I personally think she had some stronger pieces online.

She gave out a handout with questions to help you uncover your personal style.

  • What did you do as a child? Did you draw/paint/build?
  • What kind of music do you like? Fun/somber/instrumental?
  • What are you drawn to most? Color/shape/texture/line?
  • Which typefaces do you think are attractive? Script/sans-serif/serif/thick/condensed/extended?
  • Which other designers/illustrators/painters/sculptors do you like best? What is it about their work do you enjoy?

Some examples of her work:

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Color Trends by Pantone

Yes, Mutual of Omaha may already have a color palette, but I couldn’t resist checking out the color forecast session hosted by Pantone. Our speaker opened by discussing what influences the trends in color. Here’s a quick summary of a few of them:

  • World Events such as the World Cup, BP oil spill, Olympics
  • Movies such as the turquoise used in Avatar, or the black and gold of the Oscars
  • Retro Style because to young people, everything old is new
  • Fashion and Jewelry
  • Technology such as high definition televisions allowing greater, bolder images and color
  • Interior Design

The Summer 2011 Color Forecast

Sublime Form

Inspired by the exuberance of natural forms as seen in botanicals and flowers. Confident, intense and luminous. The combinations are vibrant and outgoing and reach out into the use of complementary colors – those that are opposite each other on the color wheel.

Sublime Form Palette


Neutrals programmed into a palette of pales. Using in combinations with a group of mid-tones in rose, mauve, and blue helps to “solidify” the pales, while deeper tones of green, brown, black and blue add weight and divide the lights and darks into a strong contrast.

Programmed Palette


A family of mid-tones and a deep shade of green add a more understated and muted presence. Shades of ashy purples, mauve, tourmaline and withered rose are sophisticated and quiet, equally divided between warm and cool tones. These hues have a vegetable dyed appearance, organic and natural. Mixes are often very “rooted” in appearance, underscored by brown or sand.

Branching Palette


This palette also uses grounded browns, russets, umbers and taupes. But it also uses a pulsating excitement with the addition of dynamic reds and flambee pinks topped by burnished metallics of bronze and gold.

Balance Palette


This palette that works off neutrals in the gray family and a deep graphite blue. It relies primarily on the excitement of the hotter hues of yellow, orange and fascinating juxtaposition of texture, light and color.

Focus Palette


The Pantone session held a lot of great insight into where color has been and where it is going in the next months. If you’d like to check out the palettes yourself, they are saved as an InDesign document on Universal Share in the graphics folder and is titled “Pantone Palettes 2011.”

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Brainsqualling with Stephan Mumaw

Stephen Mumaw in his nun's habit to remind us that "creativity is a habit."

What could be better first thing in the morning than listening to a 6-foot tall guy in a nun’s habit and making crafts with Play Doh and pipe cleaners? Stephen Mumaw, co-author of Caffeine for the Creative Mind led a session on how to get the most out of brainstorming. His two main points:

  1. Creativity is a habit
  2. Think before you think

Sister Stephen gave some very practical tips to help with group brainstorming sessions:

  • The ideal number of people to include is 5-7. More than 7 and no one will speak. Less than 5 and you won’t get enough variety and input.
  • Don’t surround yourself with other you’s. Variety of opinions is important, so go ahead and ask someone from another department to join in.
  • No pop quizes. NEVER call someone to a meeting to start brainstorming immediately. Always give notice, preferably a week.
  • Value time. Give yourself and team members plenty of time to come up with a great idea.
  • Start the fire with a creative match. Try starting a brainstorming session with a creative exercise to get everyone in the right frame of mind.
  • Leave the judge at the door. Don’t allow negative feedback and comments in an initial brainstorming session. You need bad ideas and good ideas to get to great ideas, and negative comments will silence all ideas.

In between brainstorming tips, the group got to try some creative exercises. The first was to build a Colorado Sasquatch made of the random craft materials on the table, working in groups of three. The next exercise was to build an amusement park ride for a bug, also out of the materials on the table. The final exercise was to design your ideal desk if you had infinite resources to do so.

Our group's Sasquatch was a mountain biker who loves to drink Fat Tire beer (made in denver) and he only eats organic hikers.
Our team's ride for a bug is the PLUNGE OF DEATH, a rollercoaster that ends with a flume ride into a toilet.
It took little prodding to get the designers to get creative with the supplies.
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Inspiration: You Are What You Keep

Gail Anderson

Former Rolling Stone art director, Gail Anderson explains how projects she did for herself influenced her work later on as a creative. Five things inspire her: Illustration, Obsession, Nostalgia, Magazines, and Celebrities.

Illustration. Gail has many illustrations of herself and others that all bring out different qualities. She often uses these to inform her later work. Illustrated books she read as a child made her want to illustrate, to do what these other people were doing.

Obsession. One of the most interesting things she collects are various obsessions. For example, she began filling her school notebook covers with tiny, very complex images and words. As a designer, she used this idea and what she learned about form to make very complex covers and story designs at Rolling Stone.

She also goes through phases of collecting things like salt and pepper shakers and bottle caps. Often, she will use these as literal points of inspiration for her work. Her Type Designers Club annual featured many bottle caps from her collection and a magazine cover she did utilized a large letter she had in her collection.

Nostalgia. As stated before, she gains inspiration from many of her childhood books and records, especially the ones with illustrations on them.

Celebrities, especially Michael Jackson. She made scrapbooks as a child of the Jackson Five and of course Michael Jackson. She would lay out cut out photos and write her own captions and headlines. This scrapbooking helped teach her about layout and the relationships between objects on the page.

My Reaction

Although entertaining and containing interesting slides, Gail Anderson’s presentation did not seem to connect as well to the audience. Was she stating that we should all start collections of stuff? How specifically can we gain inspiration from our collections or other items? The others may have other opinions, but I left feeling like I’d seen something neat, what drives one particular accomplished person, but found little in terms of practical application to my job.

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Keynote Address: The Inspiration Continuum

Andy Stefanovich kicked off the evening with a terrific keynote exploring five points on what he calls the “inspiration continuum,” a recognition that inspiration requires rigor and different inputs to fuel different types of thinking. These points are:

  1. Serendipitous
  2. Recreational
  3. Abstract
  4. Targeted
  5. Cultural

Serendipitous refers to unplanned disruptive connections that turn out to be pretty good. He gave the example of his wedding where a minute before it was to begin, his uncle stood up and told everyone to get to know each other. At first, he and his soon-to-be wife were thinking disaster. Now their families go on vacation together. “Authenticity is the new celebrity of today.”

Recreational is intentionally releasing the mind from routine. It provides the fuel to see things differently. He takes a sabbatical every five years where he is able to reset his mode of thinking and discover new things because he is looking at the world differently when he is away from work. Some of our best ideas come when we’re thinking about something completely different.

Abstract refers to collisions and connections between various ideas in your head. For example, some Disney creatives took a trip with him to the Hollywood Cemetery where they began to reflect on a life well lived. They were there to gain fresh insights on a virtual theme park for 13-year-old boys. They ended up concocting an amazing plan to send them to the moon that the executives actually bought into.

Targeted is to think in terms of what your point of view is—how do you change the world in a way that is different from everyone else? Most executive chefs stand near the exit to the kitchen to see the food going out. Thomas Keller, a widely regarded executive chef of French Laundry among others, stands instead to watch the dishes coming back in. He wants to see how people reacted to his food.

Cultural is when the inspiration becomes a way of life. After family and faith, what is your center, your passion? And more than that, what is your passion in action? What are its attributes, pieces and parts? He told the story of the man (whose name I have forgotten) who is responsible for much of the rebirth of European newspapers. He did it by placing solid design at the center. People began to hang them as posters and contributed to making them a part of culture.

All in all, he is a tremendously energetic presenter. His mind would rapidly fire between various related tangents, although he always managed to bring them all together. How can we use this to intentionally pursue greater inspiration?

After the talk, the resource center opened up and we were able to get a first look at the various vendors. A good ending to a good first day.

Crowd waiting to get into the resource center, HOW Conference 2010
Crowd waiting to get into the resource center, HOW Conference 2010
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Setting Out…

The trip begins with network problems. For some reason, my computer is having trouble bringing up the airport’s free wifi. In any case, I’m looking forward to a great trip ahead, but especially these sessions:

  • Good vs. Great Design: A Reprise by Cameron Moll.
    Cameron Moll has been quite influential in my career and I think this session will be a terrific follow-up to a session that others heard last year.
  • Why We Brand, Why We Buy
    We are the “Brand” Department, and I believe this session will help uncover what types of things we can do better both as a department and as a web team
  • Don’t Go It Alone: Using Collaboration to Solve Creative
    Design Problems
    I really want to learn more about working collaboratively both with other Brand people and our clients. I expect this session to give me some ideas on that.
  • Current Web Design Trends and How to Use Them
    I am guessing this session will cover CSS3 and HTML5, two subjects I’m quite interested in learning about. It may also include subjects on emerging design trends online.

Interesting Article

The “MyMidwest’ magazine has a short article on Jeff Slobotski of Silicon Prairie News talking about Big Omaha which brought together Gary Vaynerchuk, Jason Fried (37signals), Jeffrey Kalmikoff (Threadless and Digg), Matt Mullenweg (Automattic) for this year’s event May 13-15. Personally, this sounds like an amazing and accessible conference that several people, especially we on the web team, might be interested in attending.

The article also mentions Jun Kaneko, an Omaha artist who founded the “creative library” in the Old Market. Has anyone been there? Personally, I’m quite interested in seeing what this is about.

Let me know if there are questions you’re wanting to know about.

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