altitude design summit 2013: the thing about going to conferences

The courtyard of the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City, where the ALT Summit is held every year.

So, I'm back from my third Altitude Design Summit, and I can unequivocally say that it was my very favourite one.  It was great for the usual reasons:  the venue was, as always, incredible; the speakers were friendly and informative, and the attendees were even more open and generous than ever.  I had a great time giving my session, for reasons that are entirely due to the audience being so incredibly kind and engaged, which always makes speaking a joy for me.  (Aside: thank you so much to those of you who attended, it was lovely meeting you!)  It was a great time.

But that's not the real reason this was my favourite.

The real reason that this ALT Summit was so awesome was because it reminded me that conferences like these can be a real godsend. For those of us who work alone, the real value of these conferences doesn't always happen in the sessions and workshops and classrooms, but in the moments in between:  the new connections that are made, yes; but also the strengthening of relationships of old friends and colleagues.  The ability to view the work of people who are in industries related to yours, and the inspiration their beauty can bring.  The genesis of surprising collaborations.  And perhaps best of all, the brainstorming sessions and seeds of amazing ideas that can sometimes spontaneously come from what was supposed to be a simple coffee or glass of wine together.

And so for this, I'm so grateful to everyone I was able to spend time with during this conference, but most especially my roommate Laurie Smithwick for the late-night gab sessions, the always charming and searingly-smart Stacey Ferguson for the laughs, and the shockingly insightful Helen Jane Hearn, who, while hiding with her in her suite one early afternoon, came up with the idea for what I think will be my (finally!!!) second book.  I've returned so completely jazzed about my year ahead, and I owe the three of you big for that.

And now, to the photos:  I didn't shoot many this go-round, but these are my favourites that I did manage to capture.

This is Stefan Sagmeister.  If you are a graphic designer, you probably shrieked with delight at that last sentence.  If you're not a graphic designer or are otherwise unfamiliar with his work (like I was), then from what I understand, he is to graphic design what Annie Liebovitz is to photography:  arguably one of the most (if not The Most) influential graphic designers currently alive.  His work and his talk were at once incredibly charming and undeniably shocking, and I fell deeply in love with him.  He has done several TED talks, but this one, on his 7 rules for more happiness, most closely mirrors his talk at ALT.   It was really quite the coup for ALT to get him to come speak, and I, for one, am so thrilled they did.

This is Stefan Sagmeister.  If you are a graphic designer, you probably shrieked with delight at that last sentence.  If you're not a graphic designer or are otherwise unfamiliar with his work (like I was), then from what I understand, he is to graphic design what Annie Liebovitz is to photography:  arguably one of the most (if not The Most) influential graphic designers currently alive.  His work and his talk were at once incredibly charming and undeniably shocking, and I fell deeply in love with him.  He has done several TED talks, but this one, on his 7 rules for more happiness, most closely mirrors his talk at ALT.   It was really quite the coup for ALT to get him to come speak, and I, for one, am so thrilled they did.

My dear friend, ALT Summit roommate and graphic designer, Laurie Smithwick, listening to Sagmeister speak.  Laurie introduced Sagmeister to the crowd, a task which she was wildly honoured and humbled to do, since she has been an avid fan of Sagmeister's throughout her career -- he is her "hero," as her daughter put it.  Watching Laurie prepare for her introduction, and then, wonderfully, incredibly, share coffee for several hours with him and his fiancée afterwards was one of the joys of my conference experience.  Because witnessing a friend experience a transformative life moment always is.

My dear friend, ALT Summit roommate and graphic designer, Laurie Smithwick, listening to Sagmeister speak.  Laurie introduced Sagmeister to the crowd, a task which she was wildly honoured and humbled to do, since she has been an avid fan of Sagmeister's throughout her career -- he is her "hero," as her daughter put it.  Watching Laurie prepare for her introduction, and then, wonderfully, incredibly, share coffee for several hours with him and his fiancée afterwards was one of the joys of my conference experience.  Because witnessing a friend experience a transformative life moment always is.

One of the slides from Sagmeister's presentation.  He has recently created a documentary and an associated art installation on happiness.  The film should be finished editing by the end of the summer, and will hopefully be submitted to film festivals soon thereafter; I seriously hope I get to see the final, because the 12 minutes he shared at ALT was wonderful.

One of the slides from Sagmeister's presentation.  He has recently created a documentary and an associated art installation on happiness.  The film should be finished editing by the end of the summer, and will hopefully be submitted to film festivals soon thereafter; I seriously hope I get to see the final, because the 12 minutes he shared at ALT was wonderful.

Sagmeister has a habit of taking 1-year sabbaticals every 7 years or so, where he travels somewhere far away (like Bali), and takes no new clients, simply using the time to rejuvenate and experience life.  This slide explains what he has found the benefits of this practice to be.

Sagmeister has a habit of taking 1-year sabbaticals every 7 years or so, where he travels somewhere far away (like Bali), and takes no new clients, simply using the time to rejuvenate and experience life.  This slide explains what he has found the benefits of this practice to be.

How Sagmeister measures success in his life.

How Sagmeister measures success in his life.

Laurie on the last day of the conference.  Her leggings made me happy, so I photographed them.

Laurie on the last day of the conference.  Her leggings made me happy, so I photographed them.

This is Britney, of BtanJerine.  I mentioned that I didn't take many photos on this trip, and Britney and I had never met before, but I thought she had the most amazing face, so I practically accosted her in order to take her portrait.  I'm so glad I did, because she's radiant.  (She's also a jewelry designer, and you can buy her designs here.)

This is Britney, of BtanJerine.  I mentioned that I didn't take many photos on this trip, and Britney and I had never met before, but I thought she had the most amazing face, so I practically accosted her in order to take her portrait.  I'm so glad I did, because she's radiant.  (She's also a jewelry designer, and you can buy her designs here.)

This is Katie Sokoler of Color Me Katie, and if I've never linked to her blog before, allow me to take this moment to apologize to both her and you, since I've been an avid follower of hers for years.  I guarantee her bright, sunshiny blog will add an instant shot of joy to your day, and I'm happy to report that her site mirrors her soul.  A lovely young woman.

This is Katie Sokoler of Color Me Katie, and if I've never linked to her blog before, allow me to take this moment to apologize to both her and you, since I've been an avid follower of hers for years.  I guarantee her bright, sunshiny blog will add an instant shot of joy to your day, and I'm happy to report that her site mirrors her soul.  A lovely young woman.

Gabrielle Blair and Sarah Urquhart, the creators of the ALT Summit, taking a moment to breathe at the end of the last day of the conference.

Gabrielle Blair and Sarah Urquhart, the creators of the ALT Summit, taking a moment to breathe at the end of the last day of the conference.

Thanks to Gabrielle, Sarah, and everyone who made a point of connecting with me at the conference at some level -- it was such a wonderful time because of you.  And incidentally, if you, like me, work alone or with a small team, I can't recommend enough the benefit of finding a conference in your industry to attend -- it can really rejuvenate you work and your business.

And if your business is art, design or photography, I'd strongly recommend the ALT Summit.  A lovely, intimate, inspiring little conference, no lie.