HOW Could 4000 Designers Be Wrong?

Without the dingdingdingding of slot machines clattering in our brains, we were able to formulate some coherent thoughts about this week’s HOW Conference, the largest annual gathering of designers in the country. You can read full coverage of HOW 2006 here.

Great general sessions. We were big fans of the design-based mainstage speakers (juggling, not so much), who had admirable careers and offered a good range of entertainment and education.

Otherwise, obvious content. Besides the superlative presentation skills of some speakers–and Ze Frank, who should have been a main-stager–the response we had to most presentations was “Duh.” Most information seemed a little too introductory for it to be useful.

No sessions on sustainability. In the Age of Al Gore, it was embarrassing not to see a single way for attendees to learn how to practice design more responsibly.

HOW is in the house. The in-house designer, new freelancer or student are the real winners at this conference, mainly because all the sessions are divided into categories which service those who seemed to be starting out, isolated within a larger corporate environment, or working alone:
– HOW to convince other people of the value of design.
– HOW to stay inspired and motivated.
– HOW to acquire new technical or design skills.

Advanced social skills. In an informal UnBeige poll, 4 out of 5 HOW attendees said the main reason they come to the HOW Conference is for “the people.” For many of these attendees, it seems like this is their only chance to really feel like a part of a design community, so they go nuts. But we don’t think we want to see designers getting quite so excited about hanging out with other designers. It makes us uncomfortable.

Don’t get us wrong, conferences are designed for drinking. But we were looking for a bit more substance to counterbalance the substance abuse. If you’re looking for the frat party of design, HOW delivers. But if you’re really serious about advancing your critical thinking, it’s time to graduate to another conference.