9 Themes from How Design Live to Inspire Creative Thoughts


Our Creative team was very grateful to have the opportunity to attend the HOW Design Live conference this year in Chicago. For those of you who may not know, this is one of the top design conferences for creatives. We wanted to share some of the common themes we noticed throughout the conference, as well as our overall experience and some recommendations.

Future Forward

This year was focused on future forward. As designers we have an opportunity to make change in the world, it's up to us to decide how we want to use our power. We can keep doing things the same way they have always been done or we can make changes, use our innovation and creativity to make the world a better place.

Along with the idea of future forward, we saw a lot of common trends at this year's conference.


Design Imposter

"The psychological experience of believing that one's accomplishments came about not through genuine ability, but as a result of having been lucky, having worked harder than others, or having manipulated other people's impressions, has been labeled the impostor phenomenon." Psychotherapy Volume 30, Joe Langford, Pauline Rose Clance, Georgia State University

Most designers feel like an imposter in our industry, even when it is not justified.

Lisa Congdon, an illustrator, shared that she has no formal art background and did not start on an artistic career until much later in life. At first she thought this made her unworthy of her success but in the end she found the path she took was her strength, not a weakness.

Stephen Gates hit it right on the head with identifying all designers as one (or more) of five type of design imposters; the perfectionist, the superwoman/man, the genius, the individualist, and the expert. He notes that it's important to "identify, understand and own your imposters."


Not only does creativity rely on change, but also designers should embrace the new, and work through it in the most positive way we can. As a creative person, we can empower others and support creative courage.

Experiment and Be Weird

Not only do your best ideas come when you least expect them, they also come when you find your passion and take time to experiment. This makes what you do that much more enjoyable. And, surround yourself with things that interest you, you never know what will spark your next idea.

"Create a 'safe space' for your team member's freakiest ideas."
— Christopher Ayers, as this builds great creativity and culture.

Another great quote was "Your creativity should never be limited. Creative ideas happen when we are bored and in our own thoughts." — Jocelyn K Glei

Clear Your Mind

This should come as no surprise but we need to unplug. Downtime is extremely important for the creative mind so you need to find a "meditation method" that works for you, and it does not need to be traditional meditation, it can take the form of running, swimming, yoga, etc...


Failure IS an Option

Failure is inevitable. The best of the best designers and their designs fail, and that is OK. It can be really hard for us in our creative industry to accept this advice, but honestly if you can't fail, then you can't succeed.

"Those who take chances are rewarded and those who don't are rewarded by safety."
— Amy Brusselback

"Give yourself permission to slip and take risks." — Beth Comstock

Along with failure comes uncertainty, and that uncertainty can make us less likely to take risks. We need to understand that it is OK to not be certain about things. Embrace that and take the risk anyway, that is the only way to make change.

"If you sign up to make a change, you sign up for failure" and it’s important that when you fail, fail forward. — Wieden + Kennedy

And remember, to fail you need to first put yourself out their for others to see. Invite critiques in and see the value of having a team of people around you to share in your failures…and your successes.

Truth, Confrontation, and Controversy

"The human connection is just as threatened by bad peace as it is by bad controversy."  — Priya Parker

As uncomfortable as confrontation makes most people, we can't grow as humans without it. Find opportunities to create good controversy. Speak the truth because it's OK to be uncomfortable and have confrontation.

"You have to get comfortable being uncomfortable." — Stephen Gates

Take Care of You

"Success does not equate to happiness or good mental health." — Timothy Goodman

It's important to take care of yourself. Be honest when you are struggling and might need help, and if you feel comfortable enough, share that struggle with others. When you speak out you might help another person realize they are not alone.

Go Plastic Free

"We are a world drowning in plastic." — Karen Welman. As designers, we have the one tool to solve this problem...our imagination.

There were several sessions that touched on how "future forward" means addressing our use of plastic. We can't just leave it up to the consumer to recycle; we need to use our power as designers to find solutions and alternative options if we want to save the planet from being overrun by plastic waste.

Exhibit Hall

If you're thinking about attending this conference in the future, I highly recommend building in time to visit the exhibit hall. This is the time to take it all in…paper and print samples, inspiration, notebooks, and lots of ideas.

  • Experience stations: There were quite a few of these throughout; from screen printing our own t-shirts at Real Thread and notebooks at the Accent Opaque, to engraving on-site, and taking photos/gifs at the Sesame Street booth camera.
  • Stock up on paper samples for future projects, whether it's paper books or sample sheets with cool effects (metallic and white inks, foil, embossing, etc). The awesome part of these is they are nicely designed and really showcase the effects you might be looking for.
  • Other booths were available for demos, like our very own storefront solutions (S4 MRC), creative software companies, and digital collaboration tools.



Some of you may follow us on Instagram already, but if you didn't see it, our designers took over our story throughout the week at the show. These are now highlighted on our page. Check it out!

About the author

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Christine Edgren

Christine Edgren

Christine is the Creative Director at Suttle-Straus with more than 18 years of design experience, 16 of those years with Suttle-Straus. Her background includes agency and in-house environments working on everything from brand development to painting a life-size cow for CowParade Wisconsin. Christine enjoys collaborating with clients on a variety of projects, seeing them through from concept to completion. Her passion for typography, design and unique papers led her to also teach aspiring designers at Madison College. Aside from her love of design, she enjoys being outdoors all year round with her family.
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Topics: Design