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Travel

5 Things to Do When Attending the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York

We’re New York City bound for this summer’s Fancy Food Show! Are you? Do you want to go somewhere new while in town for the show? We wanted to share five of our favorite places to visit when we’re in NYC. Try one or a few of these hot spots while you are in town––we promise you won’t regret it!

We would love to meet up during the show and chat about how we can extend your on shelf presence. Click here and we will reach out to set something up!

1. Thea Grant

Whether you are looking for a unique gift to bring home, want a one-of-a-kind statement piece of your own, or want to be inspired––head to Thea Grant in Brooklyn. This charming design-and-lifestyle store is family-run by a talented husband and wife team and offers high end, handmade jewelry and intricate metal pieces. They specialized in uniquely beautiful antique and estate pieces that tell a story, you never know what gem you will find. We could not leave without purchasing a custom stamped brass keychain that they made right in front of us.

BONUS: While in DUMBO, make sure to check out mexican hot spot Gran Eléctrica. We love their fresh eats and unique cocktails, especially on a hot day in the city. If you’re feeling adventurous, sample a few of their speciality tequilas and unwind while dining al fresco.

2. Two Kids and a Dog

While in Brooklyn, stop by Two Kids and a Dog at the Pearl Street Triangle. We stumbled upon this sweet children’s store when searching for the perfect authentic (yet fun) souvenir for our son––a NYC garbage truck toy that was a HUGE hit! The store is perfectly curated with unique toys, children’s clothing, gifts, and speciality items.

3. New York Water Taxi

Looking for a different way to explore the city? Head to the water! The New York Water Taxi to be exact. This is the perfect way to see different parts of the city and its surrounding areas, especially if you are short on time. We suggest buying an all day pass to explore and stop along the way, then hop back on and venture to another part of the city. Our favourite route is to go from Midtown/Hell’s Kitchen to Battery Park to view the exquisite gardens, then head over to South Street Seaport for waterside shopping in unique, restored wharfside buildings from the early 1800’s. From there, we like to head to Brooklyn/DUMBO for some more great shopping and good eats. Then, travel back up to Midtown via the State of Liberty and Ellis Island. Pro tip: bypass the long lines to see the Statue of Liberty, and drive by it while on the water taxi. You get super close and stop for about 10 minutes for some quick photo opportunities. The water taxi guides are very friendly and provide a wealth of knowledge about NYC while ferrying around the city.

If you want to explore art galleries, we love to start at 28th Street in Chelsea and snake our way between 10th and 11th Avenues taking in the different art along the way. The galleries are free to enjoy and most are open Monday through Saturday. Make sure to check out this interactive gallery map to see which artists are showing and plan your trip. The last time we gallery hopped, we happened to stumble upon a Damien Hirst exhibit by spotting one of his famous formaldehyde sharks in the gallery’s front window. Cue fanboy/fangirl moment! You never know whose art you will run into. This is a great way to recharge and get inspired by all of the creativity around you.

It’s hard to believe that the High Line was set to be demolished in the 1990’s! During the 1930’s, the city built this elevated freight rail line above the streets of the West Side in response to the dangers of pedestrians walking on the street level tracks. After dwindling train usage, this space became an unused wasteland. Thankfully, the community pulled together to save this now beautiful 1.45-mile public space that is home to over 500+ species of plants and trees. We love getting fresh air along the greenway and stopping for refreshing treats such as an Italian ice or even pop into a local bar for a quick pint.

We can’t wait to see you at the Summer #FancyFoodShow.

Drop us a line and let’s chat about how we can help amplify your brand’s voice and on shelf presence. Click here to learn more about what we will be doing at the conference or use the form and we’ll reach out to you!

 

Wanting to try somewhere new to grab dinner after the show? Check out our 5 favorite places to eat while in New York.

Want to meet up and talk branding?




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Expo Insights: Our Top 3 Trends from this year’s Expo West

Early in March i made my yearly pilgrimage to Expo West, the largest natural products trade show. I go to discover new products, get inspired by innovative packaging design and meet the amazing folks behind some of our favorite brands. Below is a recap and insights of some of my favorite finds – enjoy!

1. Kombucha is still king (or queen)

We saw (and sampled) a lot of the fizzy stuff. What we’re noticing is flavors are getting more subtle and nuanced and the potent “vinegar” reputation have all but gone away. Kombucha brands are innovating and really growing into their own. This is partly to push the boundaries of how we define kombucha but also to differentiate between the insane amount of brands on the market.

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The packaging design of Better Booch is what caught my eye. The colors were very inviting and looked great as a family. As I sampled the flavors they were all quite tasty but my favorite is Golden Pear flavor. I also really appreciate the use of the boston round bottle (a familiar sight in the category) paired with their solid branding.

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The folks at Flying Embers were great to chat with while I sipped on their tasty Ancient Berry flavor of hard kombucha. Their perspective is as millennials become more and more focused on health and wellness (but still want to have a good time). They’re looking for alternatives to beer – enter hard kombucha – a light fizzy probiotic way to get a buzz. Based on the rising popularity of ciders I think they’re onto something. Design-wise I love their can design with the bold foliage illustrations along the top and bottom of the can.

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Wild Tonic was the first hard kombucha out in the market we sampled at last years Expo so it was fun to check in and see what they’re up to. They highlighted their new seasonal selection: Strawberry Blood Orange – super refreshing and tasty. Wild Tonic’s design is very distinctive and recognizable – from their bold logo to their blue distinct bottle.

2. Unique & ownable vessels

As I walked the show I was stopped in my tracks by some amazing packaging substrates. These ranged from little pots containing plant based yogurt to baby blue powder coated bottles. These brands understand that it’s a crowded and busy world out there and if you want to stand out you need to look different on every level.

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Culina Yogurt was by far my favorite product of Expo. I literally was stopped in my tracks when I saw these little crocks that look like pots for plants. Not only does the little pot look amazing and so different from other yogurts, after you’ve eaten the tasty plant based yogurt you can use it as a planter!

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As I approached the Sunwink Beverage booth I was drawn in by the baby blue bottles assuming they were just full wrap labels. However As I was chatting with them and sampling their tasty tonic I learned they were powder coated! They really went above and beyond with this treatment and it matched their minimal flavor illustrations perfectly. I’m not sure how scalable powder coated bottles are but here’s hoping they can make it work.

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It’s hard to top all the great chocolate bar packaging at Expo however Elements Truffles definitely showcased an innovative but also handmade packaging in their Ayurvedic Inspired Chocolate bars. Embellishing each kraft box is a hand stitched fabric label highlighting the item name and a nice little illustration. Having the hand stitched label really drives home the attention given to their products and their specialty nature.

3. Redesigns

Expo is a great time to spot redesigns and new looks launching and a few caught my eye. What struck me about these particular redesigns is the boldness in each – stepping out of their brand’s comfort zone and creating something that is quite exciting.

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If you are a fan of bitters I’m sure you’ve come across Hella Cocktail Co and their bespectacled bowler hat packaging design. I’ve always enjoyed their old-timey barkeeper look however their redesign is a big jump into a more serious, established brand that is an authority in all things cocktail. From their refined chiseled logo to their flexible design system across their family of products the new look is a great upgrade and helps to build their reputation.

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Compostable picnicware is not a category you’d think would be all that exciting – necessary and extremely important- but not super exciting from a packaging point of view. Well the redesign of Repurpose is here to blow all our minds and make us question why we’ve accepted boring packaging from picnicware all these years. Their old packaging was fairly basic and standard for the category, but their redesign features bold colorful illustrations and clever copywriting (Strong as F*rk, Kind to the Earth is the item name for Forks.) Repurpose shows us that you can have asense of humor and save the world at the same time!

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I’ve loved Sir Kensington’s ever since they came out with their dapper packaging and their redesign is paired with the launch of some new products including a line of Vinaigrettes. The redesign focuses the attention on the iconic Sir Kensington with a simple bold blue background, fun ingredient illustrations, and simple clean typography. It’s great to see an established brand with a great personality continue to evolve.

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Our insights from this year’s Expo West | Sustainable Innovation

About a month ago we attended Expo West in Anaheim to walk the many aisles and see innovative & inspiring products. The following posts run through our insights and finds we’re excited to share.

Expo West is one of the largest, if not the largest, trade show for the natural products industry. With over 3000 exhibitors and estimates of 80,000 – 100,000 attendees it can be an overwhelming and claustrophobic experience – but it can also be very helpful and inspiring.

We went this year and spent 3 days soaking up all the emerging trends, innovative brands, and inspiring entrepreneurs who move the needle for the industry. We’re excited to share our insights and discoveries with you below.

Sustainable Innovation

We saw a bunch of neat and innovative sustainable products – both in the products and the materials used. As we learn more and more about how our actions are changing the planet, these products and innovations are going to be more critical and important to work into the packaging we design.

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Remember Tofurky? What used to be a bit of a joke (at least for non-vegetarians) has quietly become a leader in plant based protein innovations. Plus they have a great, contemporary take a vintage 60s era design. Plant based protein will become a larger part of our diets as we move away from the non-sustainable practices of mass farming for protein – and Tofurkey makes it look and taste good!

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Asarasi blew us away with how good their flavored waters are – and then we heard about how the actual product is harvested. It’s a by product of the maple syrup industry. We thought “tree-filtered” was a gimmick, but no way – the water is literally filtered through the trees created a pure, natural resource. The process doesn’t hurt trees, so it’s a sustainable way to retrieve water. We also really liked their subtle design and color family.

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This Bar Saves Lives is an awesome story – combating malnutrition in other countries with each purchase domestically. They recently redesigned and we love the collaged bold use of pattern and color along with flavor cues. These bars have a very serious mission, but on the shelf look like a party and make you smile.

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Bee’s Wrap is probably our favorite product overall from Expo West. A reusable replacement for saran wrap or aluminum foil, it sticks to itself or other surfaces to make little snack bags or save leftovers. Think of how much waste can be saved by just cutting those two things out? The design is very on trend with the natural products industry with heavy use of kraft an subtle earthy colors. The actual product has a nice honeycomb pattern randomly placed which gives it a nice natural look and feel.

Enjoy our other stories from 2018 Expo West:

Our Favorite Finds

Color Stories

Special Printing Effects

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Our insights from this year’s Expo West | Special Printing Effects

About a month ago we attended Expo West in Anaheim to walk the many aisles and see innovative & inspiring products. The following posts run through our insights and finds we’re excited to share.

Expo West is one of the largest, if not the largest, trade show for the natural products industry. With over 3000 exhibitors and estimates of 80,000 – 100,000 attendees it can be an overwhelming and claustrophobic experience – but it can also be very helpful and inspiring.

We went this year and spent 3 days soaking up all the emerging trends, innovative brands, and inspiring entrepreneurs who move the needle for the industry. We’re excited to share our insights and discoveries with you below.

Special Printing Effects

If you command a high premium price for your products, then they better look like it- and with today’s technology specialty printing and materials are well within the reach of big and small brands. We saw lots of interesting products at Expo – here’s a few:

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Omiberry, a subtly sweet sparkling berry drink, captures your attention with a beautiful gold and rose gold foil effect. Also there are mysterious die cut holes throughout the label that make you want to pick the product up and look around it.

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Holy Kombucha takes advantage of foil label printing with nice shimmer on their logo and item name. And even though they have a lot of color coverage the label still shines because of the foil underneath. All of it reinforcing the “holy” aspect of their name.

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Lovingearth chocolate bars utilize embossing to create interesting textures on their products and reinforce the beautiful simplistic illustrations created for each item. The colors are very nice and deep as well. Another great example of actual visual texture that engages the shopper from the shelf.

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K’ul Chocolates go all out for their chocolate bar packaging. From custom shaped boxes and windows, foil printing, multiple types of materials, and a beautiful foil label that seals everything up – the whole experience is rich and gives the shopper an idea of the quality within. We love seeing a specialty company embrace this level of of specialty.

Enjoy our other stories from 2018 Expo West:

Our Favorite Finds

Color Stories

Sustainable Innovation

Our insights from this year’s Expo West | Color Stories

About a month ago we attended Expo West in Anaheim to walk the many aisles and see innovative & inspiring products. The following posts run through our insights and finds we’re excited to share.

Expo West is one of the largest, if not the largest, trade show for the natural products industry. With over 3000 exhibitors and estimates of 80,000 – 100,000 attendees it can be an overwhelming and claustrophobic experience – but it can also be very helpful and inspiring.

We went this year and spent 3 days soaking up all the emerging trends, innovative brands, and inspiring entrepreneurs who move the needle for the industry. We’re excited to share our insights and discoveries with you below.

Color Stories

Color plays a huge role in the decision to buy a product, so it’s no surprise we’re seeing bold, bright colors on a lot of the products featured at Expo West. Here’s some of our favorites:

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UnReal makes yummy, guilt free riffs on traditional snacks like M&M’s. The candy space is very colorful, and UnReal does an amazing job creating a billboard of bold bright colors with striking design to complement. In a world of bubbly letters and swooshy effects, UnReal takes a different design stance, just like their products.

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Sun & Swell Foods is on the other end of the spectrum. Soft, warm subtle colors that evoke their name and origin in Southern California. These colors feel very natural and let your eyes rest when you see them on a shelf of loud, bold snack & energy products.

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Serenity Kids Baby Food takes the high road with their design and color choices instead of falling into the usual traps of baby food design – cartoony, bubbly silly design with bright, garish colors. We love the sophisticated and understated color choices and these will absolutely standout amongst other baby food brands.

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Thunderbird Bars was by far our favorite color story. They do a great job of picking up queues from the natural energy bar space utilising warm earthy textures and then take a complete 180 and throw in a bold neon green. Or they embrace their origins and throw a bold bright Texas flag across the packaging. Each bar has a different vibe and feel, but the thunderbird shape is always consistent.

Enjoy our other stories from 2018 Expo West:

Our Favorite Finds

Sustainable Innovation

Special Printing Effects

Our insights from this year’s Expo West | Our Favorite Favorite Finds

About a month ago we attended Expo West in Anaheim to walk the many aisles and see innovative & inspiring products. The following posts run through our insights and finds we’re excited to share.

Expo West is one of the largest, if not the largest, trade show for the natural products industry. With over 3000 exhibitors and estimates of 80,000 – 100,000 attendees it can be an overwhelming and claustrophobic experience – but it can also be very helpful and inspiring.

We went this year and spent 3 days soaking up all the emerging trends, innovative brands, and inspiring entrepreneurs who move the needle for the industry. We’re excited to share our insights and discoveries with you below.

Our Very Favorite Finds & Discoveries

We always do a ton of research before the show and map out the exhibitors we know we want to see and meet, but there are always folks we discover on the fly wandering the aisles.

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Soma Kombucha, one of the many kombuchas we tasted, is our favorite. The flavors are super subtle and very tasty. Design-wise we are impressed with the gold accents on the label and the bottle is custom – even with a design in the bottom of the glass. We really appreciate all these amazing details.

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The Bitter Housewife is the whole package – bitters bottled in a flask shape with cool retro custom shaped diamond labels. The colors and typography used also have a vintage feel.

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Blume Honey Water was one of our favorite unique products. A subtly sweet and refreshing drink with interesting flavors like Vanilla Citrus and Ginger Zest. We also really like the bee/honey dipper character that appears on the labels.

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Tea Drops is one of our favorite whole package products – cool packaging design and an innovative product. We like the playful, whimsical feel of the packaging which matches the light fun brand personality. The product is very cool – the tea isn’t in tea bags, it’s made into “drops” that dissolve as the tea brews so there’s no waste.

Enjoy our other stories from 2018 Expo West:

Sustainable Innovation

Color Stories

Special Printing Effects

Our insights from this year’s Summer Fancy Food Show in NYC | Trend 3: Revolutionary Redesigns

About a month ago we headed up to the Specialty Food Association’s Summer Fancy Food Show to walk the many aisles and see the best & brightest amongst specialty food and beverage. The Following posts run through our insights we’re excited to share.

Trend 3. Revolutionary Redesigns

Redesigns are big and scary undertakings but when brands decide to refresh it can pay off with better relevance with new customers and an opportunity to freshen up a potentially stagnant brand. We noticed a few big brands going through facelifts and redesigns.

Morris Kitchen:
Morris Kitchen threw us for a loop (in the best way) with their sleek, simple, illustration pattern driven redesign. We’ve always loved Morris Kitchen for their unique take on cocktail mixers and tasty concoctions like Tomato Beet and Citrus Agave. Their old design felt homemade and simple, which fit with the brand’s positioning- but the design update feels fresh and contemporary and will definitely stand out on the shelf. The simplified treatment of the ingredients in each label drives home the fact that there’s only the best inside.

Roland Foods:
Heirloom brand Roland Foods keeps their heritage with a simplified treatment for their wordmark and refreshed packaging design. We love that they were able to simplify the logo but keep the wordmark in place. The new mark will be more flexible across the brand and could introduce Roland to new customers. They really upped their packaging design game as well with interesting photography work adorning their canned goods and amazing bold colors for their sardines, just to highlight a few.  

And not a full redesign…

Bob’s Red Mill:
but we appreciated this new take on presentation within their brand from Bob’s Red Mill for their line of Muesli. We’re used to seeing Bob’s Red Mill products in clear sealed bags with a label and Bob’s smiling face. However those bags aren’t the easiest to work with once opened – plus we felt like there’s a ton of opportunity there for a design refresh. So we were excited to spot this particular update to both the bag and the design for their Muesli. Still staying true to their original look and feel with Bob’s likeness but pulling in new typography with a vintage feel, plus the use of banners as containers for content helps organize the front panel. And the scroll work and filigree elements add a nice homespun touch, reinforces the brands core values.

Read our Trend #1 Post

Read our Trend #2 Post

Our insights from this year’s Summer Fancy Food Show in NYC | Trend 2: Happy Hour Hacks

About a month ago we headed up to the Specialty Food Association’s Summer Fancy Food Show to walk the many aisles and see the best & brightest amongst specialty food and beverage. The Following posts run through our insights we’re excited to share. Below is our Cocktail Kit Trend Insight from 2017 Summer Fancy Food Show

Trend 2. Happy Hour Hacks

Making the cocktail ritual easier has been a building trend for a couple of years now and we love how these brands are putting their spin on it.

Bantam Bevy:
Bantam Bevy, a new kid on the block, attracted us with their great design and tasty flavor combos – Cucumber Mojito anyone? We love all these ready-made cocktail mixes and it’s a crowded field and we’re confident Bantam Bevy will stand out nicely with their bold colors and design. Also – since these bottles look like pieces of art put ‘em out while you’re playing bartender – they’ll be a great conversation starter!

Cocktail Kit 2 Go:
Why settle for just a flask when you can have the whole cocktail? Cocktail Kit 2 Go has everything you need to make classic cocktails (just add alcohol) in a handy business card size. That’s what really differentiates this from the other “Cocktails to go” products – the size is so darn convenient you can bring it anywhere (anywhere it’s legal that is!)

House of Broughton:
House of Broughton Syrups attracted us with their dazzling design and innovative syrup flavors. These will become the home bartender’s best friend because who has the time to make a variety of simple syrups? Not only do these provide a shortcut so you’re not spending the whole party behind the bar, the interesting flavors will give you the best cocktail game on the block.

 

And the best for last:

Swig and Swallow:
Swig and Swallow’s bottle comes half full – just top it off with the exact amount of alcohol for a convenient cocktail. When we sampled their Mojito it was spot on flavor-wise. We also appreciated the fact that there’s just no other product out there like this. The challenge for Swig and Swallow is to let shoppers know the bottle is supposed to be half full and hasn’t leaked out. From what we could tell they had very clever marketing materials around that barrier, but we’re confident once folks try this they’ll be hooked.

Read our Trend #1 Post

Read our Trend #3 Post

Our insights from this year’s Summer Fancy Food Show in NYC | Trend 1: Gourmet On the Go

About a month ago we headed up to the Specialty Food Association’s Summer Fancy Food Show to walk the many aisles and see the best & brightest amongst specialty food and beverage. The Following posts run through our insights we’re excited to share.

 

Trend 1. Gourmet on the Go

Gourmet goodies are not relegated to fancy restaurants any more, which isn’t necessarily a new trend, but we loved how these brands elevated conventional food with tasty results. With more and more folks strapped for time but wanting better, quicker food this trend isn’t going away anytime soon so we’re anxious to see how other brands innovate within trend.

Mac & Son:

Remember Sunday dinners over at Grandma’s house? Home cooking at it’s finest with an array of yummy sides more than likely including Mac & Cheese?  Well Mac & Son makes bagged mac & cheese taste like homemade, with quality, thoughtful ingredients. When we sampled our little cup full it took us right back to those Sunday dinners. We learned that the Mac & Son folks have worked hard to recreate that homemade flavor spending a lot of time developing their recipe and identifying key ingredients that are simple, flavorful but also deliver a hefty, homemade side in a convenient pouch.

Boonbox:

Imagine never having to worry about a filling, healthy, well rounded meal on the go? Forget fast food – Boonbox makes it easy. We loved the fact that Boonbox was so simple, just a container with everything you need – and better yet you don’t have to cook it – just dig right in. Think of it like super powered trail mix. Plus the container is small enough to fit in any type of bag.

Zupa:

Zupa Superfood soup makes sure you get all your veggies in an easy to carry bottle. We need our veggies but don’t always have the time to hang out at the juicer and crank out a cup or two. Plus what’s the right recipe that tastes good but is also healthy? We loved how Zupa delivers everything in a bottle – no excuses for not eating those veggies – even if you can’t sit down for a meal. And forget conventional flavors – they’ve got sophisticated combos like: Beet Orange Basil, Cucumber Avocado, and Tomatillo Kale Jalapeno just to name a few.

And of course we can’t forget dessert –

The Konery:

We think gourmet on the go should apply to all courses. The Konery has dessert covered by making amazingly tasty gourmet waffle cones. With bold and innovative flavors, The Konery’s cones pair nicely with different ice cream flavors and play a bigger part than a standard sugar or waffle cone. They’ve got wild flavors with even wilder cone colors – for instance a deep red “Red Velvet”, a blue “Salted Blue Corn” and our fave: a confettied “Birthday Cake.”

Read our Trend #2 Post.

Unpacking after 99U: Part 2

In our Part 1 post distilling our experience during the 99U Conference, we shared what we encountered around the city and some of the interesting things we saw. Part 2 is all about our conference takeaways.

Day 1

Studio Tour: Verdes

We started the first full day of the conference at a great little coffee shop called The Jolly Goat on our way to a studio tour with Verdes, a small offshoot of the larger studio Mother NY. The folks from Verdes shared with us how to create a common language around expressing our ideas to clients and helpful tools for facilitating the discussion. A super useful topic and content and a great start to the conference.

Conference Sessions:

We made our way back from Verdes down in Hell’s Kitchen to Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center to start the general sessions.

Session 1: Ryan Carson, Treehouse

Ryan Carson shared with us a bit about his unique management and company policies (he doesn’t have any managers and they encourage lots of balance) – all of which came from his realization that we really don’t have very long on this earth so we need to spend it doing important things with the most important people in our lives. Ryan had us imagine who we want at our funeral and what we’d want them to say about us. From there we create a “Personal Mission Statement” outlining our different roles (father, business owner, son, husband, etc.) and check in on our mission statement every week and make sure our lives are still on track.

Session 2: Kristy Tilman, Society of Grownups

Kristy Tilman, in addition to having beautiful and inspiring design work, talked about not waiting to be invited to the table – to just invite yourself. She shared her own experiences where she created her own opportunity based on what she felt was needed in the world and built success around it. This is such an important idea to keep in mind: Don’t wait to be invited! Other folks out there aren’t going to wait for you and the most successful people create their own opportunity.

Session 3: Jason Fried, Basecamp

I was very excited to hear from Jason Fried who created Basecamp. Jason talked about “creative destruction” and really stepping out of your comfort zone, habits, and processes to discover new solutions. He’s challenged his teams with weeklong projects, which keeps everyone sharp but also gets the client to pay faster for example. Creating seasonal change is also important – for instance work 4 days a week in the summer and go back to 5 days in the fall. When the changes come you are refreshed and can look at everything in a different way.

Session 4: Tristan Walker, Bevel

Tristin Walker created a men’s grooming product that rethinks everything we’ve grown used to. His products are simple and refined, both visually and functionally. I mainly was inspired by his company, Bevel’s, packaging design.

Master Class: Scott Belsky, founder of Behance

Scott Belsky spoke about the journey in-between and how to keep projects alive and thriving through every cycle. Scott talked about being mission centric and medium agnostic and really focusing on the core of the project, not letting the medium drive the solution. The playbook changes over the lifespan of the project so what worked at the beginning wont work in the middle or the end so we should be aware and course correct when we need to. He discussed why projects lag in the middle – hint – it’s in our human nature! We learned to make sure we focus on new users as well as existing ones and to step out of our assumptions and step into the shoes of someone who has never interacted with our product or project.

Day 2

Day 2 started with a rainy walk to a cool little event space called Lightbox to hear Brennan Dunn discuss how to optimize our businesses. I popped in a great little coffee shop called Rex Coffee and had some yummy Counter Culture coffee and a tasty Egg & Cheese on Brioche.

Offsite: Brennan Dunn, Double Your Freelancing

This was probably the most helpful and actionable sessions of the whole conference. Brennan walked us through what makes freelancers successful, things such as mindset and knowing that you are equal to you client counterparts, not just a “vendor.” He discussed really easy ways to qualify new clients and how to provide a ton more value to existing clients. We learned about tips and techniques to help uncover the true business problem behind design projects and to become an investment for our clients, and not just an expense.

Conference Sessions:

Session 1: Dan Mall, Superfriendly

Dan Mall walked us through why and how he uses an apprenticeship model at his design studio. This was such an interesting and inspiring talk and I will be exploring ways to create something similar at Buttermilk. The most fascinating thing about Dan’s apprentice program – he only spend 30 total non-billable hours working with the apprentice over the span of the 9 month program. The rest of the hours were spent with self directed instruction by the apprentice or actual billable time on real life design projects. So something that seemed way out of reach sounds very doable for any business owner.

Session 2: Cap Watkins, BuzzFeed

My main takeaway from Cap Watkins was how he started to develop “Designer Principals” at BuzzFeed and those turned into “Leadership principals” because he discovered that really it all boils down to the same thing, no matter what your job or discipline is. He also talked about designing everything, not just design projects and to treat organizations and clients as user experience problems – a very interesting point of view.

Session 3: Yuko Shimizu

Yuko is an incredible illustrator that decided to go into the field later in life. She discussed setting goals really high and to take one small risk everyday. She also shared a lot of work and some of the stories behind it. Very inspirational.

Keynote: Tobias Frere-Jones

Tobias Frere-Jones closed the conference with a discussion about how he arrived at type design and walked us through the details and nuances of redesigning a font to be used in the stock pages of the Wall Street Journal. What I learned is that projects can always use a bit more adjusting and work before they are completely finished, but to also step away from projects for a little while too so you can return to them with fresh eyes.

Closing Party

What’s a great conference without a killer party and 99U was no exception. The venue was incredible – the vestibule of the MOMA and the music was provided by DJ Windows 98 (aka Win Butler from Arcade Fire). I had to keep pinching myself – here I was in this iconic space listening to an iconic artist with all these inspirational folks I’ve spent the last couple of days with. It was such an incredible time.

Parting Thoughts

99U was an awesome experience I will definitely consider attending again next year. I was amazed at how few traditional “designers” i encountered and the wide array of disciplines and people I learned about and met. The speakers and sessions were so varied and everything I learned makes me look at projects and my own work in a completely different way – something I think is invaluable. What makes me even more excited is all the new value and knowledge I get to share with my clients helping them solve their business problems and making them even more successful!