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AIGA: “Head, Heart, Hand” Conference Report

Abby Brown, Junior, Advertising Design Major

As I got off the plane at the Minneapolis airport, I couldn’t help but feel nervous. Even though I had been to an AIGA conference the year before, I knew I was in for a totally different experience. I had heard such amazing stories from national AIGA conferences, so I didn’t hesitate to register for the Head, Heart, Hand conference. I did, however, hesitate to register for the round table sessions, the workshops, and the portfolio review. I was only a sophomore in college at the time, and I was certain that I lacked both the pieces needed to put together a decent portfolio, and the confidence to present my work to other professionals. Despite my fears, I signed up for everything I could and hoped that by October, something would change.

The fears I had earlier in the year were still present when I got off the plane, were present up until the first day of the conference. Luckily, we had the pleasure of hearing Maria Giudice, the director of product design for Facebook, speak during the first session of the conference. She asked us, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”, and it immediately resonated with every emotion I had. I think that a lot of young designers, students in particular, spend a good chunk of their time and energy into being afraid. We pour our energy, time, and sanity into our projects, and ultimately we’re terrified that someone bigger and better will rip them to shreds. It’s so easy to be intimidated by better designers, but when Maria reminded us to be courageous, I decided to try and let go of my fears for the next few days, and it made such a huge difference.

Taking a more open approach to the conference made my experience so much better. I felt like I could emerge myself into what each speaker had to say. Scott Stowell taught me that I need to pay attention to my surroundings, and to never deny possibilities. Nicole Jacek taught me to pursue my dreams, even if it means flying to another country and forcing your way through closed doors. Paulina Reyes taught me that there can be a balance between personal and professional life. As I heard each designer share their personal stories, I was incredibly inspired by their passions, struggles, and pieces of advice. It reminded me that design is so multi-faceted; it’s made up of people from different backgrounds with different things to bring to the table. Each speaker was talented and passionate in their own way, and each had struggles in their past that they had overcome. Once again, I was reminded that even talented, well-known designers had to start somewhere, and there was no reason for me to shy away from learning from such inspiring professionals.

As Friday evening approached, I was still incredibly nervous for the portfolio review. I was preparing myself to expect the worst; that people were going to come through and pick apart my work. I knew it would be a learning experience, so I tried to take Maria’s advice and put my fears aside for an hour. I’m so thankful I did, because it was a wonderful experience. People were much kinder than I had expected, giving constructive criticism instead of snarky. I loved sharing my work with people from all over the country, learning from their different backgrounds as designers, educators, and students. I eventually got the hang of it, and became confident enough to come out of my shell and really stand behind my work. The highlight of my night was when I caught the attention of Michael Bierut as he was about to leave, and I was able to present my work to him and get some feedback. It was amazing to be able to learn from and talk to such an influential designer, along with everyone else who looked at my work. I was pleasantly surprised by how the review went, and I would highly recommend it to any young designer who wants to improve their work and their presentation skills. As it turned out, there wasn’t much for me to be afraid of after all.

As a design student, the Head, Heart, Hand conference was incredibly inspiring and an amazing learning experience. Minneapolis blew away my expectations, and I loved the budding design scene that was evident all over the city. Looking back, I’m so glad I never gave into my doubts and fears, and I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to explore Minneapolis and meet so many spectacular people.