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Why We Joined the Specialty Food Association (It’s not just because we love food!)

We recently joined the Specialty Food Association (SFA), a trade group that represents the specialty food industry. Sure, we LOVE to eat and are always on the hunt for new foods and beverages to fall in love with, but the decision to join was actually in an effort to further educate ourselves on all aspects of the industry, increase our company’s expertise in the specialty food packaging realm and in turn, give us the ability to help more clients realize their success.

Why We Think It’s Important

We’ve been familiar with the Specialty Food Association for many years, learning about their importance in the industry back when we worked in house for The Fresh Market. Their sofi awards – think the Oscars of the food world – have been informing grocery buyers and and industry professionals of innovative and trending products in the current market for the past 46 years. We remember helping with the submission that would lead to The Fresh Market’s 2011 sofi award win for Outstanding Specialty Food Retailer Award. There was also the bi-annual buzz throughout the office when the buyers and executives would prepare for SFA’s Summer and Winter Fancy Food Shows and return with tales (and sometimes samples!) of exciting new products and trends they experienced at the show.

When we set out on our own to establish Buttermilk Creative as the premier specialty food and beverage packaging design agency we already understood how essential keeping a pulse on the industry is to the success of our clients. Since the launch of our business we have attended several food shows throughout the year each year, including SFA’s Fancy Food Show. However, this spring we took it a step further by becoming official card carrying members the Specialty Food Association! Woo hoo!

What Our Clients Stand to Gain

While we appreciate all the warm fuzzy feelings associated with being a part of this organization, we also recognize that this is a great asset for our clients and the enhanced services we can offer them. We will continue to annually be in attendance at the Summer Fancy Food Show. In 2017 the Show featured more than 2,600 exhibitors, with representation from 57 countries around the world and showcasing more than 180,000 specialty food products. The Show is the largest marketplace in North America devoted exclusively to specialty foods and beverages. These shows provide us with an opportunity to see the near future of specialty food and beverage, meet the makers and founders, connect with many of our clients and stuff our faces with some of the most amazing food and beverages (we told you we love to eat)!!! Yet the true highlight is that we are able to observe what is trending in the marketplace in all areas of packaging design including advances in sustainable materials, cutting edge printing techniques and diverse interpretations on what resonates with shoppers (plus we geek out on a lot of amazing packaging design!). We also gain new perspective on the challenges and struggles unique to the specialty food and beverage world and learn how we can help alleviate these hurdles for our clients.

Yet the true highlight is that we are able to observe what is trending in the marketplace in all areas of packaging design including advances in sustainable materials, cutting edge printing techniques and diverse interpretations on what resonates with shoppers

Becoming an SFA member also allows us to become further immersed in the community as well as get in the inside track of the industry. We hear about every policy update, headline, or cutting edge trend. That means we can build on our knowledge and continue to speak specifically to our clients needs and opportunities that relate to production, consumer trends, shopper insights, and learning about overall strategies that will help drive sales and lead to their success.

Here’s to more knowledge, more connections, more food and of course the most success for your brand!

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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 | 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

A Case for Packaging Redesign

The start of a new year gets everyone thinking about fresh starts. We set resolutions to exercise more, eat better, and other general improvements to our health and lifestyles. So what about brands – specifically those who have physical products? Should they be thinking about refreshing their look? We think so – read below to learn about when it’s time, what you should be thinking about, and see some real world examples from our client’s whom we’ve helped or are currently helping hit the refresh button.

When It’s Time

There are a few factors that go into determining when it’s time for a packaging redesign.

One is timing; if you are a fairly young company who’s had products out there for around 5 years or less you likely have the same packaging you launched with. Think about how much your company has changed over that time. So shouldn’t your packaging design follow that same trajectory? If you have a more mature company that is established and your products have been on the shelf for 10+ years then you can also use the 5 year rule. If you haven’t taken a hard look at how your packaging is performing on the shelf recently (or ever!) then resolve to go through that process soon -sales could be at stake.

Relevance is another. Whether you are established or fairly new it’s always good to have a pulse on what your competitors and the general market are doing design-wise and measuring against what you’re doing. Trends come and go and you should be wary of jumping on any bandwagon – however – there could be callouts, certifications, or an overall design shift worth noting and adjusting to. As new product offerings become more familiar the general public becomes more savvy and marketing copy, names, etc. might need to change to respond.

Efficiency is the last factor. Printing technology is an ever evolving industry and service. It’s always good to ask around and see if what you’re doing on the material side of things still makes sense. If you have pressure sensitive labels have you crunched the numbers between digital and offset printing to make sure you’re hitting the most cost effective minimums? If the numbers make sense, digital is a great way to run smaller quantities, or easily add special effects to your labels for instance. A redesign can also help simplify your assembly/production line by helping you rethink the way you are currently putting everything together or propose different packaging options.

Who have we helped or are helping redesign?

Most of the clients we’ve been with from the very start, but a few of them have come to us for help in redesiging their packaging. Below is an example of a redsign case hitting the shelves as we speak. The other two are currently going through the process, so we can’t share everything right now, but we hope to give you insight into how we’re working through both projects.

Re-Define
The team at Fire Cider have been at it making their tasty tonics since 2010. We started working with them reimagining their main packaging vehicle – the labels on their iconic amber boston round bottles. As we researched the competitive landscape and applied our best practices in packaging design we still needed to keep in mind that Fire Cider already had a strong, distinct look and quite a cult following. But we also knew there were areas we could improve around helping them standout on the shelf, highlighting their unique ingredients, helping shoppers quickly understand the product, and appealing to a broader and larger audience of retailers. Our redesign reorganized the label and focused the main content onto a colored badge in the middle of the label. Each of their flavors now have a color associated with them to help spotlight them on the shelf and help shoppers differentiate between their favorite tonics. We also worked closely with Fire Cider to provide space on the label for more concise storytelling, selling points, and conveying to the shopper what the tonic tastes like. The new labels are slowly hitting the shelves and getting great feedback so far. We’re excited to hear how this redesign will help Fire CIder grow their business this year. But don’t take our word – read Fire Cider’s press release announcing their new packaging here.

Re-Energize
After a devastating hurricane season last year, Virgin Islands Coffee Roasters are ready to refresh their packaging and reboot their brand. Since 2012, VICR have packaged their delicious coffee in kraft bags. At the time, it fit their handmade, artisan, rustic feel. But for their redesign we are looking at a few different, more colorful bag options that not only better embrace where their business is today but that also function better on the production side. Speeding up the bagging process for their employees not only means getting their delicious coffee out to more people faster but also drives down their labor costs. For the redesign we’re drawing inspiration from the bright, vibrant colors found in the caribbean, which we are experimenting incorporating into the various coffee labels. We’re also looking at including custom illustration inspired by the tropical wallpaper prints by Dorothy Draper. The spirit and resilience of the team at VICR is also inspiring as they set up their new roastery & tasting room in south Florida and continue to clean up the original roastery in St. Thomas. That’s all we can share for now – but stay tuned for the finished work.

Re-Imagine
The makers of TruAde came to us with a need to help breathe new life into a heritage brand. We first started researching the history of the brand to find any clues or elements we can use in the redesign. We loved the look and feel of the vintage TruAde advertising and marketing materials. Below you can see some of our favorites. As we looked over the materials we honed in on the star as a design element which could bridge the old and the new. The redesign encompasses multiple sizes, substrates, and containers which pose different challenges as we reimagined the new designs. We also had to figure out how to differentiate between several flavors. The original TruAde was very colorful, so we knew we would capitalize on that tradition as we put together the color palette for the brand. As we speak all of the files are off to the printer and should be launching soon. Once they hit the shelves we’ll be sharing the full redesign so stay tuned. For now we can share a little snippet of the new logo along with some of the historical reference we drew on for inspiration.

Redesigns can help your brand redefine, reenergize, and reimagine. They are a natural part of your company’s life cycle and should be taken into consideration as your brand grows.

Is your company interested in a redesign? Feel free to reach out to Andy or Nicole to chat about the project.

The Bird & the Brew: Virgin Islands Coffee Roasters Case Study

Occasionally we’ll share an in depth look into our work we do for clients. For our first post we’ll shed light on the packaging and logo redesign for the Virgin Islands Coffee Roasters.

Starting from Scratch

Our work with Virgin Islands Coffee Roasters actually started with an exploration into redesigning their packaging. But as we talked with Ramsey Smith, President & Co-Founder, we figured out that before we could work on packaging, we needed to create a new logo.

After researching ways to represent their unique island setting without clichés, we landed on the simple line art illustration of the Bananaquit, a common bird found all over the Virgin Islands. After digging deeper we learned that it also belongs to the Tanager family of birds, an important part of the coffee plant ecosystem.

Our first goal for the new logo is to be more relevant to the heart and soul of the brand and its unique location. Our second goal is to create something that can compete with the highly competitive current coffee category leaders. We felt the old logo was too limiting visually and typographically. The new logo features a unique and ownable typeface and iconic mark that is recognizable enough to appear on various materials, with or without the wordmark.

It’s in the Bag

As we finalized the logo we started working with the whole team at Virgin Islands Coffee Roasters to start brainstorming new packaging options. We had a few objectives we had to keep in mind:

  • must be sustainable & compostable
  • needs to be relevant
  • should to perform well on the production line.

We kept all of these in mind as we worked in the studio and on-site with the team prototyping options. We explored different layouts, materials, and structures as we honed in on the solution that worked best.

New Packaging

Our final packaging solution for Virgin Islands features a simple kraft square bottom gusseted coffee bag with a clean but dramatic narrow and long label that wraps around the front, top, and back of the bag – effectively sealing the bag. Three different sizes were created to accommodate the variations in product weights, all while keeping the look consistent.

The new packaging managed to preserve the brand’s hand-crafted feel but gave it a more sophisticated and eye-catching feel. VICR’s coffee is sold on crowded island grocery store shelves so we wanted to create a design that could stand out just about anywhere. The light label stock against the brown kraft bag creates engaging contrast, and the pop of yellow from the bananquit creates even more interest.

How Buttermilk made it better

“Since we launched the new logo and Packaging we’ve continued an 80% growth year over year.  

The new logo allowed us the flexibility to use it across the board in many mediums for customers signage, our merchandising and also expand our reach into creating our own brand identity.

The packaging was a large scale undertaking that increased our retail sales and opportunities well into the 100% year over year mark.  Packaging is a forever changing and very competitive market and having the ready to go support from Andy and Buttermilk allows us to stay ahead of the game.”

– RAMSEY SMITH, President & Co-Founder, VIRGIN ISLANDS COFFEE ROASTERS

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!