If you’re like any of us on the design team at Caddis, you’ve never been to a design conference before. Not that we’re opposed to it, we’d just never been presented with the opportunity. That changed recently when we hopped in a rental car and drove southbound to Columbus, Georgia, for the 2016 Creative South design conference. Upon returning home, the takeaways are nothing short of informative, inspiring and rejuvenating. If you’re someone who puts your head down, works hard and puts in the time (but may need a recharge), this one’s for you.
The Caddis Way
To give you a little perspective on what design looks like at Caddis, it’s quite simple. For starters, there are four of us here cranking out the work (mostly web design) to hand off to a baker’s dozen of in-house developers. We also do a good amount of traditional print work, branding, photography and packaging for clients. I will be the first to say that the people I work with and the culture we’ve created sets the bar pretty high. We all love working together as well as the work itself. But let’s face it, sometimes you get sucked in, right? In the movie Twister, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character would call it “The Suck Zone.” At some point the work begins to pile up, even if just in your mind, and you sit there with bad posture day after day telling yourself, “If I stare at this Sketch file long enough, this website will magically create itself.” If this is you, even slightly, you're off balance. You’ve lost your creative center and you need to find it again. Turns out our team found it where the peaches grow in the good ol’ city of Columbus.
With only a small amount of tickets left, we made the decision. We were going.
For us, it almost didn’t happen though. Like I said, when you’re all in the zone working away, something like a design conference five hours away that you know very little about isn’t much of a priority. But some things were happening – whispers that grew to audible voices around the office of this actually happening. And I’ll be darned, with only a small amount of tickets left, we made the decision. We were going.
Southbound and Down
A week or two later we piled into the rented Camry and were on our way with only our meager expectations as to what we were in for. The word “conference” alone is enough to make you think “Apple Key Note” or “networking,” which is good and all, but this was something else. This was like the grandma’s peach cobbler of design conferences. I’ll explain in a moment...
Night One: All The Things
The first night was nothing short of a blast. We had actually missed the opportunity to participate in any workshops because we were actually driving during the first day of the conference. However, our general admission covered the next two days of talks and panel discussions. We did make it to the the kick-off party on the pedestrian bridge in “uptown” Columbus where we enjoyed free food, drinks and awkward moments. Ultimately, we met so many great people that night. The evening was stacked with music, tacos, pork sliders, popsicles, drinks and terrible dance moves (except for mine of course, which were on point). It was a great icebreaker for the weekend and got all of us excited for the next two days.
Within the Walls of the Springer Opera House
Friday morning, we had our sights set on the Springer Opera House, one of the coolest most funnest places ever!!! most beautiful and historic places in town where the remainder of the conference would be held. It was an amazing building with marble floors, beautiful interiors, ornamental mirrors, pictures, paintings and so forth. The combination of architecture and aura was amazing: a palpable balance of natural light filtering through the windows and a tungsten glow in the old dark hallways or the interior bar with stained glass windows. On one end was coffee, pastries and the Master of One podcast, on the other was what we called “the swag shop,” where some of the most talented designers I’ve ever seen had their vendor tables set up selling countless goodies. Should I talk about Draplin now or later? Let’s not forget in this same area is where 26 amazing designers and artist’s went head to head designing custom letters in Type Fight. All in all, the event had already served up a plethora of delights that would satisfy most design minds and that’s not even including the lectures.
...it's something you won't get unless you make the effort to go.
A Recipe for Southern Hospitality
Now, back to grandma’s peach cobbler. The thing I found very non-conference about the experience was its warmth. There was something welcoming from start to finish that we probably wouldn’t find at other conferences, especially ones that cost more to attend. This is from the lips of a handful of people we met that have been to other conferences. This one stands out for them. Let’s face it, the reason is because of the people. I don’t know if it’s just the geographic location of the South putting everyone in hospitality mode or what, but every single person that we talked to treated us with kindness and gratitude, including the rock stars. What we found too are the types of people that we were able to really identify with, that do what we do, or what we want to do, and that validation is valuable to any creative person.
So now what? For us, we’ve come away with a lot of information that can inform our process at Caddis. Specifically, our web design process and ways to make that effort a little (or a lot) more seamless. We also just got inspired, really. It’s nice to see people out there killing it everyday and having a positive attitude. It’s also good with that many speakers to see the diversity of work from person to person. It’s a reminder to try new things and to stay curious and truly “creative.”
Most of all, we just can’t wait for next time.
Check out everyone who spoke at this year’s conference on the Creative South website.