When fellow-NMC designer Lenny and I traveled to the Creative South conference last April, we had no idea what to expect. Neither of us had been to a design conference before, we knew no one but each other, and we were extremely nervous. We just hoped to gain an ounce of new inspiration and meet a few new people.
We ended up leaving the conference incredibly excited, and creatively recharged. Lenny even described the conference as life-changing, and all of our design projects since have gotten exponentially better.
We’ve since been to a few more design conferences, but vowed to return to this one every year. So what makes this conference so special? Why is this the one design conference you have to make it to this year? Here’s a list of everything that makes this event so great:
What blew my mind last year was the incredible level of speaking talent that this conference offered. Not only did I get to hear some huge names in the design world like Signalnoise and Aaron Draplin, but I wasn’t let down by a single session I listened in on. My only complaint from last year’s conference was that I didn’t get a chance to hear every speaker since there were three sessions going on at once.
This year’s speaker list looks like it won’t disappoint. There’s a diverse group of speakers ranging from creative director Allan Peters, illustrators Justin Mezzell and Justin Pervose, hand-letterers Mary Kate McDevitt and Sean McCabe, photographer Helena Price, a panel from the Focus Lab agency, and many more. While many of these speakers will be at other conferences and events, it’s pretty rare that you can hear from the most talented people in the industry all in one place. In addition to having a great list of speakers, organizers took everyone’s scheduling feedback into consideration and got a bigger and better venue this year to accommodate the entire conference at once. This year, speakers are scheduled one at a time, so there’s not need to worry about missing someone’s talk you’d love to hear!
One of the biggest perks of Creative South is the $80 ticket price, which is the cheapest ticket I’ve ever found for a conference of this caliber. Any of the big design conferences with a similar (or worse) speaking lineup will run you between $250-$2,000 for a ticket. Tack on the cost of airline tickets or gas to travel there, hotel stay, and food and drinks, and you’ve spent as much on a 2-3 day trip as you would to put a down payment on a car. Thanks to some handy work from the conference organizers and sponsors, you don’t miss out on many of the perks from one of the more expensive conferences. There’s still the awesome speaker line-up as mentioned above, a great venue, mixers, and a swag bag full of design goodies.
While I personally could hear someone talk about their career path and portfolio all day, it’s also good to leave a conference feeling like you learned a few skills that you can immediately apply to your work. This year, Creative South is hosting a series of workshops the day before the conference (also at a very affordable cost of $125 per workshop). Like the speakers, the workshops cover a wide range of topics from type design to block printing (both of which I’m taking!). Based on last year's talks, I know I’ll leave this conference inspired and energized, but it’ll be great to come home with some new skills in my toolbox as well.
Columbus, GA is one of those towns you never plan on going to, but are glad you did when you get there. It’s an incredibly charming town filled with Southern hospitality, beautiful surroundings (it’s right on the Chattahoochee River), and cool old renovated mill buildings with hand-painted signs that just add to all the inspiration you get from this conference. The town is small, so small everything’s centered around one main street, so you’re bound to run into others from the conference while walking around or going to dinner.
Not only is the town small, but the conference is kept at an intimate size. Last year, only about 200 people were in attendance. Because the conference is on the smaller side, I had the chance to meet almost everyone who attended, personally talk with most of the speakers (without waiting in one of those crazy lines at the front of the room after they speak), and make a lot of new friends I could rely on to give me feedback or support on new design projects. Based on the size of other conferences I’ve been to or heard about, it’s rare that you even get the chance to build these type of relationships with others in your industry.
Plain and simple. Creative South is a fun event. It’s relaxed and everyone is friendly – which is great to know if you are attending a conference by yourself. There are great mixers where you can talk with other attendees and speakers and listen to live music (Lenny is actually playing at one of the mixers this year!). There are also lots of fun little touches and events, such as communal drawing boards, live typography and illustration battles with other designers, and a skateboard deck design competition. While it’s definitely a priority to gain some new skills an inspiration at a conference, you’re also spending an entire weekend there – it may as well be fun!
Have we convinced you yet? There’s not another conference out there that will give you so much bang for your buck. We are so excited to attend this year, we’ve been busy getting things ready for the event. We recently helped Lenny launch his new personal portfolio site, and he’s been screen printing and creating posters and other goods to sell (which if you like the illustrations featured in this post, you’ll have to stop by his merch table to see what he’s done with them!). We can’t wait to see what new inspiration, skills, friends, and energy Creative South 2014 brings us.