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Made in the Middle 2016: Words of Wisdom from the Conference

Kristi Wire


Three members of Epicosity's design team were able to attend the recent Made in the MIddle Creative Conference in Kansas City, Mo., where topics ranged from building effective company culture to good design habits to tips for producing excellent creative work.

Here were just a few of the highlights of the sessions and workshops at the conference.

Challenge the norm

Ann Willoughby of Willoughby Design touched on the importance of trying things a little differently than you might be used to, even when it comes to company culture. She talked about her beginning years in the advertising industry as being "a lot like an episode of Mad Men." So when Willoughby opened her own agency, she made a point of hiring 60 percent women and 40 percent men, with client work focusing on the female demographic. Challenging what's expected has harbored a healthy work culture for her company.

Be relentless

MIg Reyes of Trunk Club offered up a presentation entitled "Burn Your Business Cards," emphasizing the notion that "you are more than your title." He related an anecdote from his own experience of not being allowed into his college's animation festival because of his status as a design student. So, instead of accepting defeat, he learned AfterEffects in five days, entered an animation anyway and landed in the festival. That same project got him attention from a variety of agencies post-college. Sometimes ignoring assumed parameters can have lucrative effects.

Embrace whimsy

Maura Cluthe, formerly of Hallmark and a designer, provided conference-goers an illustration workshop in which she explored the fundamentals of patterns and textures, or, as she put it, "going back to basics." It outlined the ways in which seemingly basic shapes transform into full-fledged designs - all designs start from a fundamental place. She encouraged designers to "create a beautiful world" around themselves by continuously drawing and sketching on a regular basis. Your design aesthetic will grow and evolve the more you excuse yourself to play and experiment.

Check your privilege

Jennifer Daniel of Google's UX Design division spoke about the importance of knowing your demographic and gaining some perspective while marketing. She explained that the inclusion of women and minorities in focus groups and leadership roles is critical to getting the most accurate perspective of your consumer base. She provided an example of Apple's latest product launch - a Caucasian woman was on hand to demonstrate the Apple Watch's Chinese langauge function, rather than having a native Chinese speaker demo the feature. Focus on your key demographics, and check your privilege - there might be a more apt perspective to tap into.

A special thanks to fellow designers Amanda Connelly and Reva Graves, who contributed to this article.

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