99U Recap

If my first solid week as an Adobe Creative Resident was any indication of how quickly the rest of the year will go, then it’s going to fly by in a heartbeat! Which is a great reminder for me to put my nose to the grindstone every day this year while I have the chance.

Last week, ~1000 creative minds gathered at Lincoln Center in New York to learn and discuss all things creative at the 99U conference. As part of Adobe’s Creative Residency program, we (the residents), are invited to attend. 99U is an online resource, a quarterly magazine for creatives, and a yearly conference. It’s parent company is Adobe, so it was no surprise that founder Scott Belsky, Chief Product Officer of Creative Cloud, helped found 99U. The name 99U comes from the Thomas Edison quote that “Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.”

What Happens at 99U?

This year, the previous residents gave talks and the new residents (me!) helped them out at their sessions. The conference is one of the shorter ones- it was only Thursday, May 10 and Friday, May 11, but it’s packed with inspiration and education. The structure of both days starts with complimentary breakfast, 2 hours of talks on the main stage, lunch, 1.5 hours of breakout sessions, then 1.5 hours of talks. They had 15 speakers on the main stage, and 21 breakout sessions that attendees can choose from. The kickoff party was held at the Eventi Hotel. Unfortunately I was only able to pop in and out of this, as I was attending Adobe’s Creative Jams that night as well. This is where you pick up your badge and bag, have a bite to eat, and network with other creatives.

The Talks

The theme of the conference was navigating creative challenges (“the pivotal pressure-cooker moments”) and how to come out ahead through those challenges. Here are a few of my favorites:

Adam J. Kurtz

My favorite talk of the whole conference, hands down, was raconteur and illustrator AdamJK. His work is an eclectic, sassy, and existential mix of inspirational quotes and illustrations. He left a job at Buzzfeed to write his first book, “1 Page at a time: A Daily Creative Companion”, and now has a product line of equally amusing objects. His whole talk was hilarious- I didn’t stop chuckling! It focused on the importance of personal projects and not waiting for permission to create what you want.

Tea Uglow

Although Uglow’s official title at Google’s Creative Lab in Sydney is the “Creative Director”, she prefers “Experimental Person in Charge”. One slide from her presentation that really stood out was an image of the past 10 years of her Google identification badges, showing her transition from man to woman. She said that was the first time that she’s ever showed this picture to anyone. Uglow suggests that when facing a pivotal moment, either in our personal lives or starting a new project, start with something silly and ridiculous, then play with it until it becomes potent and powerful.

Vince Kadlubek

Vince’s talk was probably the most shocking of all of the 99U talks. He started out with a rather dismal outlook on the monotonous similarities and routines of every human. After the death of his best friend, it shook his world so much that he had a completely different perspective. It wasn’t until then that he realized how badly humans wanted to experience something truly unique and special. With the help of George R.R. Martin, he opened a permanent immersive installation called ’The House of Eternal Return”. In this “choose-your-own-adventure” space, visitors enter a seemingly typical house, but stumble upon hidden portals like a fridge, fireplace, or toilet into a strange new world. He encouraged us to bring that “life-altering” experience that users yearn for into our own work.

Mona Chalabi

Coming from a career in politics, Mona’s unique take on data visualization was both lighthearted and refreshing. Now at The Guardian, she takes ambiguous data and turns the otherwise stuffy charts into intriguing and coherent illustrations. I thoroughly enjoyed her delightful, albeit sometimes vulgar, data visualizations, and was inspired to think of unique ways to present my work.

A few tips for anyone considering going next year:

  • Take notes. Take a little notebook and jot down things that inspire you throughout the conference, or the name of a new contact that you want to keep in touch with after. Better yet, I wish 99U would provide a notebook already filled in with all of the events, with spaces to take notes on every talk and workshop.

  • Go with friends. There are definitely tons of networking opportunities with people you haven’t met, but it was nice having the other residents to hang out with the rest of the time. Having people to freely discuss and reflect on the talks and workshops was beneficial.

  • Research the speakers beforehand. I wish that I had looked up all of the speakers so I had a general idea of their work and which talks to take more detailed notes on.

mediumAndrea Hock