Alex and Nick at the PPP Conference

It’s been two jam-packed days of insightful design talks here at Columbia College Chicago. Alex Miner and I have been hanging out here – deep in the heart of the loop – at the Prototypes, Process & Play Conference.

The conference, put on by Chicago Camps LLC, presented a number of talks that could all be traced back to an overarching theme of “design leadership.”

The conference started off on a great foot, as we were greeted by an amazing breakfast spread! Fresh, buttery croissants and hot coffee. Key staples in the diet of any self-respecting designer.


Things were looking good!

Then I saw this:


“No Food Or Drink In The Auditorium, Please!”

Columbia College Chicago has a strict “No Food or Drink In The Auditorium” policy. As a fan of eating while listening to lectures, I was devastated.

But thankfully, my despair was short lived.



The conference kicked off with an exciting keynote from Dr. Temple Grandin – yes, the Temple Grandin, renowned professor of animal science at Colorado State University, whose life story was depicted in the award winning TV Movie Temple Grandin.


Dr. Grandin gave a remarkable talk about the different ways in which our brains are wired. She spoke about neural pathways and how some people are better equipped to think visually, how others are better able to identify patterns, and how some thrive with verbal language. The concept of different types of thinkers was not new to me – I’ve known since elementary school that I was a visual learner – but as Dr. Grandin spoke about her long career, she was able to give insight into how she – an extremely visual thinker – was able to work productively in groups with other types of thinkers. Sometimes, we are quick to frustration when we cannot effectively communicate with others on our team. Dr. Grandin posits that, by recognizing our differences in the way we think, we can appreciate these differences, and even leverage them to work better as a team.

From J Cornelius - "Redesign our Design Thinking"

From J Cornelius – “Redesign our Design Thinking”

A number of design leaders spoke about “design leadership” and how it applies to larger companies – those with multiple teams and groups within them.

Milissa Tarquini, for example, spoke about her 15 years spent at AOL back in the 1990’s and how the company oscillated between centralized and decentralized organizational models. She talked at length about how designers played vital leadership roles during this constantly changing time at the company.

Not exactly something that I find myself contemplating in my day to day work with the, relatively small, NUAMPS Web team, but a lot of the concepts discussed could certainly be applied to the way we do business, and the way our team fits into the University as a whole.

Screenshot 2015-08-07 18.51.18

From Hannah Donovan – “Sometimes You Need To Draw Animals”

One of my favorite talks from the conference was by Hannah Donovan – a longtime designer from – on the phenomenon of designer burn out. I’m not sure I’ve experienced true designer burn out at this point in my career, but nonetheless, her talk “Sometimes You Need To Draw Animals” was a motivating look at how visual designers like myself can take steps to overcome “maker’s block.”

  • Learn When To Stop
    • With digital tools, it’s easy to keep endlessly tinkering. The key is knowing when to say “I’m done” and move on to the next thing.
  • Start With Something [Bad]
    • Don’t let the fear of making something bad keep you from starting. Start with something [bad] and work to improve it.
    • It’s a common fallacy to think “I’ll do this when the motivation strikes.” If you’ve got a boulder at the top of a hill, sometimes it takes a big push before gravity takes over.
  • Create Patterns For Serendipity
    • Allow yourself opportunities to surprise yourself.
  • Do Something Different
    • Break the routine.

Lastly, there was the talk on “Theft, Tributes & Collaboration” by Carl Smith.

Carl Smith proposed that, as designers and engineers, we should be taking the best ideas that already exist and building upon them. To make this point, he spoke about collaboration in the world of music and film.

Alex happened to find a video of Carl giving this talk at an earlier conference. I highly recommend checking out what he has to say.


Theft, Tributes and Collaboration – Carl Smith from NDC Conferences on Vimeo.

And before I forget, here’s something really cool! The whole conference was live captioned! A rather large HDTV sat on the side of the stage, and as we found out during the course of the two days, every speaker was being transcribed live, all the way from Atlanta, Georgia, by a woman named Brook! A pretty cool way for this conference to be accessible and inclusive!


Brook, the captioner, could not be stumped.

 Obligatory NUAMPS selfie.

Obligatory NUAMPS selfie.