My Five AHA! moments from 99u

The first week of my Creative Residency was definitely a highlight (already!) — the wonderful folks at Adobe sent the Residents, past and present, to this year’s 99U. I’ve always wanted to go, so that was pretty exciting. First off — the fun swag bag. Gotta love swag. (Can never get enough swag!) I’m also loving the colors they picked this year — I’m all about bright colors, and can totally get with the teal + orange on everything. My favorite thing from this year was the awesome pin by last year’s Resident, Becky Simpson. Not to mention attendance includes a year’s subscription to the 99U magazine. Whee!

Fellow Resident Syd Weiler surprised all of us with illustrations of ourselves — love it. No one's ever drawn me before! Also included the packaging for the stamp set giveaway I did for our Residency launch dinner the night before.

I’m a big conference note taker (I wish I got into sketch notes, actually) and based on the notes I managed to scribble, here are my favorite takeaways from this year’s conference. It’s so interesting to note what my aha moments are — they usually reflect where I am in my creative journey and the lessons I need to hear. ;)


1. Invite yourself to the table — create your own opportunities without asking for permission or waiting for an invitation.

Kristy Tillman's talk was super inspiring — it was all about making your own opportunities and not waiting for permission. She talked about the Detroit Water Project and how she took this problem of people having their water cut off because of inability to pay bills and thought up of a solution for it by getting donations to shoulder these bills. So inspiring that she had the initiative to think of ways to solve problems that I’m sure other people would’ve just chalked up under “well, that’s just the way it is!”

She talked about inviting yourself to the table — sometimes a hard thing to do for an introvert like me — because you owe it to the world to liberate your ideas in the face of rejection and dissent. (In my case, it's self-rejection! Haha!) There is no pre-defined path to success, she explains, so really, there’s no reason to not take a leap of faith. It’s all about action. And once you’ve finally found a spot at the table, make space for others. I love this, the idea of empowering others and sharing the same opportunities that others opened to you. We’re all interconnected, and the world is a better place if we’re all helping each other succeed.

2. Be mission centric and medium agnostic.

Another design personality I was happy to finally see speak in person was 99U & Behance founder Scott Belsky. His masterclass, aptly titled, An Ode to the Journey In-Between: Insights from Start to Finish was all about the journey we embark on while making something new — from excitement to self-doubt to failing or succeeding. A lot of lessons here about creating products — but my favorite insight was when he talked about how he started Behance. He said that throughout starting Behance he decided to be mission centric and medium agnostic. His mission was finding ways to help creatives make their ideas happen. This single mission had several different expressions: ActionMethod notebooks, the Behance platform, even 99U the site, and later, the conference. He focused on the why first, and the how later.

This super inspired me to think about my main WHY for my Residency project. I keep focusing on what I’m going to be making (journals! kits! all the paper things!) but I’m slowly realizing now that once I get my mission locked in, it can be all sorts of things, physical or digital. And that sounds pretty exciting (and super daunting!) to me.

3. Move towards what you don’t know — the path to attempt to understand will bring out your most significant work.

This tidbit was from a short clip played in between talks, one that featured design legend Milton Glaser. (You can see a longer interview with him on the Adobe Create blog here!) It’s so easy for artists and designers (and everyone, really) to just stick to what they’re good at. So, so, guilty of this. But once you get good at something, it’s easy to get comfortable and complacent. You stop growing. He also mentions that it's in the “sense of jeopardy” — the struggle that comes out of figuring something out and trying to get good is where your breakthroughs come from. 

Also loved how he defined his job as a designer: “I move things around until they look right.” Hahaha, sounds about right.

4. Life is just time and how you use it.

Scott Belsky mentioned this in his talk and it totally felt like an aha moment. It’s so true, isn’t it? Once time is gone, it’s gone. And he talked about how products are created to either get you to spend time, or save time. It made me think twice about all the time I’d been spending trying to figure out SnapChat… ;) (That’s a whole different blog entry!) But really, it was a reminder that a lot of online apps and services today (hello, Facebook and Instagram!) are constantly finding ways to get you to spend time on their apps. Kinda good to take a step back and realize that (and not get stuck in the time-suck that is the endless scroll...)

5. We can’t do it all.

Jennifer Daniel’s talk was so hilarious and raw and real — don’t think I expected to see a childbirth scene (flashback to that traumatizing video they made us watch in high school… to curb teenage pregnancy, perhaps?!) But absolutely loved how real she was about how we show bits and pieces of our lives on social media. Everything looks so manicured and perfect and we’re expected to be everything all the time and do all the things. Her point was so simple — we can’t do it all. No one can. No use struggling to be something you aren’t or trying to check all the boxes. I completely agree — no sense getting pressured by highlight reels on Instagram (or super fun Stories on Snapchat...)


The folks at 99U have a great lesson recap article — check it out here.