Stefani Wilkens
Stefani Wilkens | Graphic Designer


10 Things I Learned at the Revolve Conference


Last week I was given the opportunity to attend the Revolve Conference here in Charleston, South Carolina. If you haven't heard of Revolve before, be sure you take a minute to check out everything they have to offer for creative professionals. Billed as the place "where design and creativity meet marketing and strategy," the event included two days of speakers and fun activities.

I attended about 14 different talks and gained a plethora of knowledge on everything from accessibility in web design to conflict resolution strategies. I'm also an avid note taker (blame my 7th-grade science teacher) and managed to walk out of the conference with over 20 pages of handwritten notes. I plan to break down these notes into categories to feed future blog posts, but as of right now I thought you'd appreciate something a bit more digestible. So, without further ado, here are ten little nuggets of wisdom that I learned at Revolve:

No. 1 – Critique is about identifying what is and isn't working. It is not the time to solve problems.

This is the thing that has most stuck with me since leaving the conference. I attended multiple sessions centered around critique and feedback and they all focused on the fact that valuable critique is about IDENTIFICATION, not sloutioning. While many people in various positions can help to identify what is or is not working about a design, it is ultimately the designer's job to develop a workable solution – taking this power away from them is tantamount to saying that they have no purpose. So, if you're a designer, fight for your right to create the best solution and if you're a strategist/creative director/other type of professional, give the designers a chance to do their jobs and hold your ideas until you're specifically asked for solutions to provide your opinions on how to "fix" a design.

No. 2 – There are too many experts out there!

In this day and age, everyone is capable of being an expert. Having a vast array of knowledge in a particular area will not separate you from the pack. Expertise no longer equates to success. Instead, you have to find what makes you unique and capitalize on it – what do you do that nobody else can? If you're not sure what you specifically have to offer, start by asking questions. Ask the questions that you don't know the answers to. Ask the questions Google can't answer. This is the area where you'll find your unique value. 

No. 3 – It's all about relationships.

One theme that kept coming up, again and again, was that business is conducted on the basis of relationships. Nobody cares about how good you are at a particular task. They care about how you can solve their problems. Be someone who genuinely cares about helping other people! Once a person knows they can trust you and that you care about helping them out, they'll be more inclined to work with you and to refer you to other people who need help.

No. 4 – Nothing in your work/career/critiques is about you.

Designers, myself included, have a tendency to think that our work is an extension of ourselves. It's why critique is so difficult, and why conversations about one's work can be touchy subjects at best. That's why it's important to separate yourself as a human being from the work that you do. Be open to improvement and growth instead of seeing critique as judgment. This is a skill that takes practice, so start small and be very careful about who you invite to critique your work, especially in the early stages of a project. Most importantly though, realize that someone's critique is about their reaction to a particular piece, not about you.

No. 5 – Networking is hard, especially since most creatives are introverts.

I'll be the first to admit that I cringe at the idea of networking in a traditional sense. Talking to people is hard. Smalltalk is even more difficult. And I have a feeling that most creatives would agree with me on this one. There were countless talks about how to network effectively and how to approach conversations – I'll leave the specifics for another post – with the key theme is that networking is not natural for anyone. So, instead of worrying about how bad you are at talking to strangers, realize that they're likely feeling just as awkward and don't be afraid to laugh at yourself if you stumble in conversation.

No. 6 – Designers should probably learn how to code.

This post is getting a bit lengthy, so I'll get straight to the point. If you're going to design for interactive media, you should at minimum know the ins and outs of HTML and CSS. You don't have to be an expert or on the same level as a developer, but knowing the basics will help improve communication within your team and lead to a more effective end product. Plus, additional knowledge never hurt anyone.

7. Everyone has to sell at some point.

It's a fact of life. You may not be selling directly to a client but at some point, you'll have to sell your work to a coworker, yourself to a prospective employer, or an idea to your manager. Having some basic techniques to do so is vitally important. Need some? Start with No. 3 and go from there. I'll be writing more specifically on this topic later.

8. Everyone has to present at some point.

Much like selling, you'll also have to pitch an idea, present a project, or lead a conversation somewhere down the road in your career. Focus on finding some sort of connection to the material, being authentic – even in your discomfort – and paying attention to the other person/people and their needs. This level of passion, compassion, and transparency will always resonate, whoever your audience may be.

9. Thinking like a villain is the way to make waves in the industry. 

By far the most entertaining discussion I attended revolved on how to "cheat" in design. The only way to create game-changing work is to find the loophole in traditional solutions. To do this involves a deep understanding of who your audience is and what drives them. Once you know this, you can pretty much reframe their actions to do what you want. This is how traditional villains operate, but when you apply the same principles to design you can get heroic inventions and outcomes that nobody ever saw coming. Once again, I'll get into more on this later.

10. You always have a choice.

You control your life. You ALWAYS have control over your actions. That is a power you had better use! If you're not happy doing what you're currently doing, change it. If you would rather be exploring a new opportunity/idea/whatever then do it. Or don't, that's okay too. Just realize that you are making a choice one way or another.

There you have it, ladies and gentlemen! Please share your thoughts/feedback/ideas in the comments below. Also, be sure to let me know if there's one of these topics that you'd like me to address more in-depth. I look forward to seeing you back here next week!