As designers, we’ve all been there. We’ve all experienced the dreaded “design rut.” Sometimes it feels as if every design looks the same, like it’s impossible to find the right solution for a design problem. Other times, a design rut is as simple as not knowing where or how to begin a new project. If you’re like most designers, you’ll go to great lengths to try and avoid this experience. You’ll read blogs, follow design gurus on Twitter, browse the web in hopes of discovering some new or innovative design pattern and search for inspiration in everyday life. While all of these actions can help move you towards a solution, to me, nothing compares to the enlightenment you can attain from attending a design conference. The amount of inspiration and motivation you can gain by spending days immersed in a community of people from varying professions and design backgrounds is *almost* overwhelming.
This year, I attended Giant Conference in Charleston, SC. “Do Rad Work” was this year’s theme and we could choose from 76 sessions with topics ranging from how to conduct better meetings, to teaching children about UX, to crafting a great bucket list. Surprisingly, one of the most inspiring and engaging talks I attended wasn’t by a famous designer or industry thought leader, it was by professional endurance mountain-bike racer, Sonya Looney.
In her daily life, Sonya faces obstacles just like designers do when they find themselves in a rut. She urged all of us to “do more epic shit,” and to constantly challenge ourselves to get out of our comfort zones. “Focus on why you can, not why you can’t,” said Sonya. Relating her experiences in mountain biking to challenges we face as designers, Sonya shared that the key to overcoming the most difficult obstacles she’s faced in races has been to keep simply pushing through to the finish line. Relentlessly. She reminded all of us that “the more challenges we take on, the easier everything else gets.” Something true in bike racing, true in design and true in just about every aspect of life.
Sonya’s talk left me feeling confident I could conquer any future roadblocks I encounter as a designer, and in my day-to-day life with a little positive thinking and determination. Her talk also reminded me why it’s essential for designers to attend conferences like this one. They are the perfect place for you to deepen your professional skills, hear from industry thought leaders, expand your network and take a productive break from the daily grind. Attending a conference is also one of the best ways to boost yourself out of professional stagnation if that’s where you find yourself.
Find UX Events has a great list of UX conferences within the states and elsewhere that can help you find a conference that’s right for you. And if attending one feels like something that falls outside of your comfort zone, I strongly urge you to take Sonya’s advice and take on the challenge anyway, focusing “on why you can, not why you can’t.” Attend one, and you will come back to your everyday life with a fresh perspective that energizes you to jump over any hurdle in your path, resulting in better work that has the power to inspire others.