Advice, inspiration and humor were in large supply as a group of about 190, including 45 current NIU School of Art and Design students and a large number of young alumni attended the 2018 Seek Conference, November 12 at Morningstar in Chicago.  Attendees were treated to short presentations and panel discussions from 11 School of Art and Design alumni at various stages of their successful design careers.

Seek was originated in 2000 by Steve Quinn, Professor of Visual Communication at NIU and Chris Von Ende, who was a student at the time.  The mission of the conference, which is held on a nearly yearly basis, is to learn, be inspired and to network.  The presentations are designed to expose the attendees to new ways of thinking about design, design process and how the presenters solve problems.  The conference serves to show beautiful, functional, effective design and an opportunity to hear the stories of the designers who create it, and to meet new people, get to know the presenters and have some fun.

A common theme throughout the 20 minute TED Talk-style presentations was that companies are continually looking to hire problem solvers with a well-rounded skillset in design.

Patrick Gallagher

Patrick Gallagher

“You are not designing for yourself,” Patrick Gallagher, president and owner of Gallagher and Associates, advised.  “You have to know and understand your audience.  You are representing your ideas to help solve a client’s problems.”  He said not to categorize yourself as a graphic designer or an interior designer, “You are a designer.”

“Read all of the books you can read.  See all of the movies you can see.  Go to as much live theater, or musicals, dance performances or live performances as possible.  Go to theme parks.  Consider what did those design teams look like?  Embrace it, and don’t let it just pass you by.”

Versatility is a more valuable skill than ever before, according to Gallagher.  “Fortune 500 companies come to me to learn about creative thinking,” he said,  “Too many business have gone too far in hiring employees who can only do one thing really well.”

Dana Arnett and Dan Kraemer

Dana Arnett (left) and Dan Kraemer during a panel discussion at the 2018 Seek Conference.

Dan Kraemer, the founder and chief design officer of IA Collaborative told the audience that, “you have the power to create the future you want,” in a presentation he titled, “You Should Design Everything.”

“Your whole life is a prototype,” he said.  “People think they are supposed to know what they want to be when they grow up.  But do they?”

Dana Arnett, vice chairman and founding partner of VSA Partners, and the current national president of AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) said that, “there has been more disruption in the design space in the last three years than in the previous 20.”  He advised the students and alumni that designers will always need to master multiple disciplines, accept the challenge of working across multiple surfaces and mediums and embrace innovation and change.

Kim Knoll (pictured above), founding partner and designer at Knoed Creative talked about early challenges in her career and how accepting a short-term assignment  at Tom, Dick and Harry Creative in Chicago turned into a full-time job, and eventually led to her starting Knoed Creative with her husband Kyle Eertmoed.

“Being the worst designer in the room is the best,” she said.  “You have the opportunity to learn and work and be pushed to be be better.  Your attitude and willingness to learn and work is what really matters.”

She also encouraged students to keep designing and learning. “Your portfolio shows what you’ve done.  It doesn’t show what you’re capable of.”

2018 Seek group photo

Some of the School of Art and Design students and presenters after the 2018 Seek Conference.

Other presenters at the 2018 Seek Conference included: