Today's post comes from our beloved design intern Erin Slattery. A writer by education but now pursuing a design career, Erin elegantly captures her recent experience at the DISH Conference in Nashville.


Last Thursday, I packed up my portfolio and headed off to the DISH conference hosted at Lipscomb University by AIGA Nashville. I figured it would be a nice opportunity to get some feedback on my work and maybe hear a few good words from industry professionals. Little did I know, I was headed for two amazing days of candid advice, industry insights and inspiring words from the creative minds leading the world of design.

The event kicked off with studio tours of Bohan Advertising, Red Pepper, Advocate Printing, St8mnt Design, Lithographics and Anode. Students met at Plaza Artist Supplies, where we signed up for the tours we wanted to attend. I chose Bohan and St8mnt, Bohan being the first on the list.

Mr. David Bohan, CEO and founder of Bohan Advertising greeted us warmly and said he would be our tour guide. He led our small group of 8 through the walls of the renovated industrial building, stopping at each of the massive portfolio pieces adorning the walls. At each pause, he shared with us the concept behind the piece and the collaboration it took to bring the project to completion. We continued the tour, passing individual offices marked only with the work and whiteboard critique hung on the sliding barn door that guarded the busy designer inside. Finally, we stopped in front of a painting of individual colored squares. He explained that this painting was essentially their first office, where the designers were allowed to paint their spaces in any color they liked, allowing the designers to express themselves as they saw fit, helping the company save on redecorating fees. He shared with us the importance of being able to tell a story in every piece we create, a theme I would see repeated throughout the conference. The tour ended with his business card and a warm handshake, and a newfound appreciation on my part for this man who had started from the ground up and built something absolutely amazing.

Next, I headed to St8mnt, which proved a perfect complement to the large firm I had just left. They were a polar opposite, operating in an open office with just four people. They spoke about their former work at recording studios and displayed some of their current projects, offering great advice about keeping positive relations with the people for whom you work. It was nice to see another side of design in the real world, although I did find it ironic that they too had sliding barn doors. Maybe there was a sale.

Day gave way to night and the conference participants congregated back at the university, waiting on a speaker of which most of us only knew about his hair. The speaker was Stanley Hainsworth, well noted for his work at Nike, Lego and Starbucks, and of course for his hair. He spoke candidly with us about his background, and the ability to look at design outside traditional bounds. Design, he said, was a great combination of not only print, interactive and the like, but also industrial design. He spoke about the need to tell a story in every project, and to remember that designers, in the end, are there to sell. What I found most fascinating is that when asked where he got his inspiration he merely said, "Get out of the studio." Thank you Mr. Hainsworth. I will remember that for the next sunny day.

The next day began early, with breakfast and talks by Project M and Mohawk Paper. Industry professionals shared some great insight about getting a fantastic design job. After lunch, students split into two groups and gathered for the portfolio review. Area professionals donated their time and energy, offering some insightful advice on each student's portfolio. Critique, at least in my case, was limited to not only work, but extended into design environments that might be a good fit in the future, and tips on the importance of branding oneself. For this insight alone, the 3-hour drive was worth its weight in gold.

Creative Circus, a portfolio school from Georgia, and a panel discussion rounded out the afternoon. IO Studio donated a MacBook Pro to the Best of Show winner. Prizes were raffled off, and goodbyes were said.

Once again, I packed up my portfolio, heading home to Knoxville. This time I was not thinking about getting some helpful advice on my portfolio, but rather thinking how excited I am to work on that next piece.

And, possibly, to get some barn doors if things work out right.

Endless thanks to AIGA Nashville for hosting such an inspiring event, also to the volunteers and professionals that donated their time to make it so.