Ashley's Portfolio


What I Learned On My Designer Vaca

This week I was lucky enough to attend Designer Vaca, a three day "anti-conference" in Palm Springs organized by Promise Tangeman and Alyssa Yuhas. It was my first year attending so I had no idea what to expect. It didn't have a jam packed schedule like most conferences. Instead, the organizers opted for three speakers, (Kathleen Shannon and Emily Thompson of Being Boss Podcast, Carlos Whitacker, and Jasmine Star) and three small group discussions.

While unconventional (no pun intended), Designer Vaca was by far my favorite event I have attended as a designer. The light schedule and intentionally small group setting enabled every designer to form friendships, ask questions, explore, and be inspired. While I didn't learn how to talk marketing with my CMO, or take a crash course on Javascript, I learned some lessons that I think are more important than the technical. Here are my key takeaways.


Creating whitespace in a design is essential, so why don't we create more of it in our lives? As creatives we feel so much pressure to pack everything we need to do into a short window of time. I am certainly guilty of this. But the reality is that without spending time having off-screen experiences, your work becomes stale. As designers we need to make a concerted effort to carve out more space for the other things in life that are important, like family, a hike, hitting the gym or even just reading a good book. A design without whitespace is too busy, and so is a life without whitespace.


I work in San Francisco so I know what it means to work in a competitive culture. Attending Designer Vaca has reminded me why I want to live and work in a collaboration culture. Sharing is a two-way street, and often our lives, careers, communities are better for it as a whole. The women I attended Designer Vaca with were so open with me and gave freely of their advice, time, and insights and I hope I did the same for them. Not a single person there was guarded, out of reach, or competitive, and because of that we all benefited. 


Oftentimes my work owns me and not the other way around. I think every designer has felt like this at some point, whether it is through art direction, payment, client relationships or any number of things. Taking control and ownership of your artistic value is one of the trickiest things we have to think about as creatives. How do you do it? There isn't one overall solution for this. While I don't think it can happen overnight, I do believe it is possible.

There were a few things mentioned in one of my small group discussions that can help with this. First, be more open and honest about what you expect in terms of payment. Design is our career, and it is unique in the fact that many people don't know what to pay, or don't think they should have to pay for our services. We need to be more upfront about how valuable our time is and not be afraid to walk away. Second, don't take jobs that you don't want to do (if you can avoid it). Life is too short to take jobs with unreasonable deadlines or uninspiring parameters. Finally, practice defending your work and know when to fight for it. Sometimes, you need to stand up for your work and it is imperative that you can explain your choices and defend your artistic integrity. When that time comes remember you are the designer, own it.

Overall, the most valuable thing I gained this week was a sense of new perspective from having time away from my screen. The clarity I feel about my future, my career, and my relationships after removing myself from everyday stress is noticeable. I feel inspired to step away and reflect more often. Plus, I made some amazing new designer friends and had some great life experiences along the way.