A Cuppa Tea, Guv'nor

Our final official day in Denver was spent getting high off peppermint fumes and floating on clouds. Our chariot for the latter adventure was a rented Nissan Versa. Going up into the Rockies, it felt at times that we could achieve greater horsepower by accelerating Flintstones-style. Or at least that's what the cyclists told us as they raced past. Driving along the winding highway, we at first missed the turn to North America's highest paved road and somehow found ourselves at a creepy roadside rest that was made evermore so by the fact that there was a bullet-ridden door sitting on the hinges of the women's restroom. Quite surreal. It was at this point that I deeply regretted my decision to drink a gallon of apple juice for breakfast.

After gathering our bearings (and re-reading the map), we made our way onward and upward, literally, and climbed Mount Evans. At times the scenery provided a moonscape-esque atmosphere with flora and fauna that I have never bore witness to before. The view from the top was spectacular offering an endless vista of Colorado's main attraction (next to La Bohéme Gentlemen's Cabaret that is). The view down (as witnessed directly outside my passenger door window) was spectacularly terrifying. Pictures were taken. Memories formed. But it was now time to get down to business...and visit the Celestial Seasonings Tea Factory. 

I LOVE Celestial Seasonings. I love, love, love everything about the brand...the product, the packaging, the overall whimsy. As nerdy as it sounds, this was the number one thing I wanted to see during my stint in Colorado; another checkmark off the ol' bucket list. The factory, located in Boulder, offers complimentary tours the starting point of which is a room where you can sample a variety of their flavour offerings (Moroccan Pomegranate was especially delicious). But the main draw of the place is the renowned Mint Room. Stepping into it is positively overwhelming...in the best way possible. With each inhale, I could feel it's magical properties working their way through my entire body. The experience left me fantasizing about leaving everything behind, boarding a plane to India and becoming a Guru for all things mint-related (and I would, but I'm not sure I could commit to growing a beard). Exiting the factory through the gift shop, I felt renewed. But as the natural high wore off, I caught a glimpse into a very bleak world indeed: that of an outlet mall during a recession. 

Canadian currency at par, credit cards burning a hole in our wallets, our next stop was the outlet mall in Loveland, CO. Or should I say, what once was an outlet mall in Loveland, CO. Now it was basically a multi-acreage of abandoned storefronts and vacant parking lots. A modern ghost town with tumbleweed blowing past a huge half-lit Nike sign. The visual was, perhaps, a sober reminder of the pitfalls of capitalism but I couldn't be arsed at the time to realize it; I just wanted to buy a cheap freakin' pair of jeans. Thankfully, as always, a Target was present to save the day. But sadly, it too had an air of desperation around it. We ended the evening, I kid thee not, at a restaurant called 'Rock Bottom'. The perfect end to an imperfect day. 

"No, really...I think I can hold it":

Hug those curves:

The BEST Philly Cheesesteak. So nice, I had it twice during my stay:

2010 HOW Conference: A Review (PART II)

The GOOD: The HOW/InHOWse Conference officially got underway on Monday, June 7 as designers from far and wide made their way to the Denver Convention Centre (and nearby Hyatt) to listen to speakers that would impart knowledge and justify our expense claims. My first (and favorite) session was titled "Leading By Influence" by the engaging, entertaining riCardo Crespo. Formerly the man behind the Hot Wheels brand at Mattel, riCardo is now employed at 20th Century Fox. As part of the InHOWse portion, he made sense of working within a box and stressed the importance of implementing a culture of collaboration (driving home the African phrase UBUNTU: "I am because we are"). Everything he said seemed logical and yet, most corporate environments do not implement the strategies that could only enhance them in the long run. Truly inspirational, I could have listened to riCardo for hours. The organizers of HOW should definitely invite him back next year. 

Another great speaker was Chris Chapman of the Disney Design Group (but I'm not entirely unbiased as I'm a Mouse House fiend). His session discussed the best methods of getting rid of the frustration in terms of client relationships. I will choose to keep his wisdom to myself as the study of an individual's psyche can be a two-way street, however, I will state that it was really cool to witness the revision process that takes place at such an iconic, well beloved institution. 

THE BAD: For every great speaker, however, there was one that made me want to walk out (and, at times, I did). It's always poor form to make other people feel, well, poor. And that is exactly what Jeni Herberger did during her session on "Becoming Priceless to Your Company". Coming out and apologizing for wearing the same shoes two days in a row (!?) and then bragging about spending thousands on them ("I don't shop at Payless, but you probably do") was offensive, not insightful, especially considering that the economic climate is still in a state of repair. I've read over my notes, but really the only thing I took away from this waste of an hour was that she *boo hoo* has recently had to do her own housework at homes in Seattle, Southern California and Hawaii. Tough life. Thanks for sharing. 

Self-indulgence wasn't limited to the InHOWse sessions though. I attended a talk on "Good Design vs. Great Design" by Cameron Moll that turned out to be just an hour long spiel on his personal projects, including a limited edition typographic poster that was, we were repeatedly reminded, on sale in the onsite book store for only $100.00. 

THE VERDICT: While it definitely seemed to be a mixed-bag of quality, I still feel as though I walked away a better, stronger designer, more resolved than ever in my decision to enter this profession years ago. As well, the bond that my colleagues and I formed over our week in Denver is now stronger than ever. We are a solid team, moving forward, aiming higher. In closing, I recommend the HOW/InHOWse Design Conference and hope to attend again next year in Chicago. I will probably be wearing the same shoes. I hope that's not a problem. 

2010 HOW Conference: A Review (PART I)

The reason for all of my recent Denver posts? I had the opportunity to attend the 2010 HOW Design Conference, this year hosted by the mile high city. It was a week of inspiration and idea generation peppered with brash self indulgence and rank ego. As a newbie to the whole experience, here is my unbiased, day-by-day review.

SUNDAY, JUNE 6: Anticipation building for kick-off, the massive Denver Convention Centre was a sea of hipsters, hippies, those who took themselves way too seriously and those who didn't. Our creative department filed into the main ballroom, ready to be blown away by the keynote speaker who was described as "an innovative thinker" offering a "jolt of inspiration sure to get our creative juices flowing". Well...sadly, he turned out to be no Kool-Aid man ("Oh Yeaahh?" Oh Noooooooo). In fact, I seriously questioned whether he had been partying with Lindsay Lohan prior to hitting the stage. His entire speech was so frenetic, disjointed and above all LOUD that at times I felt like I was sitting in on an audition for a Michael Bay film (and, as such, wanted to walk out). What did I learn from it? Nothing really, other than the fact that his dog somehow helped him get an invoice paid from an insolvent client. Now there's a skill I need to teach Monty. 

After a bizarre beginning to the evening, we (along with thousands of other graphic designers) swarmed into the fabled resource centre for product samples, one-on-one conversation with suppliers and, above-all-else, free t-shirts. It was at this moment that the true power of my job became apparent. Design/Marketing is SO important in how your product/service is perceived. For example: while several stock photography companies were on-hand passing out swag, the ones with the cheaply produced and/or useless giveaways didn't merit any attention. Even though they spent thousands on being there, if their display/handouts weren't as good or better than their neighbour, I wasn't paying attention. Nor were others. It is the modern reality that everyone suffers from A.D.D. 

Getting back to those same stock photography companies...I found it ironic that there was so much emphasis placed on getting graphic designers to join AIGA, as it will supposedly elevate the profession and generate more respect for the trade by promoting established standards. But in the almighty quest for the dollar, HOW threw another artistic profession (photography) under the bus by seeking sponsorship from companies that sell pictures/illustrations for as low as $1.00. That wasn't cool and is just as bad, if not worse, than having someone develop a logo for fifty bucks and a coupon for a free Whopper. The photographer on my team also wasn't impressed. It needs to be realized that all right-brained souls are in this together; we may suck at analytics, but collectively we do make the world a prettier, more interesting place and gosh-darnit that means something too. Neither should be devalued. 

Part II to follow...

Rocky Mountain Low

"UNITED SUCKS!" The scream cut the tension filled air at Denver International Airport the evening of Friday, June 11. Two-thirds of the SIAST Creative Department were stranded there after a tornado formed over the control tower. At first, we were in awe of nature...observing as windstreams combined to form a cumulous ballet. Then things got ugly. Flights were delayed for hours, then cancelled outright. We had moved from one gate to the next in what seemed like a grand game of musical chairs. Soon they ran out. This is when things got real ugly. People just kept piling in until every square inch of space was covered in flesh (most of which sorely needed deodorant at this point). Wandering over to read the departure board, I was surprised to read that my own flight back to Saskatoon had been cancelled (ne'er an announcement had been made). Sighing (and cursing), I made my way to the United Customer Service desk, now a mile long. 

Two hours later, I was speaking to a CSR and discussing my options (of which there were none). There were no direct flights back until the following Sunday evening. I wouldn't be given any accommodation or food vouchers, much less a toothbrush or even a half-chewed piece of gum. My luggage? There would be no access to it. I could, however, get a stand-by ticket to Calgary where I had a much better chance of eventually getting home. I took the ticket and bid the United Rep adieu (while cursing). 

Not satisfied, I made my way to a different United Customer Service desk where I inquired how long I would have to wait until knowing for certain that I was heading to Calgary. This CSR told me I would know once everyone had boarded (at 1:00am; it was now 11:00pm). She then inquired about my luggage. I could only get on if my bags were checked for this particular flight. The earlier CSR had not mentioned this, nor initiated the transfer. There is a certain level of trust when checking one's bags that the airline you are dealing with will take care of them. I merely expected my own bags to be re-routed to Timbuktu; I had no idea they would result in me being denied entry onto any other international flight! ARGH!!! I now understood why that lone hero let out the "United sucks" rallying cry. They do suck. Big time. I couldn't get on any other flights. I couldn't get my luggage. I was trapped in an airport, blood boiling, armpits sweating. I didn't know what to do...I was then offered a flight to Chicago(!) where I could probably get to Saskatoon sooner. I accepted and left for a quiet hotel as sleeping with the masses is something best left to Paris Hilton. 

Awaking at 4:00am, I again made my way to the airport, past the creepy mural of dead children, through security, back on the tram to my terminal and headed to the United Customer Service desk. If there's one thing I learned from all those years watching The Amazing Race, it's to talk to different airline staff. Under the veil of corporate nametags, these people are just as unorganized as anyone else but eventually someone - SOMEONE - will come through. And thus, I met my new favorite person in the world, who will remain nameless not for privacy reasons but because I was so happy after our encounter I forgot to ask his name. For he got me the LAST seat on a direct flight back home (leaving only a few hours away). My good day did not end there though...after arriving at Saskatoon, I expected my luggage to be A.W.O.L., but lo-and-behold, there it was...spinning around the conveyor. If an inanimate object could express emotion, it would. For my suitcase was just as happy to see me, as I was to see it. We shared a moment. 

Tornado forming above control tower, Denver Int.l Airport:

Standing room only; the start of a late night:

Creepy mural inside Denver Int.l Airport. Because seeing dead people before flying is reassuring:

Rocky Mountain High

After experiencing some stomach turning turbulence, we landed in the mile high city. Our mandate was to attend the 2010 HOW Design Conference, however, extra days were also allocated for leisure. I have never been to Denver (my father says I have when I was a child but memories of this escape me) thus I was well excited for some sightseeing. The first curious thing that caught my attention upon arrival was the airport. I have read numerous paranoid schizophrenic articles about the Denver International Airport's supposed Illuminati connection. While intriguing (and entertaining), I didn't have enough time to truly explore the symbology or pet the "horse of the apocalypse". Still on my list of must-sees, though. I've already bought a carrot to appease it. No, the arrival gates of this particular hub were just boring gray hallways. Long hallways. Super long hallways, like whoa! With sporadic Native American chanting filtering through the speakers. It was as confusing as the exterior spaceship/abstract mountain range/rip off of the Vancouver Pan-Pacific structure. I will write more about it upon departure. 

After putting away our suitcases and resting for all of 3 minutes, we hit the avenue. 16th Avenue that is. Cowboy boots. Souvenir stands - and, sadly, many destitute individuals. We passed a small park filled with hundreds of people. As I craned my head to see what was going on, I realized they were waiting for the Mission to open. Even more people were snaked around the block, all of them fighting off stagnant heat and hunger. It's a stark contrast becoming evermore common in the 21st century: cardboard boxes neighboring half a million dollar condos. Doesn't seem right. At the people's fair the next day, there were even booths set up providing information on how to deal with bankruptcy next to booths selling candy apples. Truly a sign of the times. The City of Denver is helping eradicate the problem in creative ways however, including setting up parking meters in high traffic locations where the funds specifically aid the homeless population. 

Another thing I noticed about Denver was how dog-friendly the city was. There were urban pooches of all breeds and sizes enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of the downtown area. Patrons were even allowed to tie up their pets next to the patio table of many restaurants. Stark contrast to Saskatoon, where canines are outright banned from a lot of parks. The world is better with dogs in it. More people need to embrace that fact. I managed to find a really neat pet store at Larimer Square and got my own wee furball a few treats and toys. I also bought my parents (who are petsitting my wee furball) a few treats and toys as a thank you. It's the least I can do considering all the mischief Monty is probably up to. 

My comrades and I later enjoyed dinner at 'The Cheesecake Factory', a restaurant that people love to rave about. I admit, the chain had me at "cheesecake"...but then lost me after I was presented with my plate of fried macaroni balls. The macaroni itself was delicious. You really can't go wrong with any recipe that includes cheese (again, see "cheesecake"). However the marinara was pink and soggy. Testament to how important presentation is in dining, I couldn't stop imaging that I was consuming a plate of pus-and-blood (TMI, I know). My associates' meals were just as curious...one ordered an individually-sized taco platter that could have fed a small army and the other ordered a salad that was the Mt. Everest of lettuce. While the person outside is starving, those being served are given twice (thrice!) as much as they can stomach. Welcome to America. 

And the Colorado Rocky Mountain high
I've seen it rainin' fire in the sky
I know he'd be a poorer man if he never saw an eagle fly

*As I forgot the cable that connects my camera to my laptop, pictures will be added at a later time.