After a week of reflection, I can confidently say that the UCDA Design Conference was the best conference I’ve attended this year. The University & College Designers Association (UCDA) was created to inspire designers working in academia while elevating the importance of design overall. Attendees traveled from all over the country to the 49th Annual UCDA Design Conference, which was held in beautiful Portland, Oregon right on the banks of the Willamette River. Award for “farthest from home” unofficially went to Canto customer Rowena McPherson who came all the way from the University of Maine at Presque Isle!

Obligatory “PDX Carpet Selfie”: #pdxcarpet
Obligatory “PDX Carpet Selfie”: #pdxcarpet

 

To start, Portland was the perfect setting for a gathering of over 350+ creative professionals. As far as cities go, Portland strikes that balance between having a broad diversity of options (activities, bars, restaurants, etc.) while remaining intimate and manageable. From being welcomed by the iconic green carpet at PDX, to the conference’s location near where the Hawthorne Bridge crosses the Willamette River, Portland has that magical ability to spark creativity and keep it flowing throughout your stay.

North-facing view of the Hawthorne Bridge crossing the Willamette River.
North-facing view of the Hawthorne Bridge crossing the Willamette River.

 

Secondly, the folks at UCDA know how to throw a party! I loved kicking off the conference on Saturday night with an Opening Mixer followed by an energizing presentation from this year’s winner of the Krider Prize for Creativity, Gabriel Campanario. Gabriel helped launch a global movement when he founded the drawing nonprofit Urban Sketchers “for all sketchers out there who love to draw the cities where they live and visit” with the ultimate goal of “showing the world, one drawing at a time.” Safe to say I will be holding off on an urban sketching career for now…

 

My first, and most likely my LAST, attempt at an urban sketch!
My first, and most likely my LAST, attempt at an urban sketch!

 

After dinner, I was honored (and beyond nervous!) to kick-off the Design Awards Show on behalf of Canto. I attempted to explain Canto’s “why”: we believe that creativity is intelligence having fun… but realize that creativity is a difficult thing to scale! I highlighted this with a personal story about my brief childhood acting career that ended because of my mom’s inability to scale the creativity of me and my brother. I contrasted this with the right way to scale creativity by sharing how the Surfing Heritage & Culture Center powered the “Follow The Light” amateur photography contest on a global scale with the help of Canto. Here is an article about this year’s FTL winner, Nick Green, and here is SHACC’s Canto portal showcasing the finalists’ stunning photography!

 

'Child Actor' Jack…it all went downhill from there!
“Child Actor” Jack…it all went downhill from there!

 

Of course, the true highlight of the night was getting to showcase this year’s UCDA Design Competition Winners on a beautifully designed Canto portal. Admittedly, the team at UCDA pushed our portal designs to the limit and introduced concepts that we had yet to see from any other Canto customer. You can explore this year’s Design Competition Winners here!

 

Exploring this year’s UCDA Design Competition winners on a Canto portal. (photo credit: Matthew Lester)
Exploring this year’s UCDA Design Competition winners on a Canto portal. (photo credit: Matthew Lester)

 

Sunday was a whirlwind of learning and fun. Highlights included sessions led by Eric Hansen from San Diego State University (“Nothing is so ordinary as the desire to be extraordinary.”), Jennifer Alvarado from the University of Redlands (“‘Told you so.’ Sincerely, Your Intuition”), and the wildly creative artists from McMenamins (“I just try to make stuff that people like to look at.”). (You can read more our “Top 3 Takeaways” here!) We had a blast capping off Sunday night with a Canto-sponsored happy hour at Il Terrazzo, sipping wine and eating antipasti while enjoying stunning views of the sun setting over the river.

Eating, drinking, and being merry at Il Terrazzo.
Eating, drinking, and being merry at Il Terrazzo.

 

Our team’s finale came on Monday, when UCDA opened up their 4-hour Resource Center – which included free breakfast! What we loved most about this time was the opportunity to learn more about the schools in attendance – including their genuine interest to learn more about Canto. Because no conference sessions were scheduled during this time, attendees had the freedom to explore the Resource Center and take as much time as necessary to connect, converse, and trade contact information. With that being said, there were only four of us from Canto and about 350 designers at the conference…so we were all pretty tired by the end of the day!

 

The Canto crew after a long weekend of making new friends and exploring the higher education design world.
The Canto crew after a long weekend of making new friends and exploring the higher education design world.

 

Finally, we’d like to thank: Tadson Bussey and Chris Klonowski for the opportunity to partner on such a great event, Christine Prado for putting UCDA on our radar, the team at Il Terrazzo for the hospitality, Matthew Lester for the stunning photography, and everyone else at UCDA who took the time to show us your world…we truly love getting to work with such inspiring and creative people.

See you next time!
Jack