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Our top 3 takeaways from the 2019 UCDA Design Conference

by Catherine Chiang  |  October 21, 2019

3 min. read

We’ve just returned from a whirlwind weekend at the University & College Designers Association Conference in Portland, and we can’t stop talking about it. The conference was a unique event – the only one where designers in the higher education space from across the country get together to break bread and share their designs and stories.

Canto was a proud sponsor of the conference and the 2019 UCDA Design Competition, which recognizes the excellence of creatives in higher education. You can check out the contest winners here!

The Canto portal of the University and College Design Association (UCDA).
UCDA displayed their 2019 Design Awards winners on a Canto portal.

Before UCDA announced the Design Award winners at the conference, Canto’s head of community, Jack Huber, spoke about how organizations can scale creativity in the digital age. He told the inspirational story of how the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center (SHACC) hosted the Follow the Light photography contest on a global scale with Canto. The contest had been on hiatus for four years because digital photography made it too difficult for the contest to scale – until SHACC took on the challenge and found a DAM that made it possible. It’s stories like these that motivate us to do what we do!

Canto head of community Jack Huber.
Canto head of community Jack Huber spoke about creativity at scale.

The conference was packed with interesting and informative sessions, and our heads are still spinning from everything we learned. Here are the top 3 takeaways.

1. Collaboration is magic

True magic happens when you get multiple brains in a room and create something together. McMenamins is a hospitality and dining chain that immerses guests into their quirky world of renovated historical buildings and art. The brand was started by two brothers, Mike and Brian, who credit their success to their smooth collaboration.

“Collaboration is great if you trust the people you’re working with. There’s always so much work to do, and we have to do it all together if we want to get anything done,” say the McMenamins artists of how they pulled off their massive projects.

The McMenamins artists provided a master class on achieving creativity at scale through collaboration, trust and a unified vision that allows for creative risk-taking and individuality at the same time. The outcome has been pure magic.

2. Ensure your agency understands your vision

Jennifer Alvarado at the University of Redlands (a Canto customer!) hosted a session on working with agencies, “External Agencies and Internal Creatives: A Love Hate Story.” As the title of her session implies, there are both immense benefits and pitfalls to working with agencies. Jennifer says that the key to a successful agency relationship is being on the same page from day one, and making sure that your agency understands your vision and goals for the project.

Jennifer explained that her team’s relationship with an external agency fell apart when their visions did not align. The agency proposed an innovator/disruptor strategy that felt too gimmicky to the University of Redlands team. Eventually, Jennifer had to fire the agency.

Her lessons learned? Know your limits, trust your instincts and embrace tension.

3. Be extraordinary

Often, we ourselves are barriers to our own creativity! Eric Hansen from SDSU gave a talk on “Becoming Amazing! Using the Power of Perspective and Engagement to Unlock Creativity” that all creatives could learn from.

Eric says, “Nothing is so ordinary as the desire to be extraordinary” – but creatives often have many internal barriers to ‘extraordinary,’ including emotional triggers and negative self-talk. We all have intrinsic inhibitions and biases that limit our potential, but we can also recognize and systematically overcome them.

That’s a wrap on UCDA 2019! Through these stories, sessions and conversations, we learned a lot about how to keep your projects on-time, on-brand and under budget and made a few lifelong friends along the way. We’re already looking forward to the next one.