By Summer Teal Simpson Hitch

Myself and five other Focus Labbers traveled to Nashville last week for the 2016 Brand New Conference. The conference and the host city did not disappoint. Here were some of my favorite experiences, encounters, and lessons learned.


Hello, Nashville. More than just the home of country music. Also the home of hot chicken. We waited over an hour standing in an un-airconditioned strip mall space to dine on some damn good spicy fried chicken tenders. I’d do it over again in a second. And that was just one of the many delicious Nashville experiences.

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Hatch Show Print, be still my heart. Not far from the conference venue was Hatch, a historic craft letterpress printmaking shop where Focus Lab brand designer Chase Turberville once interned. The space is an iconic repository of historic, hand carved type, a functioning printmaking shop, and a gallery and gift shop space house in the Country Music Hall of Fame. We got a tour and I bought some really cool stuff.

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The BNConf itself was super impressive, well organized, and flawlessly coordinated. I appreciated the attention to detail that went into our name tags, goody bags, branding and stage decor, all-day snack/coffee buffet, speaker lineup, venue selection, volunteer assistance, and overall experience.


Super social in my real life, I’m oddly heads-down at professional functions. Accordingly, I didn’t meet a ton of people at BNConf, but I’m grateful to have met Elliott Munoz from Viget. He’s an intelligent, interesting, cool cat of a designer and I thoroughly enjoyed our patio discussion and the outcome of that conversation—getting an intro to Ally Fouts, also of Viget. Often brand strategists feel like they live in a bubble and I’m thrilled to break out of that and put my head together with another strategy mind in the branding world. Whoop!

We also ran into a former client! Becca Rabinowitz was at BNConf representing Spot Hero, whose brand refresh we undertook earlier this year. It was awesome to catch up with her and hear all about the brand implementation experience at Spot Hero.

Even though we work together 5/7 days a week, it’s not often enough that I get quality hang time with the team. I was super grateful for the ‘Nashty’ experiences I got to share with Chase, John, Alex, Andy, and Wilyo. These fellas are really great dudes.

Last but most certainly not least, I am blessed to have some really incredible friends in Nashville. I was able to carve out some QT with them… on a boat.

Lessons Learned

These are paraphrased, recited from notes I scrawled in the dark of the auditorium on the back of my printed-out tickets. But if you’d like to hear it yourself from the mouths of amazing, inspiring creatives:

  • Limit client participation to 3-4 stakeholders. They are the approval team. More than that will negatively impact your process and outcome. Charles Anderson
  • Listen to your gut when vetting clients. If something feels wrong, walk away. Min Lew
  • Make more analog designs. Clara Mulligan
  • Get off the computer. Jim Sherraden
  • Grow and educate your clients. Bring them along in your success and theirs. Charles Anderson
  • When designing logotypes, consider application. If signage will be needed, design the logotype to support that signage. See: Luke Stockdale
  • Avoid hyperconsistency and uniformity. Stop making the same things. Armin Vit
  • Embrace complex systems. Pieces within identity shouldn’t look and act exactly the same. See Clara Mulligan
  • Get more experiential during strategy. Kristine Arth
  • Designers should be treated as professionals. Clients shouldn’t self-diagnose. Do they self-diagnose when they visit a doctor? Mackey Saturday
  • Even the big dogs (like Google) deal with the same shit we do. Matias Duarte
  • Sesame Street is a way bigger operation than anyone realized. (And this talk made me cry three times.) Theresa Fitzgerald
  • There is endless opportunity for truly collaborative work. Charles Anderson
  • The best way you can honor a company you have led is to not let it become you. Jim Sherraden
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In Summary

My hat’s off to the wife-and-husband team of Bryony Gomez-Palacio and Armin Vit who made this beautiful long weekend happen. I will absolutely make it to another BNConf in the not-too-distant future. Next year: NYC.