We Go Places: Creative South Conference

By Summer Teal Simpson Hitch

A few weeks ago, eleven of the Focus Lab team members caravaned to quaint, historic Columbus, Ga., for the 2014 Creative South design conference.

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The five-day trip was an expo of some of the industry’s most talented creatives, a well-planned networking opportunity, as well as a chance for some team building and sightseeing. We came; we saw; we laughed; we ate, drank, and were merry. Thanks to Mike Jones, Daniel Severns, and the whole Creative South team. Our hats off to you for a fantastic experience. We look forward to next year.

Here is what (most of) our team members had to say about their experiences. And enjoy the outtakes from the weekend’s shenanigans. Too bad we don’t know how to have a good time. ;)


Creative South was the impetus I needed to boldly move in the next chapter of my life. Literally. I’m handing over my hat as Focus Lab’s project manager to be their commercial photographer. Like a girl going on her first date, I’m filled with nervous excitement. At Creative South I met a few key people that believe in me. Yelling (because it was that emotive, or the music was so loud) back and forth with Helena Price was a pivotal hour that gave this girl the courage to embrace her camera. This is only one story among countless others that could send you weeping tears of joy.


Still somewhat new to the Focus family, Creative South was my first foray into the greater design community. I was impressed by the friendliness, genuineness, and encouragement of each of the designers that I met. From the stage of the historic Springer Opera House, I took in the great work, iconic lifestyles, and inspirational messages of some of the industry’s finest. The takeaways leave me looping thoughts on how to apply those lessons to our own design processes. The takeaways reinforce that I am in the right place, in a field of creative brilliance. Looking forward to rubbing elbows with these bright minds again soon.


Constant shenanigans. Late nights. (Several late nights.) I thought I could hang with the big boys until Creative South. I got sunburned and had to walk around with a hoodie on because I looked like the Kool-aid man with skin cancer. On a more serious note though, I made plenty of friends and met a ton of awesome people. I got a few phone numbers. (From other designer dudes. Easy ladies, this ship has sailed.) I learned more than I ever thought I would, but one of the most important takeaways from Creative South was the incredible wave of inspiration that hit me every single morning, and continued to stay with me. I think we can all honestly say that we now have a little more pep in our step thanks to the wonderful people we met at Creative South.


Creative South was my first conference to attend as a newbie to the Focus Lab fam. I was not remotely prepared for the full experience I had. It was my first time away from my 7-month old, and after coming to terms with that, I had an amazing time. I had a great time bonding with the team (so many inside jokes…Creepy Baby, for instance), meeting exceptional (not to mention, WAY talented) people, and learning a few things that helped relight the creative spark inside me. I volunteered only a short while at the registration desk but quickly learned that it takes a lot of people to pull off something of this scale. The Creative South organizers were a bunch of rockstars, and super fun to hang out with, too. I had a fantastic time and am very much looking forward to it again next year.


Inspiration, good people, good times. Big Mike Jones knows how to throw a conference. For me, conferences are less about the speakers and talks, although there were some amazing stories, inspiring speakers, and top-notch work on display. But, for me, it’s more about getting to converse with other designers in person. We spend so much of our day on Twitter, Dribbble, Skype, or whatever, it’s great to ditch the technology and just have real, meaningful, old-fashioned, face-to-face conversations. To gain insight on how others in the industry tackle and solve problems we may be going through and to hear the unique stories on how they ended up where they are today. Creative South is an A++ event and would highly recommend it to everyone in the community, whether you are creative director at a huge company or still figuring out the keyboard command for the pen tool, there is something for you to learn or be inspired by.


This was my second year at Creative South and my first with my Focus Lab family. It was great seeing familiar faces and meeting even more new ones. I got to hang out, and talk about getting healthy with the “fastest buffalo” I’ve ever met, Ben Jenkins. I had (more than) a few drinks with the extremely talented Pokemon Master Justin Mezzell. I was able to witness and even capture on video the biggest teddy bear, Mr. Mike Jones, sumo wrestle one of my friends from college. I can’t leave out the stylishly-dressed Lenny Terenzi who performed at the opening mixer (in a leopard-print shirt no less), who gave me my Dribbble invite last year. It’s crazy how much fun we had in Columbus. I don’t know how the rest of the 2014 conferences will be able to compare to this one.


This year’s Creative South Conference was an awesome experience. (Last year, I had to bring my dog on the adventure with me and didn’t have too much time to go to the mixers and socialize with other designers, so this year was great.) I got to meet and hang out with some really cool people that I’m very thankful to have met; they are the people I’m inspired by and the people I look up to.

Growing up, my dad taught me that everyone wipes their ass the same way. To put it into perspective, it means that no one is better or worse than you in whatever that you do. Just because people are amazing designers, athletes, or whatever it may be, they are all just people. It resonated with me throughout the weekend that all the guys that I look up to didn’t act as if they were big shots or better than anyone else. It’s something that I really appreciated; it’s one thing to be confident and it’s another to be cocky. At the end of the day we are all the same, regardless of what we do in front of the computer screen.

In regards to the conference, there were definitely some awesome takeaways: I really enjoyed Ben Jenkins’s talk. I was inspired by how he was able to create a product for himself instead of just for clients. Another great speaker, and awesome all around guy, was Justin Mezzell (not too mention his 100+ slides with a killer illustration on almost every slide). Overall, a great weekend with some awesome takeaways that I am starting to implement into my daily routines, whether it be design-related or about being a healthier individual as a whole.


A wrap up from the Boss. :)

Last year was an amazing year of growth for us as a team and it was such a great experience to be able to pile into three cars with people we now consider family for a weekend getaway. Conferences for me are just that, a getaway. A chance to release from the pressures of client deliveries and business planning and to spend some genuine time with the team and the awesome design community to which we belong.

For me, it’s all about building relationships and getting inspired. As much as I love hearing great talks and seeing Dribbble-quality slides from the best in the game, my real takeaways come from the time spent in the environment beyond the stage: The hours of talking with a small, eclectic group of people from all different backgrounds over late night pizza and beer. Getting to really interact with someone and hear their true story. Learning about what drives them and how they might be able to influence your story. The ability to talk with peers that are going through some of the same struggles you did and comforting them with some knowledge gained in your crazy trials and tribulations.

Events like this really capture the essence of the community we all love and give us the ability to learn and grow in attainable ways. The intimate environment and the realness of the people that attend Creative South are a great reflection of how awesome the design community really is. I have to also mention that the Southeast isn’t really known as a creative hub, especially compared to the more well-known West Coast and Northeast, but this event challenges that and puts us “Southerners” in the limelight, showing just how much talent actually resides here.

Another nice take away from this event is the realization that there are a TON of awesome people doing really awesome shit. We all get stuck on our Dribbble heros and easily overlook all the unexposed amazing talent surrounding us. I love having no idea who someone is and after I look at their work I say “Hoooly shit!” (cough cough @marmaladebleue). It helps put me in my place and not get hung up on a following count. A following is great and all, but I still have a lot to prove to myself and the design world. Staying humble is a huge part of who I want to be as I continue to grow and I think @allanpeters was a great example of that this year at Creative South. The guy does amazing work but he is also someone you would want to go bowling with. Just a real down to earth, grateful kind of guy. A “So I do cool shit, big whoop, let’s talk about life” kind of guy.

If it wasn’t already clear, TEAM is a big word for us at Focus Lab. I’ve built the business with my business partner on the idea that the two of us were better together than apart. We’ve never stopped feeling that way and it’s at the core of how we roll day to day. Showing up with 11 people probably made it loud and clear at Creative South but what was really nice for me was to hear constant love for the culture we have built. That the team/family culture we’ve created is not overlooked, and on the flip side, very admired by our peers. Not that I needed confirmation I was doing it “right,” but it never hurts to get some love outside of the design work and be appreciated for the great collection of people we have on the team. That makes me 100 times happier than hitting the popular page on Dribbble. Without great events like Creative South, that part of the story is likely lost in translation over Twitter and would lack the real emotional impact you get from actually talking with someone. Takeaways like that are what make events like this special for me.

And finally, I would like to announce my man-love for Justin Mezzell. There are some people in this world that after two sentences you are like, “This guy is going to be awesome.” He is one of them. We should all aspire to be as real, funny, smart, happy, and outgoing as he is.

Until next time Creative South, stay classy.