Brand New Conference 2014 – Armin Vit Q&A

TheeBlog_BrandNewConference2014QA In case you didn’t know yet, the fifth edition of Brand New Conference is going down September 25-26 in lovely Chicago. And as it is now tradition, I invited my bud Armin Vit to answer a couple of questions and give us a little preview of what to expect or what is going behind the scenes as most of us prepare our trips. We talked about why the conference moved to Chicago, the always great speaker roster, and the decision to make it a two-day event. Check it after the jump!

Hey Armin! Thanks again for taking the time to do these now-routine pre-conference interviews, how’s everything coming along? Are you guys going crazy already? 
Don’t tell anyone but we are a little behind schedule. We’ll get everything done in time, no doubt about it, but it’s kind of funny that even after four years of doing this and knowing that we have to get certain things going earlier in the process we are still left with a lot to do one month earlier. We had a couple of client projects that got in the way. But, yes, it’s go time for sure and we are in full conference mode.

There are a couple of changes this year, so let’s start by the obvious one. Brand New Conference is a 2-day event now! How and why did this happen? (And thanks!)
Either after the 2013 or 2012 conference we asked for some feedback online specifically about why some people CHOSE not to attend — we wanted to learn what can we do better or different to make the conference more valuable. A recurring answer was that a one-day conference for people coming from out of town wasn’t worth the expense of a business trip. That’s what got us intrigued about the possibility of doing two days. After doing some pre-emptive math about what it would cost and what we would get out of it we decided to try it. See if it works. This also allowed us to cast a broader net for speakers and have a little more variety instead of trying to put all the weight of the conference on 8 speakers — which has worked nicely in the past and we wouldn’t have any qualms about going back to that model if we see the two days don’t work out for any reason(s).

Second question regarding this year’s changes. What made you guys move the conference to Chicago? 
We love New York, we love the audience we get there, and we’ll go back next year, but we don’t want to become a New-York-club kind of thing where it starts to become too much of the same year after year and leaving some people out of it, whether because of location or no desire to deal with New York. However, we still need a big city and an attractive city with a solid feel to it. There is no city like Chicago and there is a great design community there. It also has a lot of regional potential with important cities like Minnesota, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Madison, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Indianapolis, and more all very close by. It’s also a good international hub for bringing in speakers from Europe — and to our surprise, dozens of European attendees. The venue we settled on, the Harris Theater, is right on Millennium Park so I think that’s going to add a lot to everyone’s experience; the fact that you can step outside an look at the lake and be in one of Chicago’s greatest public spaces. 

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And on that Chicago note, let’s talk about this year’s identity. As usual, you guys killed it! 
Thanks! It was fun to do. We feel a mounting pressure year after year to do something good. It forces us to step beyond our comfort zone but it also allows us to just be really out there and try weird shit, because we have a very well-versed design audience so we can get away with things we wouldn’t try with a client.

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Looking at the amazing list of speakers I have to publicly say, congratulations and thank you! What a treat to have these many extremely talented and influential names under one roof. Any specific session you are looking forward to? 
As the organizer I probably shouldn’t be favoring anyone in particular! But since I am an attendee as much as anyone else I do have some that I am more intrigued… Jim Bull from Moving Brands should be good, as their work is outside the norm and I’m hoping he’ll address the HP logo project; Mario Eskenazi from Barcelona should be good, he’s one of the best identity designers that no one in the US knows about and I think he’ll blow people away; and I’m placing my bets on Mark Kingsley, who is a good friend of ours and one of the smartest and most opinionated people I know, to close the conference with a thoughtful and provoking presentation. But mostly we don’t invite anyone I wouldn’t want to hear, so I’m really looking forward to all of them.

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Any surprises for this year regarding goodie bags?
The goodie bags are the best we’ve done so far. Bryony has told me to NOT share the prototype we have at the office (which is awesome) because there should be some element of surprise and so that those that have paid to attend are the first to see them. I will share this one close-up photo.

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One behind the scenes story you might enjoy is that we were thinking of doing the badges in thick slabs cut out from industrial rubber. We ordered samples from a few places and they stunk. Literally: the rubber stink — think new-car-smell times ten — was so overpowering that we could picture all the tweets about how much the badges stunk. I tried wearing it around my neck for a full day and couldn’t handle more than 30 minutes. We tried covering them in cat litter for a day and then letting them air-vent in the sun but it barely made a dent in the smell. So we had to scrap that idea but if they hadn’t smelled so bad it would have been a killer badge. We are still doing a pretty cool thing for them that smells like roses. (Kidding).

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Being an ex-Chicagoan, what city attractions, museums, or restaurants would you recommend? 
Restaurants I’ll skip, since we lived there 10 years ago and probably everything that was there then is gone. Frontera Grill, though, is one of the best Mexican restaurants in town — its sister, high-end restaurant, Topolobampo, is even better but more expensive. In terms of museums… You can’t go wrong with any of them. The Fine Arts Museum is great, the contemporary art museum is great, etc. To me the best thing about Chicago is walking the neighborhoods… Starting with the loop under the elevated train, Printer’s Row to the south, Wrigleyville by the baseball stadium, even the Magnificent Mile if you don’t mind the over-commercialization has its charms. But for most people who won’t have a lot of time and just hang out near the conference venue and hotels, exploring Millennium Park will be a good taste of what Chicago is like. I would also suggest taking a ride on the elevated train around the loop, it’s pretty cool. 

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Thanks again Armin!

2 comments
  1. Ahh, this interview always reminds me that BNConf is really coming. :) Looking forward to seeing everyone there!

    ..and everyone’s always behind with a month to go before cons and conferences. heh.

    –Mongoose

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