Create Upstate

It is days later and my head is still spinning, but enough time has elapsed for me to coherently describe what happened. A few months ago Dan Rose (who I had first come to know via Photoshop Etiquette) contacted me to see if I’d speak at thing he was putting together. I had never even been to a design event, not for lack of trying, but because they don’t happen often in upstate, New York (and travel as a single parent is tricky). I knew I’d spend a lot of time preparing for it and ultimately dread my 30 minute contribution, but the opportunity to hear and see other designers and creators in this region was too good to pass up. So I said “yes.” I had a hunch that Create Upstate was going to be good, but I had no idea it was going to be THAT good. When the website for the event launched and other speakers (and their talks) were revealed I was floored.


The coolest thing about attending was finally getting to shake hands with people who I’ve admired and interacted with for years, and meeting new people who, unsurprisingly, are equally inspiring. I could go on and on but I’d like to post my takeaways for each talk, which ranged from 20-45 minutes). But first, just some perspective. Upstate New York is huge. I highlighted it here on a not-perfect map of our planet.

Freebie from the internet, not perfect, but close enough for my point(s).
Freebie from the internet, not perfect, but close enough for my point(s).

You define “upstate” by lopping off the NYC area and Long Island. By doing so you shave off only a little bit of land but the majority of the population. You could fit all of Portugal in upstate New York. Or a few Switzerlands.

Another map freebie. Weird without all the lakes and stuff, but you get the idea.

So I live in Ithaca, represented by the star above. A lot of people like to call this region “central” New York, but whatever, we’re north of Manhattan, so it is “upstate.” Speaking of NYC, it is about 4 hours away via car/bus. There’s no train from my town (going an hour north to Syracuse would be your best ticket). And I listed some other places on that map above that I travel to often. The Adirondacks High Peaks region (one of my favorites) is five hours away. The Massachusetts line (which I cross often on my way back home to Maine) is the same as Erie (which I cross when I head west): three and a half hours away via car. Sorry for the measurement by time, but really, that’s what is important. It’s’ easier for me to comprehend than miles/kilometers. Anyway, my point is, this area is huge. Luckily people came from all over. Here we go, in order of appearance.

Dan RoseCreating Upstate
Turns out Dan has his hands in everything. This event was his idea and with his AIGA crew he described the desire to showcase the awesome work that happens across this state.

Me  – Fake it Till You Break It
I put my slides on Speakerdeck and will leave it at that. Note: my title slides contained looping videos (something you can’t experience on Speakerdeck) and I created 30 minutes of ambient music that played for the duration of my talk. This is an unused slide background from Sodus Point (just to give you a sense of the experience).

And here was my view:

Processed with VSCOcam with b5 preset

Mitch GoldsteinThe Trouble with Kerning
I knew this dude was the real deal when he showed a clip from Enter The Void (one of my top 5 movies), but his process for creating a poster was ridiculously cool. More importantly, was his reminder that “badly kerned amazing work is still amazing.”

Rebecca MushtareDesign Like An Ally
Rebecca gave us a much needed reminder about accessibility. She had some startling facts and statistics that blew my mind. One of the most interesting things she shared was a plugin that allows you to view any website through certain color blindness types. Amazing.

Derek CroweWood Type…Again!
What’s better than just plain old letters? Letters made out of wood! Derek was funny and fascinating. His talk could have lasted all day and I’d still want more. And after talking with him throughout the day it is clear that he’s just an all around super dude.

Shaun AndrewsWordPress for Designers
You’re looking at a WordPress site right now, actually. I’ve been using it and loving it for years, customizing as necessary. That said, I learned more from Shaun about tweaking WP in his 30 minute talk than I have in the last 30 weeks. His presentation flowed so well. Clearly an expert at work.

Sarah Burns – …
I think Sarah sacrificed her talk to make time for the rest of us, but she popped up throughout the day, smiling each time. Thanks Sarah.

Jason OcchipintiDesign of Future Past
Jason’s talk came straight from the heart with some sweet X-Men slides and references (it was relevant!). It was full of honest truth from a designer who has learned a lot in his career.

Kevin Richardson & Jonathan ChristopherPrinciples That Go Against The Grain
A designer and developer team talking business? Yes please. Not only did they tell you what works they explained why it works (for them). Lots of good stuff here including my favorite: focus on one project at a time. Seriously.

Ken WoodworthLet’s Get Uncomfortable
Ken’s slides were beautiful but his talk was magical. One highlight was when he brought attention to the fact that tons of websites today have a logo in the upper left corner, navigation in the upper right, and a giant photo with some white text on it….and that’s not a good thing.

Doug BartowYou Can Do World-class Design Work in Upstate NY
Where to begin? Doug has done and is still doing World-class design around here, but he highlighted other great people doing it too. It was beyond inspiring. He told how and why his shop (ID29) got certain BIG projects. I didn’t get enough time to hang with Doug, so I’m going to have to head out to Troy soon and get my fix.

Michelle BersaniBeyond Showing Up
Last but certainly not least was Michelle with a great talk full of swears. It wasn’t great BECAUSE it had swears, but they didn’t hurt. Her attitude and passion were perfect for the final talk of the day.


The more I listened to everyone the more I wanted to create things with them all. There was a lot of talent at that event, which says something about our region. but between the handful of people on stage and the packed room of equally impressive talent…the possibilities excite me. It almost made me want to try and resurrect the Upstate Design Collective idea I abandoned. But it’s clear that AIGA Upstate NY is alive and well, so there’s probably still no need for something new and different. It was so great to finally meet talented folks Jacob and Chris, among too many others to name. My only complaint is that we only had one day of this awesomeness! And that I had to leave the after party early. I would have loved to talk to everyone for hours on end. I realize that AIGA events went on all week, but I missed all of that, too.


That’s it for now. I feel refreshed, although that might be because I shaved off the mustache.

*edit update – July 15: videos of several presentations (including mine) have been uploaded to Vimeo.


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