In late 2016 I attended an incredible event that annually brings together members of the female design community to connect, unplug, and share inspiration in beautiful Palm Springs. I came away from Designer Vaca with amazing new friends, a community of support, and countless ideas on how to make my design work even better.
We began with an opening celebration in the "Commune" private event area of the Ace Hotel (where we all stayed), complete with a retro van photo booth and lots of fascinating conversations. I met a group of 3 girls from Seattle, two of whom work on the design team at Zillow, and one photographer transitioning into design at the gourmet chocolate company Theo. They were all friendly, funny, brilliant, and so much fun to be around. We took goofy pictures in the photo booth, binged on chips and guacamole, and talked about our past and current jobs.
The next morning we sat down with mimosas to a talk by a motivational speaker named Carlos Whittaker. He spoke about living life intentionally, and remembering to make moments in daily life. In terms of social media presence, he emphasized that people are attracted to authenticity, so the more genuine you present yourself on the web, the better off you'll be.
After Carlos finished speaking, we got into small groups to discuss his ideas in a more intimate setting. The range of experience in my small group was wide, from freelance web designers to in-house designers and founders of large companies. Input was varied, but I wrote down some of the most memorable comments from my group members to reflect on later.
The afternoon was spent lounging by the pool with watermelon margaritas, meeting new women and learning about new sides of the design industry. My big fan-girl moment was floating up to two girls in the pool that I knew from social media: the women behind the lettering brand San Diego Letters. They are sort of heroes of mine, lettering artists who specialize in fun and funky phrases and large-scale murals. They also host a podcast called Drunk on Lettering in which they video chat with a different lettering artist each week, while simultaneously drinking beers from either end of the call. They are currently doing an artist residency at a brewery... so yeah, you can see why they're my heroes. Both were super friendly and gave great advice on starting a lettering business to myself and my conference roommate Ashley (another aspiring lettering artist).
At night we sat down to a big taco dinner on long tables under strings of lights, right beside our private Designer Vaca pool. Ashley and I sat next to the team from May Designs (a notebook and stationary company), including founder Mica May, a badass boss lady who literally built the company out of her garage. She was surrounded by her team – a group of stylish women in their 20's and 30's who sounded like they were completely in love with their jobs. I was struck by everyone's passion for their careers.
After we finished dinner, our keynote speaker took the stage. Jasmine Star is a former wedding photographer in the process of transitioning her career towards marketing strategy for creative entrepreneurs. Having gone through the process of starting a career in a creative field and utilizing scrappy methodology to gain clients and followers, she knew where many of us were and how to help us get where we want to be. She told stories from her early days in photography, and detailed how she got more business (at the start of her career), better clients (once she got her business off the ground), and more time for the things she valued (once she had a thriving photography client base). Not only was she an enthusiastic speaker, but she shared concrete and specific steps towards getting the creative business of her dreams.
Our final day of Designer Vaca began with parfaits, mimosas, and a talk from a pair of women whose voices were very familiar to me. I'd been listening to the podcast "Being Boss" for about a year, hosted by Emily Thompson and Kathleen Shannon. In their weekly episodes they discuss the difficulties of starting and running your own business, narrated with their unique style of candid and witty banter. They recounted some of their most important learnings over the years, and touched on the most popular topics from their podcast episodes. I especially loved their advice on money: "Talk about it!" Some women (ahem, me) tend to think of finances as a taboo topic, instead of being open and clear about it with themselves and others. I made a resolution then and there to track my finances more thoroughly each month.
Armed with a notebook of new knowledge and professional advice, I spent the rest of the day by the pool with Ashley and our new friend Katherine who designs websites for musicians in Nashville. Katherine gave us tons of tips on how to increase our followers on Instagram, and even started a social media group of fellow female small business owners so that we could support one another's posts.
The speakers were enlightening, for sure, but my absolute favorite parts of Designer Vaca were the spontaneous connections made in the free time between the structured activities. I met some kick-ass women who make amazing things, and I was awed and inspired by their creations and their attitudes. I feel like I found my creative tribe during this retreat to the desert.