Dan eating an oyster

16 Oct Challenging Assumptions: A cajun taste of my own medicine

I just returned from New Orleans where I spoke at the AIGA Design Conference. 2000 of the world’s best graphic designers gathered at their annual conference and I was honored to share ideas with them.

Arriving at AIGA

Arriving at AIGA

New Orleans has a reputation as a party city. Since that doesn’t interest me, I assumed I wouldn’t enjoy the trip. While I was looking forward to presenting at the conference, I wasn’t excited to go the city itself. Beads, booze and gutters full of filth? No thanks.

I was also a bit worried that these sophisticated, visual-thinking designers wouldn’t see see value in my work. After all, I’m a magician presenting my ideas to a very different group of people than my normal corporate crowds. I feared that my break out session wouldn’t attract many attendees.

On stage for sound check before my main stage presentation.

On stage for sound check before my main stage presentation.

At the end of the day, all of these assumptions were baseless. New Orleans turned out to be an amazing city and my fears of the designers were based solely on my own insecurities. Here’s a tweet that a participant sent out after seeing me present:

Sabine Krauss on Twitter_ _A magician at a design conference? Think clearly, Manage expectations, eliminate assumptions — nice message @dantrommater #AIGAdesign_

During the first general session of the conference, I delivered a short presentation to the entire 2000 member audience which served as a teaser for my break out session.

Dan onstage at AIGA.

Presenting in front of 2000 designers and visual thinkers. Photo by Stefan Bucher. @StefanGBucher

Dan performing magic

Since the audience were visual thinkers, I created a presentation customized to them. Photo by David Mayes

The following day my session was so full, it was standing room only. Afterwards, so many participants tweeted praise and came up to tell me how the session impacted their lives. While those early insecurities did drive me to prepare thoroughly,  I learned that they were unfounded.

Challenging the assumptions of an audience member.

Challenging the assumptions of an audience member. Photo by AIGA @AIGAdesign

Just because I was working with what I saw as a different ‘type’ of people than my normal corporate audiences, I feared the worst. It was a good reminder that while different is scary, it’s not necessarily bad. As it turned out, working with a different type of group was wildly inspiring and energizing.

Over the 3 days of the conference I got to talk with many designers and other visual thinkers. These conversations sparked my own creativity, inspiring me to now make a special effort to spend time with types of people that I’m not normally exposed to.

I still have a disinterest in the party side of New Orleans, but my perceptions of the city have been radically changed because I exposed myself to a lot more evidence that challenged my assumptions.

I made friends who took me to house parties, amazing restaurants and shared the life and culture of the city. (Not to mention the best catfish sandwich I’ve ever had.)

Making friends at AIGA

L to R: Three of the most fun, thoughtful and inspiring people I met at the conference. Designer Rick Griffith @rickgriffith, Printer David Mayes, Designer Marc English @marc_english, and yours truly @dantrommater.

Once I was able to experience more of the city, I learned that my previous expectations were really just based on a tiny bit of second-hand information. Now that have a larger body of data, I realize that my own preconceived notions were based on assumptions, not evidence. This is particularly ironic because my mainstage presentation was all about reminding people that expectations and assumptions need to be backed up by evidence. A great reminder for a guy whose core message is ‘think differently’!

Many thanks to my doppelganger, the brilliant designer Stefan Bucher, for inviting me to present at this prestigious conference.

Many thanks to my doppelganger, the brilliant designer Stefan Bucher, for inviting me to present at this prestigious conference.

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