99u Conference 2017— Inspiration & Knowledge Sharing From Industry Leaders

Some of the world’s top creative thinkers and doers. Offering pragmatic, real-world insights that transcend creative sectors.

Warren Challenger
5 min readJun 12, 2017


Provided by Adobe, last years 99u was brilliant and this years was no exception. Aiming to inspire creatives, bringing their ideas to life and shaping the future of the industry.

Lincoln Centre — Alice Tulley Hall

Lasting two days, with 1,000 attendees across a variety of practices and professions hailing from locations worldwide. The conference revolved around Alice Tully Hall for the 13 main stage speakers. Including two workshops provided by some of New Yorks best studios and creatives.

The two days of main stage speakers were divided up by four questions and asked to present on them.

  • Defining the Creative Career
  • Navigating the Unknown
  • How to Fix Design
  • Invention & Reinvention

With talkers from mixed creative backgrounds and representing many different companies. Answers were thorough and revealed that they also have the same challenges we all do within our own industries.

Some of the main stage talks:

Liz Jackson

Founder & Chief Advocacy Officer, Inclusive Fashion & Design Collective

Speaking about her plight between the fashion/creative industry and people with disabilities. Why companies aren’t taking into consideration this $4 billion industry. Tackling stereotypes most of us have today.

Bryan Lamkin

EVP and General Manager, Digital Media, Adobe

Starting his life with Adobe before photoshop had layers, Lamkin has seen the industry change vastly. Lamkin gave us insight into his thinking of the industry now and the possible future. Lamkin recognises that artificial intelligence is going to play a major part in our creative lives moving forward.

Scott Belsky — Timeline “The reality of making“

Julia Kaganskiy

Director, New Inc

Speaking about the business and creative challenges every company starting up must face. There is no one-size-fits-all definition of success. Kaganskiy had the following advice:

  • Start with why
  • Find your tribe
  • Make a plan
  • But be ready to learn and adapt
  • Focus on process vs result
  • Approach challenges with honesty, compassion and curiosity

Irene Au

Design Partner, Khosla Ventures

Having built and led entire user experience and design teams at Google, Yahoo and Udacity. Usually on the studio side of the conversation. Au used her recent home project to further add to these seven key points:

  • Choose clients intentionally
  • Present multiple alternatives. Test the edges of what we want. Getting buy-in early.
  • Prototype low- to high-fidelity
  • See the opportunity. Focus on the upside.
  • Get the details right
  • Be the arbiter of taste
  • Approach the work mindfully

Natasha Jen

Pentagram, Partner

We seem to have reduced our creative thinking down to 3M post it notes and a multi step formula. Jen argued that, as creatives we’re confusing matters further with an ever growing list of buzzwords.

Buzzword bullshit

Arguing that a defined creative step-by-step formula is bullshit.

“Design thinking is bullshit” — Natasha Jen

Ian Spalter

Head of Design, Instagram

Speaking about the relationship between design and data. Spalter described the contradictions of feelings versus science and how data can lead you to the wrong conclusions. Personality and emotional connections are important in any design work and relationship. Much like comedians who test hundreds of jokes before finding the good stuff to show us on their tours. Investigate the worth of your findings. Remembering that not using something good, is also an option.

Steve Selzer

Experience Design Manager, Airbnb

Asking “What happens when we remove the friction?” With Airbnb, Selzer tackles making your stay as enjoyable as possible. Airbnb understands that collisions can lead to confrontation and we all know how that works on the internet.

Against all intuition, Selzer found that holiday makers enjoyed human interaction at a local level. More so than dealing with Airbnb themselves through a digital platform. Providing evidence that friction can be a positive experience.

Steve Selzer — Design for friction

Debbie Millman

Host, Design Matters & Masters in Branding Chair, SVA

Known for her “Design Matters” podcast. Starting a design career in her early 30’s, Debbie Millman is now a world renowned branding designer. Millman argues that the longer something takes the longer it will last. Rushed creative can lead to fad design and that in life, don’t be afraid to want a lot.

“If it was easy, it would be easy” — Debbie Millman

Like last years conference, I have walked away with a spring in my step and a mind full of self-reflective questions. With confidence in the fact that everyone, no matter how big or small a reputation, we all have the same challenges.

If you’d like to learn more about 99u and are thinking of attending next year please visit their website. If you’re a creative always looking to learn and push yourself, I couldn’t recommend attending enough.

99u Workshops — ustwo and Dropbox

You can read about my afternoons with these great teams below.

My afternoon with Dropbox and ustwo