Reshape, Upend, and Nurture Your Creative Life

A brief recap of the 10th annual Adobe 99U conference

by Matt Rozen

posted on 05-15-2018

Described as a “one-of-a-kind live experience that inspires creative professionals to bring their ideas to life and shape the future of the industry,” the 10th annual 99u conference in 2018 hosted top speakers who shared their best and brightest ideas with the lucky hundreds in the audience.

Sadly, our staff didn’t attend this year but thankfully writer Emily Ludolph did, and she gathered her top 30 takeaways from the event. We picked our favorite top five to share with you, knowing of course that five aren’t nearly enough and you’ll do what we did: click to read more in the full piece on

Speaker at 99U conference on stage

Many of these suggestions (word for word from the full 99U piece) are specific to design and creative professionals, but you’ll be surprised how many of these ideas will help you no matter what kind of work you do.

1. Inspire the dreams of others by chasing your own.

Super Heroic CEO, and former Nike Senior Global Design Director, Jason Mayden is driven by the philosophy that if we can play together, we can live together. Through his company, Super Heroic, he’s created a world of play that coaches kids toward creativity, agility, and perseverance. But to raise a new generation who can play and dream together, adults have to set a good example by tending to their own dreams. In order to inspire new generations, we must follow our own dreams. “You being comfortable with your dream,” said Mayden, “allows someone else to be comfortable with their dream.”

2. Don’t be afraid to ask the obvious question.

Iteration through prototyping is one of the most integral steps in the design process. It’s often the best way to bounce around new ideas, question creative solutions, and unearth new problems. But we often skip the most important piece in the prototyping process. As we rush to dream up new solutions and ideas, we often forget to ask ourselves “Why? Why do it this way? Why prioritize that?” Adobe Creative Resident, Natalie Lew alongside Donors Choose, said to ask three “why?” questions after someone gives an initial answer, so you can get to the heart of what is really driving the change.

3. Shoot for the mundane, not the moon.

On a trip to Cuba to work with local startups, Marcelino J. Alvarez, founder of Uncorked Studios, discovered an entrepreneurial culture that, unlike in the U.S., wasn’t obsessed with profits and products, but with contexts and communities. Inspired by them, Alvarez advised designers to zero in on the everyday needs of systems and communities. “There are way more opportunities to scale impact through the mundane than through moonshots,” he said.

4. Go with your gut.

It’s tough to evaluate and critique a partner’s work. We worry about hurt feelings, or possibly squashing the germs of a good idea. But DKNG founders Nathan Goldman and Dan Kuhlken say let your instincts guide you. “Whatever your initial reaction to your partner’s work, don’t take it lightly,” they said. “It’s quite possible that anyone viewing the work will have a similar opinion.” Be upfront and honest, and, if you have to have a hard conversation, better it coming from you than a client who feels the same way.

5. Unbury your greatest hopes and fears.

Ashleigh Axios, design exponent at Automattic and former Obama White House creative director, wants us all to be a little more self-centered. Not in the way that makes us design unnecessary products for a quick buck. She means self-centered in a more introspective, vulnerable way. Axios challenged designers to dig deep into the things that frustrate us — whether it’s hurt about racial inequality or an experience being bullied as a child — and create products that address those problems. “Every frustration,” she said, “every fear, every hope that you’ve buried really deep down inside, thinking there was no way for it to change into something positive, I want us to pull that back up. Those are the things that will make us better off.”

Topics: Creativity

Products: Creative Cloud