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Hynes Convention Center, Boston 7:30 AM, big yellow conference badge in one hand and event program in the other I made my way up the escalator to the third floor rotunda unsure what to expect. After years of telling myself I would make it to HOW Design Live and yet somehow never quite getting there, I’d arrived. To give you an idea of the conference magnitude, what I refer to as an event program was actually a small, spiral-bound book (courtesy of Neenah Paper) chock full of back-to-back sessions of design-y goodness.

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Unlike other conferences, HOW Design Live isn’t one monolithic conference but actually a set of four sub conferences with their specific focuses under one umbrella; the HOW Design Conference, Creative Freelancer Conference, InHOWse Managers Conference and The Dieline Package Design Conference.

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Then of course there was the assortment of receptions, studio tours, workshops, happy hours and special events. By special events I don’t mean run-of-the-mill drinks and crudité but more along the lines of Shutterstock and AIGA’sPixels of Fury: A Live Creative Inspiration Tournament,” where top shelf designers battled it out before a live audience of over 500 attendees.

The goal: use imagery from Shutterstock, fonts from Monotype Imaging and their own creativity to design a poster that would inspire the audience to action—in 20 minutes. Now that’s an event. The speaker line up was equally amazing, including Debbie Millman, Von Glitschka, Kit Hinrichs, Sam Harrison, Stefan Mumaw, Bryony Gomez-Palacio and Armin Vit among others.

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Graphic design duels and alcohol fueled networking aside, two things immediately impressed me about the conference, first, how incredibly friendly everyone was. Naturally sociable I’m not, but from the moment I entered the hotel lobby to standing on line for the ladies room I was engaged in conversation with fellow creatives. Second, all the places people had traveled from to attend. Designers, photographers, illustrators and writers came from around the world. I personally met designers from Boston, New York, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Texas, Wisconsin and Wyoming (yes they have designers there) just to name a few.

Reasons for attending the conference were just as varied. Many I talked to spoke of the conference as a way to “recharge their batteries” and connect with fellow creatives. When I asked one attendee of the InHOWse Managers Conference who had been at HOW Design Live in previous years what made him keep coming back, he replied that it was to help “keep his creative spark.” Networking opportunities abounded and speakers were approachable, making themselves available after presentations and mingling with the crowds at end-of-day receptions.

Luke Mysse, who shared his professional journey in a powerful opening presentation entitled “Options for Growth” at the Creative Freelancer’s Conference graciously answered a stream of questions from myself and some other designers who I’d met at the conference on building an advisory board and generally navigating the complexities of professional life.

If I had to use only one word to describe the conference it would have to be dynamic. Speakers and attendees brought their diverse backgrounds, experience, talent and humor to the table generously sharing their advice and insights. If you didn’t make it to the conference or just want to extend the experience, check out the Creative Freelancer blog as well as 36Point.com’s great series of impromptu conversations and interviews with speakers and attendees available on their site or iTunes. Recordings of select conference sessions are also available as part of “The Complete Designer Ultimate Collection” here. Last but not least, if you’re in or near Nebraska you can catch AIGA Nebraska’s Pixels of Fury event on July 13, 2012.