I can finally say that I’ve been to a HOW Design Live conference. If you don’t know what this is, allow me to enlighten you. HOW design magazine is the design industry’s go-to community resource. It was founded in 1985 and continues to lead the way for inspiration, advice, and examples of high-quality design for creatives. The HOW brand has grown to include products and events, including the 5-day HOW Design Live conference which was in Chicago this year. Going to this professional development event has been on my to-do list for many years and this year, I decided to take the leap and invest in myself. Here is a summary of five key insights I left with.

1. Canadian employers are not investing in their employees

I was certain that I was going to meet all sorts of Canadians. In five days, I only met one other Canadian attendee out of approximately 3,500 people. There were definitely four of us in total but, unless HOW has any stats to add, in my mind, that’s less than .5% of Canadian professionals who attended? Why is this? Could it be that decision-makers who don’t understand the profession and craft of design, don’t value designers?

2. Large companies are building in-house creative teams

The days of marketers and communications professionals assuming that in-house teams are not as good as external agencies are just about gone. Right now, large companies and government agencies are building full in-house teams and these teams are winning design competitions. If the budget allows, hiring the right people and facilitating a work environment that fosters creativity may just be the right path for your company.

3. Designers are getting a seat at the table with leadership

Do you remember the days when you went to a family-friendly party and the kids all sat together at one table while the parents sat at the adult table? That’s how designers have been treated. Except now, as our industry continues to mature and technology changes, we are being asked to get involved at the beginning of a project. It’s no longer just the marketing manager representing the designer. The designer is also at the table speaking on their own behalf; being creative, educating, briefing, and offering guidance. These scenarios are producing positive results for companies in the areas of efficiency, quality control, problem-solving, productive communications, team morale, and customer user experience.

4. Designers are looking for meaningful work

Being a part of a company that acts with integrity and holds true to values that matter is becoming more important to designers. We realize that, if it is true that design has value, then our work is either contributing to positive or negative social, political, and environmental change. The challenge for today’s creatives who care, is finding quality companies to work for that pay well and match our personal values.

5. Recharge your creative well and appreciate the design community

Designers have a tendency to get together and vent their frustrations with one another for the simple reason that we get it. We’ve all been in those uncomfortable shoes that in the end, has taught us valuable lessons. The HOW event is more like a celebration of design and designers. If you’re feeling down about where you are in your career, don’t complain. Drop that pity vibe and get out there—get inspired so you can take steps to make a difference in your life and the lives of others.