Chicago-based design firm Multiple is having again their Cusp Conference in 2014. This is the seventh annual gathering, uniquely steered by Multiple’s drive to shape and deliver an alluring staple of people and projects that compose, from their conference’s definition, “the design of everything.”
A hearty slice of “everything” was what I received when I attended Cusp for the first time last year. The conference’s start consisted of a watermelon-crowned (literally) anthem with the vigorous refrain of freshness, and the artistry of lego-sculptures that incite a vital and elusive sense of playfulness. The conclusion included an enormous tour of classic rock music fiercely performed by millennials. In between, there were servings of comics, letterpress printing, and architecture in outer space, as part of an eclectic menu of other atypical topics. My incessant bubble of self-absorption was popped.
Framed by the event’s full timeline and intimate venue, chatting with attendees and speakers yielded an abundance of interests, from contemporary art to the typeface Helvetica to medical education to entertainment to work environments to the Big Bang. My lunch was spent with 2012 presenter, Jeannette Andrews, a professional magician. There was an all-things-considered impression of these interactions. Like bubbles gravitating and snapping into place, my specific lens of interests, in design and writing, was colored by encounters throughout the conference. Its social landscape reinforced writer Guy de Maupassant’s belief: “Each human being becomes a little universe within the universe!”
With large gatherings, two expected results were achieved: new professional connections to possibly mature over time; new nuggets of subject matter to possibly investigate. The major result, also practical, but more fortified as an overarching feeling, was beholding a panorama of wonder. I felt a bold trace of what the writer, Henry Miller, called an “unquenchable curiosity.” Having been stuffed with wonder is an opportunity to carry it in a manner that would influence my day-to-day, rather than domesticate it, rendering the experience flat.
A visible factor defining a conference is the composition of its audience. Being a designer, there was the likelihood of drawing peers. Introductions were exchanged with creative directors and in-house designers, but adjacent to this was hailing roles beyond mine. I happened upon an educator, a stylist, a documentary filmmaker, an engineer, a social researcher, a physician, and a scientist. My assumed ratio of primarily meeting those within and related to my discipline was gladly stirred with remarkable detours.
Another dominant pattern emerged from the attendees I met: a majority (substantial number of whom were repeat attendees) asserted the Cusp Conference’s broad spectrum of speakers and topics as a central part of their decision to go. The event’s broad nature diverged from my area of practice, and I believe applied to other, if not all, attendees. It’s a divergence welcomed and judged necessary, in order to fuel and hone one’s work that has tendencies to get stuck and subdued.
Creative revelations are motivated by gatherings like the Cusp Conference. Its two days, packed with a wide array of people expressing and representing their respective field of practice, serve the human reflex to seek wonder and curiosity, and be inspired by their potential. They are sensations in need of nourishing, because they beget collaborating, drawing, dreaming, editing, leading, organizing, visualizing—all of the seasoned actions toward orienting a perspective, evolving a style, making and shipping things with vigor, succeeding in tiny and big ways—furthermore, iterating one’s worldview.
Exposure to elsewhere—other crafts, disciplines, careers—sustains one’s toolkit to keep being able to bring ideas and opinions. Browsing Cusp Conference’s 2014 roster of speakers, you’ll find a “director of dreams,” a designer of “luxury sex toys,” and an opera singer who founded “America’s first online caregiving service.” These are only a few of the speakers that invite wonder and curiosity. As a list, the speakers include a variety of interesting people doing many fascinating forms of work that propel them.
I anticipate the combined effect of Cusp Conference 2014 to echo that of 2013: seated but spellbound. And when the gathering itself is over, I expect a collective surge in energy toward persisting creative efforts.
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See my recap and photos of Cusp Conference 2013.