What do you get when you put 12,000 of the world’s most creative people in one room? Well, aside from handfuls of new friends and reams of creative inspiration, you also get an overwhelmingly satisfying experience that will open your mind to all sorts of new ideas.
A couple of years ago I attended Adobe Max, the annual creative conference hosted by Adobe as a way to connect its users with the products and with one another. I was brought in as an insider, a digital roving reporter of sorts, asked to share my experience with my followers. Fast forward to this summer when I found myself suddenly on the Insiders invite list once again! A paid trip to Las Vegas with the added bonus of getting to hear from top creatives AND I get to meet up with friends as well? Done and done.
I showed up in Las Vegas last monday, with the recent shooting tragedy playing very clearly in my mind and on the screens through the airport and hotel. I noticed the first morning, during a short walk down Las Vegas Blvd that it felt eerily quiet, few cars on the streets but I also noticed people were friendlier than in the past trips I’d made to the city. It made me want to make sure I put lots of good energy into the week ahead.
My first official duty with the insiders program was to join in with two bus loads of photographers, designers, illustrators and letterers for a short photo walk through the Neon Graveyard, the place where all the vintage signs of Las Vegas past get to live out their lives. On the way there I sat next to an amazingly talented illustrator, Nan Lawson, who I bonded with over Harry Potter (she had an amazing HP backpack she designed and I was wearing a Marauders Map shirt). The neon graveyard was a photographers dream! In the dusty hazy start to golden hour we were given pretty much free reign to wander and shoot the signs and a challenge to present the space in a story telling way. It was nice to be able to walk around and see how people interpreted the signs, some were photographing the textures, some were drawing the fonts and letters in their books. I tried to find interesting angles and snapped a few simple portaits of one of the models. Shortly after that we were whisked back to our hotel for a first night meet and greet mixer.
What I love about being in this program is the opportunity to meet the other creatives also selected. The group was large, about 60 different creatives, from around the world and from different backgrounds. There were some people in the group that I’ve been friends with and trying to connect with for a while (I’m looking at you Paperboyo) and others that I’d recently started following and were looking forward to meeting on a personal level. And in a perfectly small world way there were even a few people that I shared mutual friends with!
The idea of Adobe Max is both to announce the new features, updates, programs, and upcoming releases but also to inspire the people that use the products by allowing them to participate in creative sessions, workshops, keynotes and labs. The first full day of the conference was a taste of all of that staring with the main Keynote presentation in the morning. We were welcomed by Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen before we were given an overview of all the new updates to the applications Adobe creates. I was really excited to see things like brush management and keyword searching and also the development of Adobe Sensei, a deep learning AI tool that will help you create your work much faster and easier. One of the highlights for sure was Adobe Spark, a fast social posting tool that lets you create simple but captivating graphics for social media posts. I’m already hooked!
After the keynote wrapped up it was on to the bulk of the day with my first stop being a talk with the legendary White House photographer, Pete Souza. Pete was the photographer for President Regan, a war photographer in Afghanistan and of course, most famously, the official photographer for President Obama. Almost any iconic image of Barack Obama was taken by Pete and it was a pleasure and an honour to hear him share his stories and wisdom. For me, this was worth the trip alone, to hear someone with as much experience, humour, humility and passion speak about their craft. After Pete’s class was finished I ran over to join a friend’s class, Karen Alsops session on her program Story Art and how she creates meaningful work that helps other people.
In between all the sessions and keynotes, I tried as much as possible to spend time in the massive Community Pavillion, which is like a trade show but even better. The booths represent creative businesses and almost all of them had some sort of hands on aspect to them. The most popular booths let you screenprint your own t-shirts and underwear (the catchy “I like creative briefs and I cannot lie” was my choice) while the adobe booths let you create your own coca-cola labels or have your face recorded with projection mapping. It was also the best place to run into friends and other creatives. I was able to catch a bit of my friend Brooke Shaden’s demonstration and taught my own 30 minute class on the last day at the Adobe Make-It booth.
While the first full day of Max focused on the muscle behind what Adobe products can do, the second day highlighted who the people are that are using and where it’s going. Our morning was spent in the company of inspiring leaders like Annie Griffith, Jonathan Adler, Mark Ronson and Jon Favreau who each shared their life story and how they use their creative energy in a way that gives back to the world. There’s nothing quite like sitting in a room of 12,000 people hearing how creativity can drive change in our world.
That evening, as the conference began to wrap up we were given the chance to watch Sneaks, which is a mind-bending, jaw-dropping sneak peek at where Adobe is going in the future. We watched black and white drawings be coloured in with the click of a button, we saw content-aware filled videos that could remove entire people from a video clip in seconds. There was instant 3d modelling of a sketch to a real product and so much more that it was hard to keep track of it all! I can’t wait to see these features rolled out in future updates.
The final event, the Max Bash, took place in the nearby Linq parking lot. Food trucks with every kind of free food imaginable lined the party and we were treated to Dragon’s Breath desserts that let smoke billow out your mouth. Drinks were flowing and the entire place was done up like a trip through Wonderland, giant rabbits pushing out into the night. Saint Motel kicked off the night before headliner Mark Ronson took over and we enjoyed the last few hours of the Max experience.
If you ever get the chance, or maybe you’ve been thinking about it already, to attend Adobe Max I say go for it. There’s value in the keynotes and in the sessions and you’ll no doubt learn some creative tools and techniques but overall you’ll be able to connect with so many other creative people. To me, Adobe Max feels more like the high school reunion that I never went to. It was a chance to catch up with old friends, a chance to make new friends, and a chance to build your creative network in a way that you can really only do in this sort of environment. Plus you you’ll walk away with some new creative underwear and a t-shirt or two!
Thanks Adobe for the invite and for the week that took my creativity to the max.