Epicurrence was the most beautiful, energizing, comfortable, and relaxing uncomfortable experience I’ve had in a long time.
I’ve been attending and speaking at design conferences for over a decade now, so I feel like I have the rhythm down: a full day of sessions of varying value, usually 9ish to 5ish, with a few hours before and after to catch some sights and meals with new friends you’ve just made. But the beauty of Epicurrence is that every detail was designed. By a designer. And a damn good one at that.
I can’t say enough good things about Dann Petty, Epicurrence’s producer, director, and creator. I’m not sure if Dann envisioned every little amazing detail or if he just got lucky in the way it came together, but he totally got it right. I overheard him say that our industry works really hard together, so we deserve to play hard together too. The format of Epicurrence was flipped from a traditional conference: instead of talks during the day and extracurriculars outside of that, all the talks/panels happened from 8am – 10am or 6pm – 10pm. From 10am to 5pm, your time was your own to group up and enjoy being in Hawaii.
The calm and beauty of Oahu can’t be understated. It’s a long trip from Philly, which has always made me skeptical of the value of the trek. But Epicurrence was the perfect excuse to travel 5,000 miles to see for myself. The tranquility wasn’t immediately apparent upon arriving at a fairly municipal Honolulu Airport, but every minute of the hour drive to the North Shore revealed more lush greenery and majestic mountains. Upon arriving at the amazing Billabong House (where the majority of the conference was held), I was completely ready for a week of stress-free relaxation.
And yet, as much as I was relaxed, I was just as uneasy the whole time.
Being at Epicurrence emphasized the myopia that exists all too often in our industry, and in the world. I became acutely aware of my minority status at this event:
The list goes on. In fact, a lot of the event content focused both directly and indirectly on minority groups in our work. Jessica Collier wrote specifically about the discomfort of a women’s panel that happened on the second night. After it didn’t come up organically in a discussion about how separate disciplines at Dropbox figured out how to work well together, Donovan Bass volunteered his willingness to talk about his experiences as a minority in tech, and a panel that was just about to wrap up was immediately extended by 45 minutes. The desire for discussion around this topic was palpable.
It was the first time I really thought about the benefits of being a minority.
When I’m coaching designers or agency owners, one of the first exercises I have them do is to list out all the things that make them different than their competitors. It usually starts out with BS like “We care more than they do” but eventually gets to something substantive. Choosing to positioning yourself as a minority—as something different than the sea of same out there—is often an effective branding technique.
I’ve always used being a minority for my benefit. Growing up in North Philly gives me an edge in designing grittier work than my more prevalent suburban counterparts. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been invited to speak at a conference because I’m brown, but I’m sure it doesn’t hurt. Being a minority can be great when you’re treated well because of it, but more often than not, it gets you treated more poorly. Females in male-centric environments tend to be overlooked. The poverty-stricken in affluent neighborhoods are feared. Millennials think boomers have outlived their usefulness. In uncomfortable situations, minorities tend to want to obfuscate their minority-ness; I know I do.
Going to Epicurrence forced me consider all of this. It was the first time I really thought about the advantages—and disadvantages—of being a minority. Being part of some minorities is a choice; being part of others isn’t. I can’t choose my race or my gender, but I can decide which experiences to partake in and which to abstain from.
I almost missed it because I was too comfortable being uncomfortable.
So I surfed.
This non-swimmer strapped on a life jacket and went for it. My identification as part of the "non-surfers" minority group at a surf-centric conference and the realization that I could change that was exactly what I needed to stretch me. Em, Anthony, Natalie, and I met a few friendly surf instructors at a mild beach and caught tiny waves for an hour and a half. I probably caught about ten waves and stood up on about four. (I could have stood on all of them, but I was too freaked out about falling into the drink and getting tousled around.) I didn’t realize this until later, but those "friendly surf instructors" were actually professional surfers Myles Padaca, Pancho Sullivan, Jason Murray, and a local named Tawa. I learned to surf from pro surfers! And I almost missed it because I was too comfortable being uncomfortable.
With that newfound logic, this unadventurous homebody did a no-doors helicopter tour over Oahu.
Despite its low-key facade, Epicurrence was an incredibly deep and exploratory adventure for me, both internally and externally. Dann, I’m not sure if you know what you’re on to or if this was all part of your master plan, but, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.