By Steph Doyle
Images by Nicholas Nawroth & Kelly Parke

This year’s HOW design conference was a bit different for me than past design conferences, as I actually decided to experience some the host city’s cultural offerings. And I don’t mean from the inside of a restaurant or bar. Well, at least that was my intention.

On Monday, day 2 of the conference, the morning started out with an inspirational presentation given by my colleague and friend, Von Glitschka. The session was entitled, “Creating 5-Alarm Concepts” and used the metaphor of collecting matches. Not two things that are alike, but the sticks you use to start a fire. The matches are symbolic of the life experiences that we intentionally or accidently go through, and how we can translate those experiences into 5-alarm creative concepts for use in daily problem solving. Click the link above to download Von’s awesome presentation.

Tequila Slurpees

After the morning sessions, I was asked to join a group of friends (the *HOWies as they are affectionately known) for lunch. It was blazing hot outside and being at such a high altitude, I was becoming dehydrated from all the panting I was doing to stay oxygenated. As I walked into the restaurant, I couldn’t help but notice one of the HOWies had a cold refreshing Margarita. I could see the ice cold condensation dripping down the sides of the glass. It truly was a sight to behold and, being parched, I just had to have one! As it turns out, it was two-for-one day and I ended up with two frozen concoctions, at the same time.

photo courtesy Kelly Parke

The Margaritas arrived looking like thick lime colored Slurpees in tall beer mugs. I quickly drank one down with the consequential brain-freeze that followed. The bittersweet combination of this delicious drink and my forehead about to explode was something to be desired. I’m sure some at my table were delighted to see me writhe in pain brought on by my quick and thoughtless consumption. This was the first match collected for the day.

Trek to the Denver Art Museum

After recovering from losing about 10,000 brain cells to tequila frostbite, it was decided that a few of us would seek out the Denver Art Museum. We had a few hours to kill before the next session. Why not go on a mini adventure? Now this plan was sporadic and it is wisely said that, “failure to plan is a plan that fails.“ This is where matchstick number two is collected.

photo courtesy Kelly Parke – Nick Nawroth and Steph Doyle embark on their art museum adventure

Denver is a great town and on 16th street, you can catch a free bus trip from one end to the other. Yes, I said free. 16th street is also referred to as the mall having many shops, restaurants and hotels along its sides. So a few of us pile onto a very crowded bus and head toward the southern end of the street. It becomes a loop and dead-ends near the unmistakable gold-domed capital building.

As we download from the bus (off loading would be too kind of a description), in the distance through a tree-lined park I spot a building that looks like an art museum. Just to be sure, I ask one of the locals which direction we should go. He’s quickly pointed towards the building I have already targeted. Success! Maybe.

photo courtesy Nicholas Nawroth – It really looks like an art museum

As we trek across the parched grass of the park in what seems like 100° weather, we approach the stairs to a magnificent building. The stairs lead to a columned entrance fit for a Roman Emperor. The top of the building looks to be designed by Greek Gods. A clever banner hangs down from the columns gently blowing in the breeze. Angels sing, waahhh. Yes! We have arrived! I excitedly open the door and … there is security. What a buzz kill!

photo courtesy Nicholas Nawroth – Lions, tigers and security, oh my!

At this point we are required to run all personal belongings through an x-ray machine. In my disbelief, I have forgotten many metal objects in my pockets (i.e. my iPhone, business card holder, tin of Altoids, change, etc.). After going through the metal detector for the 5th time, I am thinking to myself, “Man! Denver is serious about their art!” As my mind wanders, the security guard hands my iPhone to me and states, “Sir, you will have to turn this off. No pictures are allowed past this point.” What?!  What kind of art museum doesn’t allow pictures?

photo courtesy Nicholas Nawroth – actual art in the courthouse entrance

Well at least we are in. As I look around I notice a couple of relief art pieces on each side of the entrance. These pieces appear to be visual depictions of Colorado history. I look around further and suddenly notice that there are hallways with unfriendly looking doors and not much more. Where is the art?! As I scan the incredible interior architecture I notice a sign about 10 feet up the wall. “5th District Court” it stoically read in a Gothic typeface. Damn! We’re in the Denver County courthouse!

The Actual Art Museum

photo courtesy Kelly Parke – Steph standing under a huge red chair with a life-sized horse

We eventually made our way to the actual art museum only to find it was closed on Mondays. Fortunately, there were art installations on the outside that we were able to enjoy. As I stated earlier, these experiences can turn into conceptual matches and I’m sure sometime in the future a project will come along where I can reflect from my mental matchbox and strike these matches to stir up some creative fire. How many matches will you collect today?

*HOWies are HOW Design Forum members that have formed unique relationships and collaborations to further their development in the creative industry. Visit the HOW Design Forum to become a part of this dynamic group.

Steph Doyle is partner and creative director of Cinq Partners, a communication design firm specializing in branding companies and institutions that have unique visions for creating change in their marketplace.

Steph’s thoughts and design work have been published at No-Spec!, DG USA, Logo Lounge Book 5 & Master Series Book 1. He also had an interview recently published in The Graphic Designers Guide to Portfolio Design (second edition), written by Debbie Myers. Additionally, he is an active member of the AIGA, GFAF, InDesign Users Group, and The Air Force Art Program Society of Illustrators.