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What I Learnt at Adobe MAX

Last month you may have been slightly disoriented to see TDF Instagramming from Las Vegas (!!). I wasn’t there for a rowdy party, nor to make my millions on slot machines, but to attend the annual Adobe MAX creative conference!

It was a pretty mind-blowing experience, with a stellar line-up of tech whizzes and creative people taking to the stage to talk about new innovations and their artistic practices, as well as running awesome workshops. Today I’m sharing my key takeaways from this inspiring trip!

Annie Portelli

Jonathan Adler at Adobe MAX. ‘The dichotomy between self-love and self-hate is the fuel to all of my creativity,’ divulged the American potter, designer, and author. In his own unique way, he also encouraged that ‘every idea is a terrible idea’!! Photo – courtesy of Adobe MAX.

Bryan Lamkin, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Adobe welcoming us to the super-sized event in Las Vegas! Photo – courtesy of Adobe MAX.

American photographer Annie Griffiths, who is known for her work at National Geographic. She spoke about the ability for photography to humanise various situations and cultures, which could not been more timely and relevant – creatives mobilise! Photo – courtesy of Adobe MAX.

Annie Portelli
6th of November 2017

With Adobe being all that in the world of design, I was expecting something pretty impressive at their annual creative conference Adobe MAX. But to be honest, the scale and style of it all was astounding (as was Las Vegas itself). The software giant is currently at its most progressive, with a focus on virtual reality, artificial intelligence and adapting new programs to enhance the current generation of creative people!

I joined 12,000 creatives, including influencers, guests, designers and developers from around the world, for what was the biggest turnout the conference has ever seen. Across the week, there was a huge focus on making things more efficient for designers today (thanks for the hundreds of hacks!), and I was able to attend keynote addresses, with photographer Annie Griffiths, designer Jonathan Adler, actor/director Jon Favreau and even DJ Mark Ronson! While the talks from these leading influencers were super insightful (and have already been covered in detail in the media), what really inspired me were my chats with four perhaps lesser-known graphic designers/ illustrators, which you can find below.

‘Design and creativity have never been so important,’ said Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen as he discussed the new era of art and technology we are now entering, in his opening address. In fitting U-S-A fashion, he closed with a coach-esque call-to-action: ‘Being creative means being brave’.

Artwork by Timothy Goodman. Photo – courtesy of the designer.

Timothy Goodman is a graphic designer, illustrator and an art director working in New York City. Photo – courtesy of the designer.

Design is tool to elevate other people’s stories’


The New York City-based graphic designer, illustrator and art director spoke on exploring personal/social experiments in his work, and how we can communicate these through design. Refreshingly frank, Timothy would rather letter his own words horribly than someone else’s beautifully.  ‘If you want to change your look, then you need to change your tool,’ he advised.

Some of his work is political, at times it’s experimental, but all that he creates tells a story and teaches you something – ranging from romantic relationships, to political issues, to getting you to reflect on your relationship with your own dad! I was inspired by how he brings relatable issues to the forefront and sparks conversations using design.

Timothy’ Goodman‘s portfolio includes clients like Airbnb, Google, Adobe, Ford, J.Crew, MoMA, Samsung, Target, The New Yorker, and The New York Times. Check out the blog he co-created and book ‘40 Days of Dating‘ with Jessica Walsh, (which has received over 15 million unique visitors) and their second social experiment ‘12 Kinds of Kindness‘. Timothy also has a writing series ‘Memories of a Girl I Never Knew’, and his second book, Sharpie Art Workshop, came out last year.

Aaron Draplin is a graphic designer, author and founder of Draplin Design Co.‘Don’t be afraid to apply graphic design to all the things around you, the scary stuff, the efficiency stuff…’ he guides. Photo – courtesy of the designer.

Artwork by Aaron Draplin.

Artwork by Aaron Draplin.


The graphic designer, author and founder of Draplin Design Co‘s couldn’t stress the value he gains from working on fun, personal and meaningful projects enough. He encourages others to reinvent and design things that make them and those around them happy – jobs for friends or those that help people and get an important point across.

One amazing example of this, is the logos he has created for his dog Garry. ‘When I was having a rough day with clients, I would make something for Garry and it would be fun, and before I knew it he became this little brand,’ tells Aaron. Another is the epic design-led documentation of a life, which he has thus far carried out for his young nephew. Aaron emphasised the importance of these fun projects, because there’s a good chance that you can end up getting work from them, work that you actually enjoy, and can be you’re proud of. Plus, It’s a good way to flesh out a style.

Aaron sees graphic design as a way to intrigue and start conversations, and always finds time to do the projects that matter, such as those in support of charities and activists. He urges creatives to make that time to do these kinds of projects, asking you to consider, ‘think about how much time you throw away over the course of a week!’.

For the past 15 years, Aaron has carried around a little passport notepad to religiously jot down all of his ideas, which are often inspired by America signage and nostalgic memories. ‘It starts on paper, it ends up as a nice little vector!’ says the graphic designer. ‘Design shouldn’t just be a nine-to-five thing, we’re so lucky to do this’.

From their Portland base, Aaron’s Draplin Design Co. ‘makes stuff’ for Coal Headwear, Union Binding Co., Richmond Fontaine, Esquire, Nike, Wired, Dinosaur Jr, Timberline, Chunklet, Eaux Claires, Poler, Incase, Giro, Cobra Dogs, Jill Soloway, Sasquatch! Music Festival, Rhett Miller, Old 97s, Nixon Watches, Patagonia, Target, Megafaun, Ford Motor Company, Woolrich and even the Obama Administration (!!). Their first book, ‘Pretty Much Everything’, came out last year.

Kansas City-based designer, illustrator, author and educator Tad Carpenter.

Photo – courtesy of Tad Carpenter.

Logo design by Tad Carpenter.

Artwork by Tad Carpenter.


The Kansas City-based designer, illustrator, author and educator championed the ‘importance of play’ in design, discussing how designating one hour per week of play (making ‘Sunday suns’ for example) has propelled his creativity and his company over the years. ‘Play removes limits with clients – there’s always constraints on us, but when we are playing, we are free. So, the more you play, the more it becomes a part of your practice, and the easier it is to bring it into the work you do every day,’ Tad explains.

He loves to bring people together through collaborative design and experiences such as murals and installations, and talked at length about client-designer relationships – ‘being honest with your outcome, will benefit you ALL in the end.’

Tad was chuffed to be making new creative friends at Adobe MAX and catching up with what old ones had been working on. On a personal level, Tad reflected that he has been so fortunate to build his own career based on passion projects and guided, ‘try not to let it get un-fun!’

Tad Carpenter co-runs the design and branding studio, Carpenter Collective with his wife, Jessica Carpenter. They’ve worked with the likes of Target, Coca-Cola, Macy’s, Old Navy, Conan O’Brien, Adobe and MTV, and music legends including Bob Dylan, Radiohead, Paul McCartney and the Dave Matthews Band to name a few. Tad has also written and illustrated over 20 children’s books, and currently teaches graphic design at the University of Kansas.

An artwork by Sydney-based illustrator, designer and artist Sha’an d’Anthes, from her debut book ‘Zoom‘.

The young creative started her blog/portfolio Furry Little Peach in year 11 and has since gained hundreds-of-thousands of followers. Photo – courtesy of the artist.

Artwork by Sha’an d’Anthes.

Sha’an d’Anthes

Last but not least, I crossed paths with home-grown talent, Sha’an, of Furry Little Peach fame – her popular blog/portfolio grew from year 11 ATAR procrastination into a platform that today has 140k+ followers. The young Sydney-based illustrator, designer and exhibiting artist sat down with me for a quick chat about the conference (stay tuned for our full profile on her later in the year).

Funnily enough, from the hundreds of speakers, we both ended raving about the same two (featured above!). ‘Aaron Draplin’s energy is amazing; he’s so passionate you can really tell he just lives and breathes his work,’ says Sha’an, who also noted Tad Carpenter’s session as a highlight, for he was an illustrator with the same ‘old style’ that often influences her work. ‘He makes me feel like I want to be a better person all-round because he’s so “sunshiny”,’ she adds – and we hope you’re feeling that too! Her other top pick was graphic designer Bonnie Seigler, who spoke on design that makes a positive difference in the world, which you can check out more about here.

‘The thing that I like most about Adobe MAX is the people that you meet (even those who are not necessarily speaking), because you can form connections with creatives who are in a similar stage of their careers as you and who have the same insecurities and challenges to face!’ tells Sha’an.

Like me, she left the conference feeling reflective, inspired by new innovations and with lots of creative food for thought. ‘I am very project driven and I will often book too many projects at once,’ she says. ‘A big goal for me in the future is to just have a play and push my ideas further and actually create projects for myself, because that’s when you learn things and that’s when you’re most creative!’

Sha’an d’Anthes has just released her debut picture book, ‘Zoom’ teaching kids about the solar system, which she has written and illustrated. See more of her work – such as artwork, painterly illustrations, funky pins, linen collaborations, and more – on her blog Furry Little Peach.

Annie Portelli was a guest of Adobe for the Adobe MAX conference.

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