Best of Behance’s 99% Conference: 13 Tried and True Practices For Making Ideas Happen

The Behance “99%” conference wound up on a high note with Pentagram designer Michael Bierut offering five sane and simple principles for maximum productivity.


The Behance “99%” conference wound up on a high note with Pentagram designer Michael Bierut offering five sane and simple principles for maximum productivity. Given his track record–hundreds of design awards, work at MOMA, a faculty appointment at Yale, a hugely popular blog, and a book or two, (I’m exhausted just listing all his accomplishments!)–his was advice with instant cred.


In typical modest fashion, however, he denied having any particular genius: “I’m not creative. I don’t have ideas I want to express. I can’t think of any personal projects. I became a designer because I wanted people to come to me with problems to solve. I’m like a doctor who needs patients–the sicker the better–because I can’t practice on myself.”

A sweet thought, but really, Michael. Would that we were all so un-gifted!

So, if you’re only a fraction as ‘uncreative’ as Bierut, you, too, can profit from his tips:

1. Keep a notebook. Bierut started this practice in 1992, and now has 86 of the things. But they’re not some fancy Moleskins full of lush watercolor sketches. They’re plain vanilla notebooks, filled with, well, notes and the occasional sketch. They seem to work as well as the high-priced spread.


2. Listen first, then design. Actually, you don’t have to be a designer to take this advice. If you’re selling office paper at Dunder Mifflin, or pitching an account at Sterling Cooper, listening is still a good way to get a project off on the right foot.

3. Don’t avoid the obvious. The obvious can be your best friend. There are few new ideas, folks. Mostly just better iterations of the old ones. Trying to reinvent the wheel too often just results in a lot of wheel spinning.

4. The problem contains the solution. Read the brief or the specs, or actually pay attention to your notes from the client meeting (see #1, above.) Often, the solution is right there.

5. Indulge your obsessions. They’re passion made tangible.

6. Love is the answer. There are worse things than leading with your heart. As Bierut has proven, you’ll often be successful, do great work, and probably make money. And you’ll likely be happy.


Here’s a final round-up of other big ideas from the conference that may help you get from inspiration to action:

7. Don’t let the urgent demands of today always subvert your plans for tomorrow. In other words, don’t let the often trivial demands of an overflowing inbox consistently distract you from the more important items on your to-do list. Along those lines, keep two lists: one of daily tasks, the other of longer term projects with specific action items attached. – Scott Belsky, CEO, Behance

8. Don’t underestimate the importance of staying organized. Chaos subverts progress. Creativity x organization = impact – Belsky

9. Hang around people who are passionate about things. Their enthusiasm will rub off on you. Whom you hang out with really matters. – Jason Randal, theorist on developing expertise

10. Hire the best lawyers. “I’ve met many people who run billion-dollar companies. They aren’t that smart. They hire good lawyers. It’s one of the things that made this project happen.” Robert Hammond, Co-founder, Friends of the High Line.


11. Share ideas liberally. If you share quickly, you’ll be more accountable. – Belsky

12. Surround yourself with people who motivate you, and write things down. Something as large as a presidential campaign was done simply by checking items off a to-do list. – Scott Thomas, design director, Obama for America

13. Nothing trumps hard work. “Many successful people don’t want to talk about how hard they work. Even when you’ve made it, you’ve got to keep working.” – Jill Greenberg, photographer

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The 99% Conference from Behance

About the author

Linda Tischler writes about the intersection of design and business for Fast Company.