My Reason for Going
For a long time, I've worked in small creative teams or been the only creative in a small non-profit. My experience with Adobe products is mostly self taught (Illustrator) followed by very specific on-the-job training (InDesign). When I discovered that Adobe MAX was a thing I felt it would be an opportunity to get hands on experience with Adobe products in an environment to which I don't normally have access.
To Pre-Conference or Not to Pre-Conference
While signing up I noticed the Russell Brown pre-conference. What sold me on adding an extra $600 on a non-discountable conference ticket was discovering that Russell is the Senior Creative Director at Adobe and that he would have staff on hand to assist with projects. To me that read as, "now you can ask all the questions you ever had and try programs you've never tried." I also assumed correctly that the other attendees that committed to this session would be similarly curious and ambitious about making cool stuff.
Struck by the size of the San Diego Convention Center, it sunk in how large MAX was going to be and I felt tiny wandering around. Before opening the doors to the classroom they had a little breakfast out and grabbing a plate I made sure to sit down at a table with people already at it. It was important for me to meet as many people as I could and start the day off networking. It was at that table that I met the first few people that would become my Adobe MAX buddies for the rest of the week.
We eventually got in line and traded our driver's licenses for Wacom pens. Trickling into the lab we each sat at stations with iMac desktops and medium sized Wacom Intuos Pros.
The Assignment + Set Up
The session kicked off with Russell in a Spock costume and offering the services of his make-up crew to anyone else interested. Personally, I’m not much of a costume type but made sure to snap pics of everyone else who was. After an icebreaker we settled in to the task.
We were tasked with creating a design to be printed and placed on our own wooden skateboard. Lee Charron from Creature Skateboards gave a presentation about the SoCal based skate company, some history about skateboard design, and what their customer base would be interested in. If we wanted, we could submit a design to be judged by him and Russell to be printed on a series of skateboards. Using either Photoshop or Illustrator and custom templates for the projects, we could also add a wood burned etching to the board and print a t-shirt design.
Next door to our space was a smaller classroom filled withe a small but fierce crew, each with their own space on the production line. A few people at the Epson printers applied the t-shirt design directly to either a white or black shirt; one dude manning the wood etching machine that gave the room an inviting toasted scent; and a few people on the large format printer that produced the skate deck designs and stuck them on the boards. Photographer Sean Teegarden was on hand to document us in our shirts and clutching our boards for a website showcasing the project.
The next two days were a blur. During our work time, we had presentations from several professionals about their own workflow using Illustrator, Photoshop, Lightroom (desktop and mobile), Stock, and the Draw mobile app. Each one influenced the way I had setup my own work flow. I was able to take what I needed and leave the rest. They also showed a short film, the monster from which was there in full costume and makeup to take pictures of. We took little breaks for fun stuff like walking into traffic all dressed as Spock in costumes provided by Russell and crew.
Russell Brown, Chris Converse, Von Glitschka, Aaron Grimes, Orlando Arocena, Doug Menuez, Julieanne Kost, Rayce Bird, Brian Yap
I decided after being dazzled by the speakers to just challenge myself with things I don’t use often. In the end I made something I was pretty proud of and happy to put in my studio.
After two days of busting ass and listening to speakers, we finished everything up and brought it down to the community pavilion to show it off. This is where the class gets a little shaky. The way they planned to adhere the boards to the display didn’t work out. The schedule ran much later than listed so it clashed with some of us who signed up for an evening class. The extra print outs some people made that weren’t applied to boards just disappeared.
All of this aside, the experience was well worth the extra money to attend. I describe it as Adobe bootcamp and if it had been cross-fit I would be super ripped.
The rest of the event was a blur. Once 11,000 people join us in the convention center, our little class of 75 got swallowed into the horde or creative/techie nerds. Classes were spread out across the massive convention center and there was a line (mostly very efficient ones but a lot of lines) for literally everything. From this point on I just tried to go with the flow. I had two labs (which are basically like attending a super condensed Lynda.com class in real life with teaching assistants on hand to help you and free stuff handed out for attending). The two labs I took were the kick in the ass I needed to pull the trigger on my own Lynda.com subscription instead of using other people’s log in.
You can check out the sessions and keynotes online and decide how you feel about them for yourself! (Yes, I was there for Adobe Jesus and the clapping thing. It was adorable and quite a feat to get that many introverted artist / tech types to clap.)
While I definitely feel like my experience was worth it and I plan on attending again I do have some reservations. Next year MAX will be in Las Vegas at The Venetian. This might make it tricky for educators and government workers (of which I met MANY at this event) to attend. At first people suspected that they wanted to have a larger conference (the convention center in Vegas is enormous) but it’s in the Venetian so it’s not about space but rather spectacle. (The Venetian has gondolas in water canals. I went there as a 14 year old and was promptly ignored by everyone too busy in a state of revelry at being in Vegas which was oddly liberating).
Past attendees can get a discount on the conference rates but this move might make first timers hesitate. It makes me wonder who they have identified as their customer base. There are still so many artists and designers who haven’t upgraded to a current CC license—deciding to doubled down on using a stolen copy of CS4 on a 7 year old iMac to cut costs. The word around town is that Adobe is becoming more maker/artist focused but are we maker/artists in a position to shell out thousands of dollars each year for this event? Especially after the sweater-gift-gate? Maybe if it’s the only one we go to which is probably the objective on Adobe’s end.
New friends made it all worth it
Regardless, I’m hoping to check it out next year and continue to learn and network in a field I want to continue to excel in. Especially since I spend most of my time alone in a studio, this was my time to meet people from all over the country who do what I do or what I want to do.
Our little social group grew to about 9 people while we were in San Diego. People began to assume we all worked together instead of strangers from across the country who found each other, stuck together, and continue to keep after the event. Even if we don’t all get to MAX each year I have a feeling we will be in touch. That feeling of community is something that was mentioned by presenters a lot during the conference so in the end they are definitely doing something right.