The SEED conference in chicago

Matt Jankowski

Last week Chad and I flew out to windy Chicago for the SEED conference — A One-Day Conference on Design, Entrepreneurship & Inspiration, by 37signals, Segura Inc. & Coudal Partners. Both of our flights got in after 1AM, so we didn’t get to take in too much of Chicago Thursday night. We did have time to notice that the McCormick place convention center is pretty damn big though.


Friday morning we arrived at the Illinois Institute of Technology campus for the conference. The campus features a prominent train tunnel sort of thing as you walk in, an explanation for which we were to receive later in the day. Interesting as the tunnel was, it was about 10 degrees out, so we went right in for breakfast and registration. After some brief networking and coffee, everyone was invited in to the main auditorium for the day’s festivities.


Speaking first was Carlos Segura, founder of Segura, inc, T26, 5 inch, and much more. I was probably least familiar with Carlos’ work out of all the speakers, but I was quite impressed with what he had to say. It was interesting to be taken out of my comfort zone of web and web application specific business discussion and hear about things that I’m not that familiar with (the world of font licensing, for example) - but to still be able to recognize the underlying message that those stories were telling.

Throughout his talk, Carlos insisted that a) this is my only hat and b) you have to remind the client that they’re irrelevant … nicely.

I did it because I was an idiot. I am no longer an idiot.

Carlos Segura, on doing spec work


Next up was Jason Fried, one of the founders of 37Signals. I’d seen Jason speak years ago at a Building of basecamp workshop in San Francisco — and the 37signals Getting Real philosophy isn’t exactly a secret to anyone these days - but it was still worthwhile to hear Jason talk about the building of the 37signals business and and how they’ve grown out of client work.

You don’t know what you’re doing anyway … until you’re doing it.

Jason Fried, on whether you know what you’re doing


Edward Lifson led a working lunch where he discussed the IIT campus architecture, Mies van der Rohe, Rem Koolhaas, copying vs stealing, etc.

At first I tried hard to find links between what Lifson was talking about and the rest of the speakers. It wasn’t hard to do because architecture contains just as much opinion and art as graphic design does, but at a certain point I decided I was stretching it and decided to just enjoy the architecture for what it was.


The final speaker was Jim Coudal of Coudal Partners. One thing I didn’t know: Coudal Partners is only six people! Of the three presenters, Jim seemed most confident in the possibility of constantly inventing and discovering new businesses (and filming funny videos to amuse everyone). Someone asked a question about how they set that up legally, with new products and services launching all the time, and I thought that Jim’s answer of it can be as hard as you want to make it really summed up the day quite well.

Well, I’m actually a creationist

Jim Coudal, on evolution in design

Panel discussion

There was a common thread of don’t worry, just do it between the three speakers, in regard to starting new projects and new businesses. It’s so easy to get bogged down in why you can’t do something or why your competitors have already beat you, or why you’ll run into legal trouble, and so on. Carlos, Jason and Jim all had true stories about how you can be successful by executing first and worrying later.

Overall, I think we found the day enjoyable and worthwhile. So much of the Getting Real philosophy is just plain common sense. It was good to step back from the day to day of client work (where that common sense is sometimes lost) and be reminded of that.