An Alt Design Summit Freshman

January 24th, 2012. Other Places

I will be the first to admit: I did not know what I was getting myself into.

Self Portrait

Self Portrait on Day One

On November 15, I signed up to go to a conference in Salt Lake City called the Altitude Design Summit (Alt). Several of the bloggers I have been following for years were speaking, and since I like reading their work online, I figured I might enjoy hearing what they have to say in person too.

After the holidays, chatter about Alt picked up everywhere. Some bloggers were hunting for tickets and hotel rooms while others were creating ‘what to wear’ boards for every hour of the conference. I watched it all from the sidelines and gave in a little because I did stress about what I would wear for the dinner-en-blanc party. But generally, seeing everyone so worked up about what clothes and accessories were going into their suitcases concerned me. I was interested in this conference because of the content and the people, and not their outfits. I’ll be honest, I am intimidated by overly fashionable people.

Fast forward to last Wednesday when I passed through the doors of baggage claim at the Salt Lake City airport and walked to the passenger pick-up area. To my right and to my left, there were ladies in high heels looking lost. We were all searching for the airport “shuttles” which consisted of a few sedans with magnetic logos on the side, and we were all slightly guarded. We were all bloggers, and most of us were there for the first time. We didn’t quite know what our blogs were or where they were going, but we were here for the same reason…to figure that out. The few that had been there before seemed unapproachable in their confidence. We were freshman and cramped their sophomoric style.

The Grand America where the conference was held

Fifteen or twenty minutes later, I packed into a car with two other ladies and went to the main hotel to check in. I split off to rest a bit before leaving for the scheduled dinner with ten others. The evening was the perfect start to an intimidating weekend. The food was prepared by Stephanie and Romina and served in five courses. Over each course, I got to know Molly, Mindy, Taylor and Ruth (all freshmen) a little bit better. By the end, I had four names and faces that I could connect with throughout the week. The only question was would I actually recognize them given the drastic costume changes that would occur.

The following two days were a blur of high heels and red lipstick, with spots of clarity and inspiration thrown in here and there. During the first panel, one of the speakers did elude to the fact that we chose our friends by the clothes they wear, and I must say that that was not what I wanted to hear. I was there because this group of people was giving this new platform of personal expression their all, not because they all wear cute clothes.

After all of the sessions, I came to the conclusion that these bloggers have all been successful thru calculated chance. Blogging is so new that none of them expected to “go pro”, and the platform is also nimble enough that each of them made mistakes and recovered quickly. I also learned that “design bloggers” are not all “designers” in the traditional graphic, interior, industrial, fashion, or architectural sense. They simply have developed an appreciation for their own personal design whatever that may be. I am very interested in knowing what others think design blogging is. We all design our own lives to make ourselves happy, so are we all designers? Or is there a particular rigor or discipline that distinguishes a designer? I am not a design blogger, but I am a designer that blogs. Is there a difference?

Then there were three keynote talks that were all equally amazing. The first discussion between Pilar Guzman, Deborah Needleman, and Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan made me want to have coffee with each of them at least once a month. Then Ben Silberman’s discussion of what Pinterest is and will be gave me my biggest take aways of the entire weekend. First, you have to make things happen if you want them, and second, if you are in a position to expand your business, hire people that are smarter than you so that you can let go with confidence as necessary. Then the final keynote given by Gretchen Rubin was both encouraging and funny, and left everyone wanting to make changes in their daily lives to make them a little bit happier.

The remainder of the time really was a blur to me. All of the chit-chatting between sessions and at big parties was overwhelming. Since I came alone, I didn’t have anyone to serve as my social crutch, and pretty much felt like a loner. I eventually began seeing beyond the pretty faces and glitter, but by that point, I was way behind. Everyone else already had their friends, so I played the part of the wall flower, and I do not sit on the sidelines when I am confident. I must have still been intimidated. I did introduce myself to a hand full of people that I really admire, because I knew I would kick myself if I didn’t.

Then on the very last day at the very last moment….I asked a girl I had chatted briefly with if she wanted to have dinner that night. I know, I actually kind of made a friend!!! Who knew that would make things better? So my last hurrah of the whole experience was by far the best. My new friend, Meg, and I went out to dinner with her friend,  Allison, to a quiet dinner at the Copper Onion downtown. It was one of those evenings where the conversation never lulled, and we felt like old friends the entire time. It was constant and funny and inspiring and energizing and the food was delicious. I know that this is why the sophomores I met on the airport curb returned this year, but it took me, a freshman, some time.

My spot next to two friends

For more Alt recaps, go here.


Jamie, such a great recap of the whole weekend. I’m so glad that we had dinner on Saturday. I couldn’t think of a better way to end the Alt adventure. – Allison

Jamie, I love the candor of your recap! You articulate what many of us “freshman” were feeling. It was wonderful meeting you. Just think – we could have started the bonding on the plane before we even arrived! Looking forward to seeing what you’re up to in 2012, and would love to meet up here in SF at some point. I’m off to another conference at the end of the week, but I’ll follow up when I return in February. P.S. Not sure why you would be intimidated by the “fashionistas” – you have wonderful style!


I agree you do have great style. Never let those “fashionistas” intimidate you my dear.


Thanks guys!! Allison, we should definitely meet up when you settle back down into SF.

As for style, it’s a funny thing, and thank you for the encouragement. I am confident that I have a personal style that matches my personality that doesn’t take much to maintain. I will always be a little bit sloppy and extremely simple, and the cuffs of my shirts will often be stained. I suppose I am simply out of my comfort zone when things get complicated. Does that make sense?

I agree – I love the candor of this recap, especially after reading a bunch of other recaps where it’s nothing but love & glitter! (which is great, but it’s nice to hear the other side too!) I’m glad that in the end you had some fun and made some new friends though!

It was so nice to meet you Jamie. I had similar feelings towards Alt this year and am still trying to sort out my thoughts. Thanks for keeping it real.


What an awesome post. I just started my blog a few months ago but have been following several for a while – reading about how awesome Alt is, etc. I’m dreaming trying something new, nurturing my creativity, and hopefully fitting in. I recently had a hurtful experience that I won’t go into and now feel I should skip the whole thing. But your post reminded me that not everyone is not the same. You’re making me reconsider my decision to skip it next year. Thanks!


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