More Family Reunion Than Conference

Something special happened in South Lake Tahoe this week. I boarded the plane bound for the west coast and Epicurrence early Sunday morning with anticipation and few expectations. I wasn't sure what I was in for over the next few days. I had hopes for new experiences (I hadn't skied since I was a kid, more to come on this), opportunities to meet some of my design heroes, and a desire to leave inspired to further my creative passions. Epicurrence fulfilled and exceeded those hopes.

I've attended a variety of conferences. SXSW, Brooklyn Beta, Circles Conference, SmashingConf, all of which have shaped and challenged me in individual ways. But recently I've grown a bit weary of the conference scene and I don't think I'm alone. It seems several of my peers want to attend events which spark conversation and community rather than the focus being on a continuous knowledge dump, which can become exhausting. The two years I attended Brooklyn Beta showed me an event which successfully blended environments of learning and community. I have fond memories of traveling to Brooklyn and spending several days in person with online friends as well as returning home refreshed to pick up my work with renewed enthusiasm and inspiration. When I saw the announcement for Epicurrence I saw potential for this to be a similar style conference, so I jumped at the chance to attend.

Since starting at PCPartPicker I've been working from home, which has been an immense blessing to me and my family (a post all about that is in the works). But like a lot of other people who work remotely you have lonely days. I'm the only designer on the team so I highly value opportunities to converse with other designers in person. I've known Dann Petty for a few years now, but had yet to have a chance to meet him in person. I was looking forward to that opportunity. The speakers he lined up are easily some of the best in the business. I've met Marc a few times before and it's always a pleasure to spend time with that dude. His energy and pursuit in the game is infectious. Ben is one of the co-founders of Rally Interactive which is one of today's hottest studios. I've wanted to meet him ever since I interviewed him awhile back on Method & Craft. Tobias can't help but create some of the most beautiful work I've ever seen. I resonate with his love for product design. Josh was scheduled to speak, but had to cancel at the last minute. It was a shame because he's incredibly talented and I would've loved to hear his perspective in the discussions we had. Thankfully a few audibles would called and other attendees were able to step up in his absence.

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So on that Sunday, after arriving in Reno-Tahoe International Airport: "The Dumpiest Little Airport in the World" (slogan pending), I met up with Tobias, Jonathan, and Anthony and we made our way down to South Lake Tahoe. I live in Texas so mountains and snow are a novelty. Pulling into SLT we grabbed lunch, soaked up some sun on the top deck of the Heavenly Ski Resort California Side and then made our way down to the "Epic House". Soon everyone else started to arrive and the first night of Epicurrence kicked off.


Photos by Rico Castillero

Every detail of Epicurrence was born from a heart of generosity. Dann went above and beyond to make us all feel welcome and ready for the next couple of days. For starters, our accommodations were...how do I put this...insane.


Located within walking distance of access to the slopes were two massive homes which housed the majority of our group. The Epic House was homebase for Epicurrence. We ate there. We had our discussions there. We Meerkatted from there. The food was magnificent! Breakfast and dinner were prepared by a talented group of chefs and fridges were stocked with Blue Bottle coffee and Munchery meals. I had not heard of Munchery until this trip but I do hope they expand to Austin. The meals are exceptional.

Each attendee received a bag the first night, the contents of which were perfect compliments to the needs of the mountain. It didn't stop there. Boosted provided several of their boards for us to enjoy and use a means of transportation between houses. Zeel met us with massages after hours shredding the mountain. Western Digital gave us a way to all go home with the photos taken during the event by Rico Castillero. These are just some of the examples of how these companies contributed, but my sincere thanks goes out to all of the sponsors of Epicurrence: Boosted, Zeel, InVision, The Grid, Munchery, Western Digital, Spy, The Great Discontent, Nixon, Topo Designs, Heavenly, Patagonia, GoPro, and Poler.


Photos by Rico Castillero

One of the reasons Dann created Epicurrence was to share his passions with his friends and peers, hence the location and time scheduled to head for the slopes of Heavenly. I hadn't skied since I was a kid and I've never snowboarded. I opted to ski and after being told about two or three key things to remember I shredded up that bunny slope. I'm actually quite proud of the fact that I didn't fall. In fact, the most dangerous time I had on the mountain was getting on the conveyor belt tunnel which took me up to the top of the beginner slope. "Lean forward" they tell you. I followed instructions but nearly ate it each time. I discovered, when others weren't as luck as I was, that the conveyor belt comes to an instant stop when someone falls when getting on. This "safety" halt of the belt I'm sure helps the person who just fell, but also usually caused a few people already standing on the belt to topple over. I'm telling you, Black Diamonds are no match for the bunny slope conveyor belt tunnel.

Our time on the mountain gave everyone a chance to break off and bond over the thrill of the snowy slopes. I'll admit that at first I thought our time on the mountain could be a distraction from the event, but it turned out to be a crucial component of the "family reunion" vibe of Epicurrence. By not being confined to chairs and presentations, we relaxed and laughed. Whatever hangups or egos may have been brought to Epicurrence were left on the mountain that first day.

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But as epic as the snow, food, and gear were it was the people who made Epicurrence a truly special event. There were scheduled discussions on topics the current state of design, the future of agencies, The Grid, and running studios and products. But since we ate, slept, and played together conversations continued at all hours, which meant there was plenty of time and opportunity for impromptu chats. What resulted was a raw candidness that I have never experienced at a conference before. Appropriately, we all understood that most of what was shared at Epicurrence stays at Epicurrence. Sure some of the info discussed we're free to share, but there were often moments of vulnerable information which necessitates confidentiality. I loved this. In our open world of social sharing it's hard to reach deeper levels of relationship, especially with people we know only through online channels. Epicurrence was only a few days long, but during that time we went deep and are better for it.

Here are a few of my favorite people moments:

  • Meeting up with Tobias, Anthony and Jonathan on the first day, riding the bus down to South Lake Tahoe and soaking up sun on the top of the Heavenly Resort.
  • Getting the chance to meet Dann Petty in person for the first time. Dude's all heart.
  • Rocking the bunny slopes with Stephen Olmstead and then grabbing lunch on the mountain with Matt Spiel and Erwin Hines where we talked about solving big content design challenges without sacrificing the aesthetic soul.
  • Finally meeting Geoff Teehan and Jon Lax in person. Both of those guys are wicked smart.
  • Seeing Marc Hemeon roll up in all white snow gear which reminded me of the time Gandalf appears on the top of the mountain and saves the day at Helms Deep. Henceforth I refer to Marc as "Hemeon the White".
  • Catching up with ex-Austinite Adam Michela and hoping to pry some inside info on what he and the team are building at Last. Nope.
  • Talking to Tom Krcha about software for designers and my experiences with Photoshop and Sketch.
  • Getting to know Rigel St. Pierre and watching him rock the facilitation of the scheduled talks and helped us know what was next and where we needed to be. He was absolutely crucial to Epicurrence's success.
  • Meeting and listening to Ben Cline and Eric Atwell talk about Rally.
  • Hanging out again with Matt Smith, who claimed the prize for best mountain injury.
  • Camping out with Connor Sears in the theater room of "The Grid House" which had a fantastic collection of 70s and 80s movie posters. It also had a closet where the home's alarm system lived and every time the house door opened we have a computer-aided voice tell us so...in all hours of the night.
  • Meeting Connor McSheffrey in the flesh, chatting about VSCO, but forgetting to tell him he's one of my photography heroes.
  • Taking a brief ride in Michael Jackson's Mustang GT and eating one of his wife's amazing banana muffins, then later getting a sneak peek at a side product he's working on.
  • Listening to Daniel Burka and Marc Hemeon talk about start-ups and product design stories. That conversation could've gone all night and no one would've complained.
  • Trying not to be too much of a fanboy around Toby Grubb.
  • Engaging in a serious discussion about jelly bean flavors with Meg Robichaud.
  • Talking about Salt Lake City, creative communities, Burning Man, and life in general with Eric Atwell, Matt Spiel, Anthony Lagoon and Balind Sieber.
  • Sitting around the fire on the last night hearing ridiculous stories about dolphins, magic crystals, and elvis impersonators with the entire Epicurrence crew.
  • Catching a ride back to the airport with Charlie Waite, Matt Spiel, and Josie Ho and then chatting even more with Josie when we found out we were on the same flight to LAX and had seats next to each other. Good chats about life, family, motivations, and work/life balance Josie!
  • And everyone else who made Epicurrence an absolute blast: Nick, Anthony, Ben, Jason, David, Leigh, Dan, Greg, Michaela, Ozzy, Matt, Kara, Anthony, Aaron, Josh, Bob, Katie, and Tegan.

When a conference feels more like a reunion then it's hard to say goodbye, but then the desire to come back together and do it all over again is that much stronger. Epicurrence Crew No. 1, you guys are alright and welcome in my part of the world anytime. Until next time!


© 2015 — Phil Coffman