Weapons of Mass Inspiration: 6 Speakers Who Killed it at Weapons of Mass Creation Fest

Written by

Fabian Espinoza


**UPDATE, 9/3/13: Due to fatherhood-induced lack of sleep and messy note-taking, I misattributed a quote to Troy Deshano that actually belongs to Valerie Mayen of Yellowcake Shop. Sincerest apologies. I’ve righted the wrong below, and added a recap of Valerie’s amazing talk — a bonus 7th Speaker! **

I didn’t know what exactly to expect from the Weapons of Mass Creation Fest, but friends who attended last year assured me it would be an experience I would not soon forget. They were right.

Their website sums up the event nicely:

“The Weapons of Mass Creation Fest is the premier art, design, and music event in the Midwest. Now in its fourth year, 1,200+ attendees will descend upon Cleveland for three days in August to see 20 speakers, 20 designers, and over 30 bands. Creative professionals, entrepreneurs, musicians, artists, students, and fans will gather to learn, get inspired, collaborate, network, and celebrate together.”

But WMC isn’t just an event; it has a personality. And so do its attendees.

Audience at Weapons of Mass Creation 2013

This unique personality is apparent from the moment you walk in. To an outsider, the hotspots of diverse people practicing raw creativity with no concern for “normalcy” or “the status quo” could elicit the impression that the event’s sole purpose is to be rebellious.

I’m here to tell you WMC is so much more. The truth is that what’s being practiced and promoted is a sense of openness and realness. A real attempt at being true to one’s self, in the context of design and creativity.

At WMC, there are three distinct spaces: one for speakers, one for vendors, and one for bands. The events in each of these areas happen simultaneously, which means you can move around from place to place, engaging with anything that tickles your fancy. Being from Duarte, I naturally gravitated to the speakers. I spent literally hours listening to presentations and stories that were inspiring, humorous, and sometimes heart wrenching.

The speakers were, to say the least, amazing!

Mark Brickey, best known for his work on the Adventures in Design podcast, acted as the event host and brought great energy to each of the presentations.

There are too many great talks to list them all, but I’ll share my four favorites:

  • Jessica Karle Heltzel and Tim Hoover
    The Kern and Burn duo reminded us to not get stuck in the monotony of a job and forget why you became a designer in the first place. Instead of getting lost in the drudgery of the day-to-day, think projects as just that — a project, as you would have in your freelance or college days. Putting a new spin on an old task can incite inspiration from even the most menial task.
  • Caroline Moore
    The founder of Moore Design, Co. recounted her early years in the DIY punk rock scene and the inspiration that came from surrounding herself with people with an unwavering commitment to “get shit done,” no matter the lack of resources. She recalled an instance where her musician friends found a creative replacement for a concert venue — a Taco Bell parking lot. The gig was such a success, they were asked to perform again the next night. Her talk reminded me to view constraints as opportunities for creativity, and focus on what can be done, instead of what can’t. 
  • Jen Adrion and Omar Noory
    The duo behind “These Are Things” began their presentation by describing a series of upbeat successes, beginning in 2010 with their first foray into modern cartography. They designed a modern world map that sold out almost instantly; they were invincible. Then they revealed that there was more to their journey than success. They admitted that, in fact, their path was riddled with extreme highs and stark lows. The pair spoke with such honesty, describing their struggles and sometimes-harsh blows to their business. They recalled being asked to speak at this year’s WMC. At the time, just a year ago, they had been on top of the world and living in Brooklyn, but as 2013 rolled around, they found themselves struggling and living in Jen’s parents’ basement. They dreaded speaking at WMC, but they chose to take a different approach — to be honest with us rather than just talking about their successes. Their candor was extremely touching, and they received a standing ovation for it.
  • Troy Deshano
    The artist and illustrator from Traverse City, Michigan delivered arguably the most inspiring and heart wrenching talk. Deshano courageously let us into the innermost areas of his life, from a battle with cancer in his twenties, to hearing his son who is diagnosed with Autism speak his first words. It was a tearjerker for everyone in the room, including the host of the show, who was not shy about sharing his emotional reaction during the Q&A.
  • *BONUS!* Valerie Mayen Former Project Runway contestant and owner of Yellowcake Shop — a store with a slant toward the bold — started her presentation in a very unique way. She played a song on her ukulele and sang along. You could almost feel a blanket of ease fall on everyone in the audience as she played through her melody. It was an intimate opening with a humble proclamation of, “Here I am!” An authentic performance to foreshadow the authentic presentation to come. She recounted challenges, heartaches, and many of the struggles along the way. Some of her stories were from her time on Project Runway but most stemmed from her personal life and the people she holds dear. I was very grateful that she allowed us into her world as much as she did.Towards the end of her presentation she said something that particularly resonated with me:

At the end of the day I’ll always have my hands, skills, and my ideas but those won’t love you back. Don’t let your creativity and your business make you lose sight of yourself and your family.

When she said that, I thought about my daughter and my family. Those two mere sentences shifted my perspective and helped reignite my creative spark and make me remember what’s important in life.

There were many more great stories told at WMC Fest 2013 — some onstage and others in casual conversation — that will leave me with memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life. If you have a chance to attend next year I implore you to go. It will be an experience you won’t soon forget.

Collage of photos taken at Weapons of Mass Creation 2013

Take the next step

We offer flexible, individual and team training to help build critical communication skills as well as hands-on, one-on-one coaching and full-service strategy, consulting and presentation design support. Learn more below:

Written by

Fabian Espinoza


Events, Influencing, Presenting, Storytelling, Visual Thinking

Take the next step

We offer flexible, individual and team training to help build critical communication skills as well as hands-on, one-on-one coaching and full-service strategy, consulting and presentation design support. Learn more below:

Get insights in your inbox

Communication tips, tools, and resources.