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A Newbie’s Guide to Adobe MAX

By Jessie Young

Last year, I went to Adobe MAX, the annual gathering of creative people, for the first time. I met some of my heroes, made friends and business contacts, and learned a ton. It was a great experience, but I wish I had known a few things to make it even better. If you're thinking about going to MAX, take a second to benefit from my experience as a rookie traveling solo last year.

1. REGISTER EARLY

Adobe MAX isn't just about inspiring keynote speeches and previews of cool tech. The real meat is the stuff that happens in the conference rooms. As soon as you sign up for MAX, immediately go to the scheduling page so you can get your pick of the small group offerings. Labs and workshops fill up especially quickly, so get the jump on those before all the spots are taken. Seriously, do it now. 

Also, stay vigilant! New offerings will keep popping up until the conference starts, so check back to see what’s new. That's how I squeezed into the Behance portfolio review workshop, and it ended up being one of the best parts of the conference.

2. ALWAYS PICK THE LAB

Can’t decide whether you want the Illustrator Lab or the session? Labs are hands-on trainings with Adobe experts on computers loaded with all the necessary files and software. Sessions are more like lectures, where creative luminaries share best practices in seventy-five-minute presentations followed by a Q & A at the end. Workshops are for off-computer experiences, such as hand-lettering techniques, and are between one to three hours. 

3. ACCEPT THAT YOU CAN’T DO IT ALL

There's so much happening simultaneously that you need a time machine to do it all. And be sure to consider transit time. Running across the LA Convention Center through a crowd of sleepy, star-struck creatives will slow you down. Unless you can teleport, leave gaps in your schedule for walking from point A to point B.

Also, video of the keynotes and sessions will be available on the Adobe MAX site after the conference is over. Labs and workshops, not so much. Nothing beats being there in person, but if you miss a session you can catch up on the slides and the audio when you get home.

4. CONSIDER TAKING PRE-CONFERENCE COURSES, OR AT LEAST SHOW UP EARLY

It’s worth arriving before the conference is in full swing. If you add on a half-day or full-day pre-conference course, you can make the most out of your MAX experience. That, and you can get your conference badge before the lines start forming.

Also, make sure to check your messages in the official Adobe MAX app during the pre-conference days because you're likely to get invitations to special events. I checked off "education" as one of my industries during registration, so I was invited to the event for educators where I was treated to guest speakers and a cocktail hour with fancy hors d'oeuvres.

5. KEEP AN EYE ON SOCIAL MEDIA FOR NEWS, INFO, AND NETWORKING

Make sure to follow Adobe MAX’s social media channels and the official blog. It’s the best way to keep abreast of what's going on and to see what's happening next. 

As for finding conference buddies, social media is your friend. In addition to the official channels, my most important networking resource was the Adobe MAX Facebook community group run by Dax Castro. Join the 2018 group right now; you can tell them I sent you.

6. SAVE TIME (AND SUITCASE SPACE) FOR THE COMMUNITY PAVILION

Any MAX veteran will tell you that there's never enough time for the pavilion. Vendors run contests, presentations, and on-the-spot lessons every day, and the networking opportunities are endless. Enter every contest you can, especially on day one when there are fewer entrants and the competition is less cutthroat. There's also a mixer with the Adobe teams at the pavilion with great food and an open bar. Don't miss it.

As far as swag goes, you’ll need an extra suitcase or three to hold it all. I lugged home multiple tote bags full of t-shirts, pins, coffee mugs, prints, posters, gadgets, and books every day of MAX. This was especially true on the last day near closing time because vendors were looking to unload before packing up shop—I walked away with freebies that weren't freebies the day before just because I hung around like a vulture at closing.

7. YOU WON’T BE THE SAME WHEN IT’S OVER

Nuts and bolts aside, prepare to walk out of your first Adobe MAX experience a different person than when you walked in. I signed up because I wanted to learn useful things, meet cool people, and take home Adobe-related stuff. I wasn’t ready for what happened to my brain after a week of immersing myself in a sea of people from all over the world who were just like me. I’m an illustrator, and the quality of my work grew by leaps and bounds because of the things I learned and the people I met. I made tons of new friends and contacts, some of whom have already led me to increased professional recognition, new creative opportunities, and even a few job offers. Robzilla praised my work, and Annie Griffiths called me “fabulous.” You can’t get that by following them on Instagram.

Adobe MAX is going to seem intimidating at first, like you’re the only freshman in a crowd of ultra-hip seniors who all know each other. Don't be fooled—it’s a newbie-friendly place overflowing with creatives who will make you fall in love with your craft all over again. Prepare to learn new ways to do old things, and if you find yourself alone at MAX and need a friend, don’t be afraid to drop me a line.

You can follow Jessie Young on Behance. To see the techniques behind this article's illustration, visit “Drawing the Adobe MAX Experience.”