The Midwest may be known as the Capital of Nice, but what you may not know is that it’s also a vibrant hub of creativity. Walt Disney, Hallmark Cards, Thomas Hart Benton, William S. Burroughs, and Kate Spade are just a few of the names the founders of Kansas City brand Made in the Middle cite as evidence of Midwestern creative chops.

 Along with producing a cool clothing line and spotlighting talented KC makers, Made in the Middle also hosts a conference, which its founders describe as “a two-day event devoted to design and creativity with inspiring talks, workshops, vendors, music and plenty of that Kansas City charm.”

Kayla Kroenlein, an art director in our KC office, recently attended the third annual Made in the Middle conference and brought back wisdom that anyone can use – whether you consider yourself a creator or not.

Woman facing away from camera wearing a Made in the Middle conference t-shirt

First, there were a few common themes repeated throughout the presentations:

  • Put out the work you want to be doing; no one will hire you for it if they don’t see you doing it.
  • There is no one way to be successful. Each of the designers had a completely different path. Some were immediately successful, and some struggled to find their place. Just because you aren’t succeeding right now doesn’t mean you won’t be in the future.
  • It’s okay to step away from what you may be well-known for. You may be creating amazing things that people want, but focusing on what you want to do can help continue your creative growth.

Other takeaways:

Amber Goodvin, lettering artist and illustrator at Hallmark Cards

  • Make the work you want to do.
  • Defining yourself loosely opens doors; e.g., “You’re not just a hand lettering artist, you’re a designer.”
  • Creativity comes in seasons. It’s okay to have a creative dry spell, take this opportunity to reflect and learn from others.

Dawn Hancock, founder and marketing director at Firebelly Design

  • 100% of perfectionists experience Imposter Syndrome, the feeling that you don’t actually know what you’re doing at your job
  • You have to push yourself, fake it till you make it.

Mina Markham, self-taught coder and senior engineer at Slack

  • Amazing things can happen when you say “Yes.”
  • You have to be willing to do the unglamorous sometimes.
  • Embrace your strengths.
  • Twirl on your haters — there will always be people who try to take you down; don’t give them the time of day.

Andy J. Miller, illustrator and host of the Creative Pep Talk podcast

  • There are two types of people, which Andy calls “muppets”: chaos muppets and order muppets.
  • You may be able to function as a “chaos muppet,” taking shortcuts, skipping steps, but you might never end up where you want to be. Put in the time, do the work, and it will pay off.

Dana Tamachi, graphic designer and lettering artist

  • Our words have power, be generous in your praise of others.
  • Create 5-, 10-, and 20-year goal lists of where you want to be; you might be surprised by what you accomplish when you look back.