No design firm is an island. Conferences? Trade shows? Yeah, you should be going to these things and sending your staffers as well. Your work can only get better when you go forth into the world to gather inspiration, meet new people, and scope out the competition. The problem? A design calendar overflowing with things to do and people to see. Here we've broken down a year's worth of events to help you form a plan of attack.
CATEGORY: FURNITURE FAIRS
Hotspots: Milan, Design Miami, ICFF
Who to send: Anyone with a good eye and comfortable shoes
Why to go: To suss out the competition, to woo potential manufacturers, and to drinka lot
Who to chat up: The Italians (if you think you're worthy); Established & Sons (the McCartney well runs deep); Moss's Franklin Getchell (he's the more approachable half)
Celeb sightings: Silvio Berlusconi, Kanye West, Steven Spielberg, Brad Pitt
Sentence to have in your back pocket: "So what do you think about the return of Memphis?"
Typical swag: Tom Dixon's metallic totes; anything exhibitors can't bother to ship home after the fair closes
Next big thing: Stockholm
CATEGORY: SOCIETY CONFERENCES
Hotspots: IDSA, IxDA Interaction, AIGA
Who to send: The bright-eyed, bushy-tailed youngsters who haven't heard it all before.
Why to go: To catch up on industry gossip; to show you're an active member of your professional communityand because travel perks, even to places like Denver, are a decent way to retain your young talent.
Who to chat up: Design-school idols and magazine editors
Celeb sightings: Mostly industry starsYves Behar, Stefan Sagmeister, Dunne & Raby
Sentence to have in your back pocket: Anything about design for social changeit's the new sustainability.
Typical swag: Your 88th reusable tote bag; enough business cards to crash your NeatDesk
Next big thing: Change Observer and AIGA's revamped Aspen Design Conference
CATEGORY: ELITE FORUMS
Hotspots: TED, PopTech, Davos
Who to send: Yourself. Leave the boring confabs to your peonsyou deserve a boondoggle.
Why to go: Anyone who's anyone will be there. Plus, where else will you find both sword-swallowing statisticians and world-changing geniuses?
Who to chat up: World-changing geniuses; anyone who can offer you a ride on their yacht
Celeb sightings: John Maeda, Gordon Brown, J.J. Abrams, Emma Thompson
Sentence to have in your back pocket: "Did you hear we're in the middle of the world's sixth mass extinction? I'm thinking of booking a ticket out on Virgin Galactic."
Typical swag: The sweetest haul this side of the Oscars: Aliph Jawbones, $1000 Lexus gift certificates, coupons for Steelcase chairs, copies of The Purpose-Driven Life, CFL lightbulbs
Next big thing: TEDIndia
CATEGORY: TECH CONVENTIONS
Hotspots: CES, South By Southwest Interactive, Creativity and Technology
Who to send: Anyone who spends their nights and weekends at the local hacker space
Why to go: Because these days, emerging technologies move faster than a 3.4 GHz quad core.
Who to chat up: Potentially poachable talent; next-gen social-networking stars; Khoi Vinhmaybe he'll pass your project on to the guys in the Circuits section
Celeb sightings: They're all at CES: Slash, Bill Gates, Soulja Boy, Pleo
Sentence to have in your back pocket: "I just ran into Nick Bilton/Kevin Slavin. That guy's everywhere."
Typical swag: iPhone cases, branded flash drives
Next big thing: 140 Characters Conference
CATEGORY: AWARD SHOWS AND GALAS
Hotspots: National Design Awards Gala, Architectural League of New York's Beaux-Arts Ball, One Show Awards Gala
Who to Send: Yourself and a) your significant other b) your funniest-when-drunk staffer c) your inappropriate office crush
Why to go: Your social status depends on itplus, it's a good excuse to bust out your best Paul Smith/Issey Miyake
Who to chat up: The bartender
Celeb sightings: Julianne Moore, Parker Posey, Ludacris, Michelle Obama
Sentence to have in your back pocket: "Did you hear _____ is sleeping with _____?"
Typical swag: A Coach bag designed by Richard Meieroh wait, that was 2004
Next big thing: Index Award Design Dinner
CATEGORY: SUMMER WORKSHOPS
Hotspots: Boisbuchet, Project M
Who to send: Anyone who needs a break from the computer. If that applies to everyone in the office, choose among the hopefuls by making them sing Cat's in the Cradle or The Circle Game.
Why to go: It's summer camp for designerswith a purpose.
Who to chat up: Any designer-instructor known for being nasty or uptightthis could be your only chance to see their softer side.
Celeb sightings: Pack a few Us Weeklys in your bagyou're not going to see anyone famous out here.
Sentence to have in your back pocket: "I hear last year's group made an emergency shelter from a Graniph t-shirt, some bamboo, and a piece of string."
Typical swag: Bee stings and penpals
Next big thing: Sahre Victore Wilker
Former editors at I.D. Magazine, Jill Singer and Monica Khemsurov are the co-founders of Sight Unseen, an online design and culture magazine about the inspirations, habits, personalities, and processes of creative people, launching this fall. Follow them on Twitter @designunseen.