Inside Made by Few: One agency’s goal to foster community in the Rock
October 22-28, 2018
By Becca Bona
Little Rockers may have heard about Made by Few (MxF) over the past five or six years, but might not know what the event signifies. Is it a maker’s fair? A designer’s conference? Technically, it’s both and so much more.
“MxF, at its core, is not about design or creativity – it’s ultimately about people. Yes, there is a heavy focus on design and creativity, but in those veins lie knowledge about struggle, determination, life lessons, growth, strength, weakness … things that all of us can relate to. It’s about bringing a group together, sharing ideas/experiences and providing a platform for change and growth,” says MxF founder Arlton Lowry.
Drilled down to a phrase MxF is best described as “an inspiration conference.” Elizabeth Strandberg, Events Coordinator at Few (a local creative agency), says – “You don’t have to necessarily be in the visual arts or graphic design arenas to appreciate MxF because the content, our speaker talks, are truly narrative.”
The need for an inspiration conference
To better understand the goal behind MxF, you have to first meet the man who founded it back in 2012. Lowry, founder of creative agency Few, brought MxF to life mostly to, as Strandberg says, “fill a void.”
“People are at the core of everything that I do. That’s how my company, Few, is structured and that’s how I live my life,” explains Lowry. “I started MxF in 2012 as a way to help inspire and educate my local design, development and entrepreneurial community.”
Lowry planned the first MxF with a simple, straightforward structure in mind. There would be five curated speakers representative of different areas – design, coding, entrepreneurship, inspiration, and Arkansas-native.
“I wanted the event to be inclusive and easily accessible to folks who couldn’t afford to attend high-end conferences in LA, Chicago, or NYC. I wanted to bring the attendees who would normally attend those events to Arkansas to allow our community to expand their networks, find inspiration in what other people were doing around the country and world, and to provide them the resources they need to build something of their own,” he adds.
And, shortly after MxF took the stage in Little Rock, other similar conferences began cropping up regionally – in Kansas City, Memphis, and even Atlanta. MxF is a solid stride toward bringing Little Rock up to speed with the enthusiastic tech-forward, entrepreneurial spirit that is the norm on the coasts.
With this in mind, it’s no surprise that the conference has taken on a talent retention lens. “[T]here’s such a low talent pool here for various reasons. We’re not fostering the talent from the next generation, we’re not providing competitive enough jobs and we don’t have the content we need to keep people here,” Strandberg explains. “This conference is so important to retain people so they can go to these types of things in their home state or their home city.”
MxF, Few, and working to spark a creative community
When Lowry originally started MxF, he didn’t know he would soon be starting his own agency, as well. The conference has since undergone some changes.
He looks back over its growth, saying, “MxF has evolved and grown quite a lot over the years. The first event was very humble. I paid for everything out of my own pocket, charged a minimal fee, which didn’t cover the cost, and relied on my close friends to help pull it off. The event has since expanded to include a design competition, workshops, fireside talks, a craft show, two parties and two days of talks.”
This year the line-up doesn’t disappoint. And true to Lowry’s original goal, the narratives these professionals offer can be applicable to anyone looking to take their expertise or field – whatever it may be – to the next level.
Strandberg’s role with MxF is to direct and promote the event, but also to direct community involvement for Few. Her goal is to let people know what the agency is doing, but to also provide content and engage people beyond the agency, ultimately by strengthening the community. While there is an inbound marketing strategy, there truly is energy going into actually forming a bond between the agency and the community-at-large.
“I think it has to be that way these days, people in general don’t like to be sold to,” Strandberg says. “It’s trending in bigger cities because these agencies are forward thinking and they’ve realized they need to give back and they need to invest in community because it’s so necessary to be invested in your physical environment and the people around you.”
Beyond MxF, Strandberg has worked to put other events together for the community under Few’s umbrella. One included ‘Public Figures’ – two, free panel-talks in different laidback environments. For instance, back in February three sets of ‘creative power couples’ – think business owners, a comic illustrator-duo, and musician team – all talked about their routines for success amidst South on Main’s comfortable backdrop.
“The agency is focused on creativity through the conference but also as an agency, and so we wanted to make the content relevant,” she explains.
She’s also looking to find ways to be family friendly. For instance, Few hosted a design competition in conjunction with local business Loblolly Creamery this year, which was open to all-ages.
While she continues to foster community, Strandberg is also an ambassador of sorts, as most of the speakers that come in for MxF have never been to Little Rock before.
“It’s so important to me for our community to show up to MxF, because we are challenging perceptions of people all around the world about Arkansas and Little Rock.”
Check out the highlighted events below, and for a full schedule of events (workshops included), visit: https://madebyfew.com/schedule/.
Oct. 26, 10 a.m., Ron Robinson Theater
Head of Design at Walmart
Valerie is head of design at Walmart, where she leads teams building digital and store experiences for customers and employees. Previously Valerie was Chief Product Officer for Samsung’s global venture arm, and has created dozens of market-leading products and services as an executive leader at IDEO, frog design, and Pentagram. She founded the global creative coalition, the Designers Accord, which is the largest multi-disciplinary group of designers, business leaders, and educators working together on social impact. Valerie is a graduate of Yale and Swarthmore College, a Fellow at the Aspen Institute and the World Economic Forum, and a frequent author, moderator, and speaker at Davos and other global thought-leadership gatherings.
Oct. 26, 2 p.m., Ron Robinson Theater
CEO + Co-Founder of Super Heroic
During his 13+ year career at Nike, Mayden led and contributed to the creation of innovative sport performances products for athletes and cultural icons such as Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Derek Jeter, and Michael Jordan. In 2011, Mayden successfully received his Master’s in General Management and Social Innovation from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and shortly there after he returned to Nike as the Global Director of Innovation for Nike Digital Sport where he was responsible for the strategic investigation of new technologies and services, such as the Nike Fuel Band. Most recently, Jason was the VP of Design at Mark One, an IoT startup focusing on the intersection of consumption and behavior change. Mayden is also a d.Fellow and Media Designer at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University, a frequent lecturer at Stanford University’s prestigious Graduate School of Business. In 2017 Jason launched his own brand, Super Heroic, a business focused on provided quality play performance footwear, apparel and technology for elementary school aged children. The brand is thriving and Jason is passionate about spreading the Super Heroic message.
Oct. 26, 7 p.m., Ron Robinson Theater
Designed by Few
Head to the Great Hall for a friendly design competition.
Designers face off in real time to benefit a local non-profit while MxF attendees watch the design process unfold and have some fun. Designers include – Jessica Crum
Owner/Creative Director at Silverlake Design Studio; June Pham
Creative Coordinator at Hobby Lobby; and Corbin Lawrence
Designer at Apptegy.
Oct. 27, 3 p.m., Ron Robinson Theater
Principle at The Idea Integration Company
Saul Colt is the Founder and Creative Director of The Idea Integration Company, an experiential marketing agency specializing in bold activations for recognizable brands. In his career he has been named as one of the iMEDIA 25: Internet Marketing Leaders & Innovators as well as been called one of Canada’s best community builders/experiential marketers and that message has been echoed by media properties ranging from Inc to Forbes Magazine. In his free time he collects Nike Air Force One sneakers, watches lots of Movies and just happens to be the Smartest Man in the World.
For more information on MxF or to get tickets, visit https://madebyfew.com/.
The team at Few – a creative agency focused on building digital products to enhance the human experience stands for a group photo. Few’s Founder, Artlon Lowry, initially put together Made by Few, Little Rock’s inspiration conference in 2012. (Photo courtesy of Few)