Digital Thinkers Conference recap

Digital Thinkers Conference stage shown on blog banner of the event recap
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Last week, I along with two other TTT designers (Felix and Andrea) were very fortunate to attend the Digital Thinkers Conference hosted by Awwwards in San Francisco. I came back feeling inspired, refreshed, and ready to flex my design muscles. No matter how much you love your workspace, sometimes it’s necessary to step out of the office and find opportunities to inspire yourself. A great way to do that is to connect with and explore what others in the design industry are doing.

The 2-day conference featured 12 presentations a day, given by the some of the most esteemed professionals in the industry, including lead designers from Uber, Twitter, Facebook, Google, Dribbble, Dropbox, Mailchimp, Medium and other innovative design agencies, such as Fantasy and Basic. All of this aptly took place in a beautiful theatre by the Palace of Fine Arts.

The content

The presentations seemed to deal with more big picture concepts rather than being detail oriented. It served more to broaden viewpoints, and showcase different approaches people had to their design process. I found this fascinating, especially in a time where the industry is becoming more and more mature with UI elements up for grabs from open source libraries. As a result, a lot of our work tends to look quite similar. While this is great for efficiency, it also leaves less space for innovation and imagination. Seeing the creativity these designers had, and their continuous pushing of the envelope was very inspiring to me.

Even the presentations themselves were creative. Pablo Stanley, the Design Lead for Invision and an industry leader I really look up to, gave his entire presentation in animation snippets he illustrated. You can tell it took a lot of time and thought. His speech was lighthearted with a lot of humour sprinkled throughout the presentations, which I enjoyed immensely.

Peter Smart, the Head of Product Design at Fantasy, mentioned something that really touched me. “User Experience Designer” is becoming “User Transaction Designer” he said. We look so closely at screens that we forget to “design for the full human being”.  He showcased one of the fantastic projects they worked on at Fantasy, the Royal Caribbean mobile app. The app used this new approach: MLP is the new MVP – Minimum loveable product ❤️

It was very interesting to see how very senior level, successful designers think. I found it extremely valuable to be able to look at their methods and compare them to my own.

Some quirky fun

Aside from the presentations, there were also some fun elements for attendees to interact with. The hosts did a great job of keeping the conference lighthearted and interesting. Everyone got to take home a goody bag containing a bunch of cool knick knacks, including a book about design.

I have to say, I was impressed by the quality of this book. It wasn’t just some thin 8 page brochure filled with advertising. It was a hefty 160 page textbook containing valuable content including UX/UI tips, web design trends, colour, voice command, and even AI. You can tell a lot of time was spent putting this together. Everything, including the feel of the pages were well thought out.

In the entrance way of the theatre, there was a gigantic “W” that had the doodles of Pablo Stanley sprawled all over it. Attendees were encouraged to contribute to the piece by colouring in the doodles. I thought this was a nice touch that reminded us that design is collaborative.

We got to enjoy some great live music performed by a string trio in the theatre between presentations. I have to say I didn’t expect to hear the Game of Thrones theme song to be playing in the middle of a design conference.

My main takeaways

Coming from an agency environment, we’re so focused on delivering projects, it’s easy to get absorbed in the work we do. I saw the Digital Thinkers Conference as a great opportunity to take a step back and connect with the industry and see what other people were working on.

For me, attending these types of events is extremely helpful for keeping things fresh and continuing the flow of ideas. My biggest takeaway from the conference might seem obvious, but it’s a reminder to keep a fresh perspective. It’s easy to fall into certain habits, especially if those habits have been proven to work and are efficient. However, we work in an industry where the standards are always changing. Rather than being bogged down on the screens and the tasks, it’s important to take a step back to look at the bigger picture.