Markus & Søren arrived as early as Saturday, just in time for a meal of fish'n'chips on the west beach at sunset, and a healthy sampling of local ales to wash it down afterwards.
While the conference proper kicked off on Monday, Sunday was reserved for workshops. Early morning saw Markus head out to a day spent with Stefan Sagmeister. Yes, the Stefan Sagmeister. The task: "Touch someone's heart with design". Sagmeister strongly encouraged his flock to get out of their comfort zone and work with materials and ideas they would not normally approach. The attendees had four hours to create something that would fulfill the brief and delight a person dear to them. The only restriction was to do it for someone other than a girl-/boyfriend or “mum”. The exercise was really challenging and also a little bit intimidating with Sagmeister around (Come on!), but he was a really good and experienced teacher and always able to hand out helpful advice.
Although the day was great, Markus was slightly disappointed after the workshop. He had hoped for more insights into Sagmeister’s way of working and less tinkering with foam rubber. But, alas, good things always come to those who can wait.
In the meantime, Søren attended a workshop put on by Hellicar & Lewis, a London based duo of two Brits working "at the threshold between art, design and technology" on open source interactive experiences. The two hosts put the attendees through an intense seven hours of several creative briefs, group brainstormings and paper prototyping sessions, always concluded by a 1-minute-presentation of a final idea. It was a challenging, but also immensely funny and rewarding experience and (re)taught a lot about thinking outside the box.
At the end of the day, two weary but happy workshoppers met up with the third webfactory team member and late arrival Marc for dinner and a couple more pints of craft beer.
The three next days were a whirlwind of sessions about inspiration, motivation and practical skills for our day jobs in the "creative" sector. The points made throughout the days were punctuated by two evening talks, aptly called "Inspired Sessions", given by Stefan Sagmeister and Erik Spiekermann respectively.
The whole conference was brilliant, but a few sessions deserve a special mention here.
Eva Lotta-Lamm, UX Designer in Google’s London based Android team, delivered an inspiring talk about the power of sketching. She kicked off her session by quoting Jason Santa Maria and saying that everybody could sketch and that sketching was about communicating ideas, not painting pretty pictures. The rest of the talk was very hands-on. Eva-Lotta walked us through a series of sketching exercises, all centered on deconstructing more complex objects into basic geometrical shapes. By the end of the talk we were able to draw common everyday items and (stick) figures with different emotions. It was an inspiring and empowering experience to lose a bit of the fear of “not being able to draw anything, ever”.
Sketchbooks are not about being a good artist, they are about being a good thinker.
— Jason Santa Maria
Fabio Sasso, designer at Google, blogger and the founder of the mega influential design blog abduzeedo shared the story of how he came to blogging. It all started with a robbery and exceptionally bad timing: he was in the middle of transferring his backups — all his backups — when someone came and stole everything, every computer and every hard drive. From this moment on, Sasso decided to back up not only his projects but also his thoughts on the web and make them accessible to everyone. He strongly believes that sharing a thing increases its value and that there are no reasons to keep one’s knowledge to oneself. “I am the one who put up all the barriers,” he concluded.
Stefan Sagmeister gave the first inspired session and presented his Happiness Project, an amalgam of his personal journey towards happiness, tons of scientific research, a contemporary design/art show and a movie. The talk included free beers (by the organisers), naked pictures of Sagmeister & Walsh, a primer on the impact of antidepressants on non-depressed people (observed side effects in this case included marriage) and audience karaoke. Afterwards, Markus finally felt like having filled the gaps that were left open the day before.
Dominic Wilcox is a British artist and designer who talked about his work and showed us how to be inspired by the thousands of trivial things that surround us every day. His project “variations on normal” is comprised of a plethora of funny, weird, innovative and sometimes even marginally practical ideas and inventions.
Ros Horner, currently a Senior Designer at Sapient in London, spoke about life as a designer in the world’s largest digital agency and showed a few pieces of her work. Apart from salient points about a certain video and a christmas card, she also let us in on her life-long struggle to be recognized as a creative person by her family of circus artists.
Brad Frost, responsive guru of pretzel fame, greeted us during the evening break on the day before his talk with the words, “Wait a minute, you guys look familiar”. So it takes about three conferences to make an impression on a speaker… ;) We spoke briefly about his upcoming talk and he told us that he was changing his usual routine. Instead of introducing yet another tool for responsive design he was going to cover a more fundamental topic: ethics on the web. In his talk he questioned how we treat each other and the users of the platforms we develop. He pointed out that we should think twice about implementing social media buttons and other barriers (ads, questioners, etc.) between our users and the content that we want to deliver. It felt good to be reminded of who and what we work for and refocus on the basic principles of the web.
Erik Spiekermann, information architect, type designer, author and self-confessed typomaniac, gave the second inspired session on Tuesday, ominously titled “Is there life before death?”. During the absolutely hilarious talk he alternated between German and northern English accents while dropping deep insights to design thinking, agile methods and his principles for business.
Brighton and it’s bubbly, anything-goes atmosphere served as a perfect backdrop to the conference. We enjoyed the (award-winning, according to signage) beach, endless cries from hundreds of seagulls, excellent coffee at the Small Batch Coffee Company, live-changing cake at the Marwood and fabulous food all over the town, most notably a vegetarian dinner at food for friends.
After four days we came away from it all thoroughly refreshed, caffeinated, inspired and well motivated to tackle upcoming creative challenges with renewed vigor and a handful of newly acquired tools.