I just came back from Awwwards LA and had a blast. While not technically a design conference (they cross over quite a bit, which is why they invited folks like myself and Sarah), the largest part of the audience were designers (as opposed to developers, my usual audience). Here’s what I thought was interesting and different:
Real, Raw, Vulnerable
Initially I marveled at the amount of natural language (profanity) in some of the talks, yet that wasn’t what made them feel more “real”. The real magic, the connection to the audience, happened when speakers became vulnerable on stage. Many talked about their insecurities, mistakes, complicated emotions. To be fair, I’ve seen developers deliver these talks, but they’re less common at the conferences I usually attend. Becoming vulnerable on stage in front of hundreds of people is hard, but I’m now inspired to try it more often.
Sure, some presentations talked about the state of the world, but there was this general trend of positivity in interactions with speakers and attendees. For once, the number of people who came to the other speakers and me just to thank us really surprised me. Judging from myself, maybe developers don’t do it enough because we think talking to speakers without offering detailed critique is stupid and wastes their time, but that isn’t true. Most speakers I know really appreciate your praise. It helps us recover emotionally from the occasional destructive criticism (studies show you need 10 thank yous to make up for 1 gtfo).
This one might be a little too obvious, but designer conferences seem to have much less gender diversity issues (racial diversity is sadly a different story in both of our industries). The women on stage didn’t need to talk about how they succeeded despite being female. For the first time, I heard a female speaker complain about the long lines in front of the women’s bathroom and it felt great.
This isn’t to say that the grass is greener on the design side. There are qualities I much prefer at dev conferences, like the fact that there’s less humblebragging, and more actual learning. Time to cross over more often and learn from each other. We’re not that similar after all: designers develop experiences, developers design code.