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ANDY BUDD: Creating a design conference

Clearleft’s MD uses his experience organising UX London to tell us how it’s done

AndyBudd

Clearleft’s MD uses his experience organising UX London to tell us how it’s done

AndyBudd

When we started dConstruct back in 2005, we were only the second digital design and technology conference in the UK (the other being @media) and only one of a handful around the globe. Jump ahead to 2016 and there are countless conferences spanning across both the year and the globe.

The success of today’s range of design conferences is a notable sign that the industry is thriving, and for those looking to attended to learn, develop and network, there is a lot of choice. So, what’s the key to planning a conference that really draws in visitors and leaves them feeling as though their money and time was truly well spent?

I’ve been organising events since the start of my career, stemming from my desire to bring the community together and share what we’ve learned. It started with a monthly networking event in early 2000 called SkillSwap, and more recently saw us cofound the citywide Brighton Digital Festival.

However UX London is the event that we really pride ourselves on. I truly enjoy organising design events and believe that there are two key areas that need to be considered – structure and speakers.


The structure of an event is absolutely key to crafting the perfect experience


The structure of an event is absolutely key to crafting the perfect experience. When in the initial planning stages, it’s important to consider who your audience is and what they will be looking to get out of the event itself. We split the conference over three days, with a separate focus for each.

The first day is all about design leadership and strategy, so is the perfect day to invite your boss or CEO to. In fact, we specifically structured the event this way based on the number of people who told us how much they wanted their senior management to hear the content at the event, but don’t have the time to take the whole three days off.

I believe that the product manager and UX designer are two of the three key pillars of any successful project, with the third being the technical lead. For this reason, we dedicate the second day to these disciplines. It’s a chance to bring along the product team, explore collaboration practices, share UX skills and help improve the quality of the end products.
The final conference day is very much a classic UX design day. It’s an opportunity for the design team to understand practices, learn new skills and see which direction the industry is moving in.

By dedicating a day to a specific department or key figure in an organisation, it ensures that visitors know which day is most suited to them so that they will get the most out of their time there.

While the talks provide inspiration and bring in the crowds, we believe the real value of UX London is in the workshops. That’s where our attendees will learn new skills they can take back to the office and start using straight away. It’s also where they will make new connections – and sometimes lifelong friends – with other attendees. So rather than making them voluntary – as many conferences do – we decided to include them in the main programme.


We believe the real value of UX London is in the workshops. That’s where our attendees will learn new skills they can take back to the office and start using straight away.


We put a lot of effort into curating UX London and ensuring that the content is as relevant as possible. This should be an absolute priority for curators and it’s a great idea to think of it from the audience’s perspective and ask yourself what you’d like to see if you were attending the conference. We usually only choose speakers we’ve seen before and know can bring insightful, thought-provoking content on the day. As such, a big part of our job involves attending other events to spot new talent and see what topics are gaining momentum.

This may seem like obvious, but it’s important to create a well-balanced event and ensure that the day flows for the audience. The order in which speakers are planned can help to achieve this, so it’s surprising how few events seem to consider the ‘story arc’ of the day. Instead we regularly see conferences jump from one topic to another, with little consideration of how the subjects are related. The result is a disjointed and unsettling experience, and this is something that good curation can avoid.

Another important aspect to consider is the diversity of your line-up. For Clearleft it’s important to make sure that everybody’s views are understood and catered for in the speaker programme. As a result, ensuring that we have a line-up that represents both the make-up of our industry and the broader interests of digital consumers is important to us.

In a time where we’ve reached peak conference saturation, it’s important for conference organisers to improve the production values of their event in order to take it to the next level and offer something truly different from the competition. In short you need to really think about designing your design event.


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