Computer ArtsOpinion

Broaden your horizons

Do design conferences still have a place in the digital era? Yes, say Emma Talbot and Sydney Soan, although you might need to sacrifice a month’s rent to attend

It’s been suggested that the design conference has become outdated in the wake of the new digital era. Why would you go and hear someone speak or present their thoughts on design – and pay for the very pleasure – when the internet and a plethora of social media networks can offer a million and one different opinions, thoughts and theories on exactly the same subject, and can be accessed at the click of a button for free? But can you really get the most out of an online lecture? After all, you can hit pause if you get bored or it isn’t quite what you were expecting. There’s also the huge temptation to start start searching for additional subject matter on Wikipedia and never actually finish the lecture that ignited your enthusiasm for information in the first place.

The internet has given us a wealth of knowledge that’s instantly accessible at the tip of our fingers, but it’s been at a cost. We only ever skim across the surface – our minimal attention spans often prevent us from delving any deeper. Design conferences should be seen as the oxygen that can help push us further into the internet’s informative depths. By placing yourself in a lecture room with nothing but a stage and speaker, sat with hundreds of like-minded individuals, all ready to absorb, you have no choice but to listen from beginning to end, with no interruptions or fast-forward options.

Design conferences can engage their audience at a level impossible to achieve online, often leading attendees through topics they might not think they had an interest in or have even heard about before. It can open eyes and, in turn, minds. This process is something that, we think, the internet and its social media innovations don’t quite achieve. The data collated, searched and seen online is a regurgitation of a finite circle of links and intelligent connections of Like buttons and user-directed advertising. Design conferences break that circle and push the designer and student to look through different doors – and into some interesting and new possibilities for design and its future.

Design conferences open up pathways to those inspirational designers and creative thinkers that you read about in books, talk about with friends and skim across in the blogosphere – but would never have the opportunity to speak to in person. They give you a glimpse of the character who produces the kind of work that you’ve always aspired to create. In our opinion, that’s something that can never be achieved when you’re reading a blog post. Design conferences offer a level of interaction that increases the learning experience, making it possible to absorb new and wonderful information, and burn it to memory – as opposed to the fleeting images flashed up daily on image banks such as FFFFOUND! that you can never quite remember.

Whether it’s Eric Spiekermann at TYPO London or David McCandless at Intersections, hearing the thoughts of industry experts on a diverse range of subjects is a process of “encouragement and not motivation” (wise words said at Typo London). Filling your inspiration folder with the endless cycle of images pedalled on the internet will only enforce the act of regurgitation. Working without context prevents designer and audience from realising the importance of the design process. Design conferences highlight the bigger picture – the role of design.

We realise that many graduates haven’t been as lucky as we have to attend such brilliant events. We also know that sometimes the price of these events doesn’t reflect their true value. But in our opinion, the experience is worthwhile. As graduates, we’ve had to weigh up whether to pay the rent or not against the content of conferences such as TYPO London, where you are sometimes – even as graduates – expected to pay upwards of £900. We say: consider it an investment. Although the effects aren’t immediately visible, a design conference can change your thought process and broaden your horizons. It can give you the confidence to question your peers, ignite debate and produce new ideas that can change the future of design.

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