Marc Thiele on beyond tellerrand

Designer Marc Thiele is the organiser of beyond tellerrand, a web design and development conference taking place 20 to 22 November in Düsseldorf, Germany and featuring top speakers such as Simon Collison, Jeremy Keith and Dan Rubin. Here he tells us all about it

.net: What does the name mean, beyond tellerrand?
Marc Thiele: The name is a mix of the English word “beyond” and the German phrase “ber den Tellerrand schauen,” which means “Think outside the box”. It expresses the aim of everybody involved to look a bit further, look beyond the edge. It also reflects the global perspective of the event.

.net: This is the first year you’ve run beyond tellerrand but you've organised a German Flash conference for 11 years. Why did you see the need for a new conference?
Marc Thiele: Good question. Organising the events was always driven by my interest in the things the speakers are talking about on the event. So in a way it’s a bit selfish of me: I invite speakers – often friends – that I want to see, and invite other people to watch them.

Seriously, though: FFK, my other event ('beyond tellerrand – FFK' in the future), started as a community conference with about 200 attendees in 2001. It evolved from a forum I’m running at Over time, more and more other topics were included that went outside the remit of Flash and ActionScript. This prompted me to start a new event, which would harness my passion for design and development, be affordable and have great content.

Also, the scene in Germany is big, but a bit “silent”, still. There are a few money-driven events, with entrance fees around 600 Euros and a lot of marketing talks. And on the other hand, there are these great bar camp--like events, mostly without entrance fees and with a lot of heart from the organisers. An example is the WordCamp in Cologne, driven by the guys behind But I think there is a gap in between that needs to be filled.

Looking at the scene in UK with events like New Adventures in Web Design, Build or Future of Web Design, or the Netherlands with Fronteers, Mobilism and such, always made me jealous. Why wasn’t there an event like this in Germany?

.net: Which web conferences did you look at for inspiration? What are your favourites, and how does beyond tellerrand differ?
MT: Inspiration? I first think: “How should the event I want to visit look like?”. Then I look at the money that I have and what is doable with this. I’ve visited so many conferences over the last 12 years and a lot have been great. A lot of events had their “special thing”, why it was something different.

I very much like what John Davey managed to create in Brighton. In six years he established a great event, which started as a Flash-focused event and now is a festival with a lot of inspiring content from other fields as film and music as well. But what made Flash On The Beach special was the atmosphere: The dome, Brighton, and John’s attitude and the passion he put into the organisation made this event a great festival for everybody.

Another example is the OFFF festival by Hector and Pep. They created an event that’s different from other conferences. Three thousand and five hundred people come together not just for the content, but also to hang out with and meet friends, have a beer and party – cool if there are also great talks.

Another example, which happened recentky and where you felt that the person doing the event put all his heart into it, was New Adventures in Web Design. I can’t really explain why this event was so special, but it was the way I felt. It often is not just all the great speakers and talks, but more the things in between. And you see when the organisers understand this and have a feeling for this.

So in the end, I don’t know if beyond tellerrand will differ, to be honest. I’ll just try to do my very best to make it a good experience for everybody who’s involved – attendees, speakers and sponsors/partners.

.net: How did you come up with the programming?
MT: As mentioned before, I’m a bit selfish here. I first take a look at what I really like to see and collect a few names and talks. I visit a lot of other conferences, watch talks of other conferences online and so on. I mean, if you want to talk about books, you have to read a few books first, right?

Once I have a core of talks and speakers together, I take a look at what kind of topics are missing to create a “whole” image, if you know what I mean. It always is difficult to find the right balance between tech, how-to and inspiration. Also if you decide to also have tech talks, what kind should they be? Just JavaScript, also PHP? Talks about tools as well?

This time I decided to choose a wide mix of design, UX and development topics, spiced with typography. I hope the attendees are going to like it.

.net: How did you approach the gender split when it came to booking speakers?
MT: Honestly? I did not really plan anything. I’m happy to have so many great female speakers on board. This is rare on most of the events. But I don’t think that any of the organisers really avoid getting women on stage, do you? In the end it is the topics that count and it should make no difference whether they’re presented by a male or female speaker. I had conversations with other conference organisers where we spoke about exactly this issue. A few even got accused for being sexist, because they don’t want to get female speakers on stage. Honestly, this is ridiculous.

.net: How do you ensure you sell enough tickets and don't get into a similar situation as Inspire Conf?
MT: You never can ensure you sell enough tickets. I just hope I do. I am super-happy about the fact that the speakers don’t ask for a honorarium [an ex-gratia payment] in general. And you and I know that what they do IS the conference. Not me. Not the organisation on its own. This makes the fair ticket pricing (of 125 Euros including VAT and booking fees for Super Early Birds) possible. For this reason I can’t say it often enough: Thanks to all the great speakers!

.net: The organisers of Inspire Conf claimed the Dutch design community wasn't ready for a web design conference. How does the German scene differ?
MT: I think events like Fronteers, Mobilism or Kings of Code prove that the scene is ready. I have never been at one of the events mentioned, but I’ve heard so many good things. So maybe the scene is already having enough events and does not need another? Maybe it was just the wrong timing? Maybe the conference scene in general is tired and has enough events already? I don’t know actually.

I am not just targeting the German scene. I know that there is so much talent in Germany and right now 68 per cent of the tickets are being sold to Germany, Austria and Switzerland, but I hope to attract designers and developers from other countries as well.

.net: What are some of the highlights you look forward to most?
MT: I am super-excited. There is no special highlight: the whole thing is my highlight. I hope that when I say good-bye on 22 November, everything will have gone well and everybody will have had a great time (and didn’t give me a big BOOOOOOO on stage!).

Picture of Marc Thiele taken by John Davey.