I've had the great fortune to attend and speak at many conferences all around the world and, despite huge differences in scale and ambition, the one thing they've all had in common is that they've been fantastic fun. But there's one other thing they all shared, and that's Conference Groupies.
Superficially, the lesser-spotted Conference Groupie would appear to be so enamoured by Josh Davis's trick of putting red food dye in his eyes that he feels compelled to follow him around the world, turning up at OFFF, Semi-Permanent, and TOCA ME. Actually, it's unfair to single out Josh Davis, because all the conference stalwarts have their fans. But how do you identify a Conference Groupie?
Travelling around the world is expensive, so unless they've sold their parents' house, the seasoned Groupie will be the guy (or gal) cadging cigarettes off you, letting you buy them drinks at the bar and convincing you to let them sleep on your sofa. Designers are actually quite sociable beasts, so it's like shooting fish in a barrel.
Another sign is a flashy mobile phone - preferably tri, or even quad-band - so they can stay in touch no matter what country they're in. Designers love gadgets, and Conference Groupies are no exception. Wi-Ficapable laptops are pretty much standard equipment, too, and you'll find Groupies slumped against walls and tucked away in corners sucking up whatever free wireless signals they can find.
The coolest Groupies will have the latest Apple MacBook Pro - purely for bragging rights, and so they can show off Windows XP running on Apple hardware - even though they're secretly gutted that Photoshop slows down to a crawl under Rosetta.
Slickly printed business cards, perhaps with a subtle die cut or spot UV varnish, are also de rigueur. Pocketfuls of the things are vital for handing out to everyone they come across (as is one of those fancy aluminium card holders from Muji for storing the reciprocal cards). Like the scene in American Psycho when a series of ever more fancy business cards drive WASP serial killer Patrick Bateman into spirals of anxiety, there's an unspoken one-upmanship and sense of awe about a slickly designed card.
The Groupie knows this, and even though he doesn't own a business, or isn't even employed, the business card becomes an important networking tool. It beats writing down names and email addresses on scraps of paper, which, I know from personal experience, soon worm their way out of your pocket while you're having a lie down following six or seven pints.
A social animal
In fact, it's socialising that makes the Conference Groupie easy to spot. They've seen Josh do his shtick so often they have no need to be in the lecture theatre hanging on his every word. Our Groupies are in the foyer or the bar swapping stories and networking.
You may be concerned that you too are on the slippery slope to becoming a Groupie - just see how many boxes you tick. The worrying thing is that I myself fall into most of the categories that define a Conference Groupie. Oh well. Josh, I'll be at the bar.