Designers Conferences: What About Theory?

I’ve had a great time again here at OFFF but I can’t help thinking that designers aren’t really getting the best out of conferences like this.

Most presentations here go along the lines of, ‘”this is me, this is were I was born, this is where I live now” and then the rest of the presentation continues with “I’ve done this, then I’ve done this, and I’ve done this, then I did this”, with the presenter just rolling through a load of their work.

It’s always inspiring to see other peoples work but its also extremely useful to find out the theory and the process behind the end result. This is something thats really lacking from most the presentations here, and yet designers don’t seem to realize or moan about it.

Maybe its a cop out on their part as it’s a lot easier to sit in a room and look at a load of cool inspiring work, than to actually learn what was involved in the work and how the end result was achieved. I’m not so much talking about the technical stuff (i.e. the code etc) as OFFF is a creative conference, but more about the ideas behind each piece and the path to the end result. Don’t designers want to learn how to improve their work by the process involved in creating it?

It’s definitely a cop out on presenters as there’s really very little planning involved in listing and showing the work you have already completed (although it really seems to be what the mass audience want).

OFFF is great if you want to be inspired, but don’t expect to learn much.

11 Responses to “Designers Conferences: What About Theory?”

  1. Keith Peters says:

    Yeah, I’ve seen some presentations like that at FlashForward, etc. My feeling is that they could just pass out a URL to their portfolio and be done with it. A good presentation should give you something beyond the speaker’s voiceover as he shows his stuff.

  2. DannyT says:

    I once heard a great approach to planning a presentation that was simply:

    “Before you do any prep for a presentation, have a very clear idea of what you want your attendees to do differently after your presentation than they did before it.”

    I think this can be applied to any technical or creative subject, and maybe even documented and provided to attendees beforehand as a clue to what they will get out of the session. Might encourage people to think beyond the “I did this” mindset.

  3. Don’t know if you caught Joshua Davis’ session last year about the BMW Z? I loved it (despite the four letter words he’s famous for) because he really did go into detail about his inspiration, work flow, process, theory behind it…how it evolved. I think the four Red Bull’s he drank first helped.

    Hope the birthday was fun!


  4. [...] #8230; PS 20070514 Una gran crítica para el Offf. Tags: Offf.
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  5. Alex says:

    I felt the same about the recent Future Of Web Design conference in London. Another bug-bear is that the speakers are almost always from agencies working on campaign based marketing mini-sites (normally for clothing and car brands) and you rarely get to hear either the process behind large scale web sites or the design evolution of sites that are meant to stick around for longer than a month.

  6. John Grden says:

    this was cool to see, and then read the comments about. I’d really left FITC this year thinking I was a bum after seeing some really great presentations like Keith’s and Carlos’ on PV3D (man, I learned some great lessons from that presentation). I spent way too much time on the demo’s not nearly enough on the inspiration or process – which would be my reason for planting my ass in a chair to see someone else speak.

  7. Great post Tink,

    Even though I am most certainly guilty of doing the very same things you have discussed, I do agree with everything you said. I think it is very important to show that part of the creative or technical process. Like Danny T mentioned the question that should be asked is what do you want your “attendees to do differently after your presentation than they did before it.” This sometimes can be a challenge, specially since it is much easier to just show one’s work than actually getting into the creative process. But I do absolutely agree that divulging the mechanisms and inspirations behind a project is much more rewarding for both the speaker and certainly the audience.


  8. Tony says:

    Bummer! I was hoping that our talk would have had plenty of “This is how we did what we did, and here is why we did what we did” … especially our bit about Creative Mind. Maybe that didn’t come through. Before our talk Alex and I thought that it was nice that we were going into that after seeing all the first day presentations.

    I also think that James Victore put a lot into his talk about why he did what he did, even if there wasn’t much “how” and that he’s not in the internet industry as much.

  9. Tink says:

    Hey Tony

    This post was a generalization of the presentations i watched. I did watch your presentation and it didn’t fit into my moan above (i.e. it was interesting to see you guys storyboarding etc, you showed the process of how you got to the end result). I’d also agree that James Victore’s talk was interesting to, although I would have been really interested to find out how his style has evolved. I don’t want people to get me wrong here, I enjoyed all the presentations I seen, and some were truely inspiring, I just felt that I could have been given more, although it seen the general audience was happy with just looking at stuff they’d seen before on the TV, Internet or in magazines.

    Not sure this really applies to you either Mr Grdn as the pres I seen at FiTC was demoing a product, showing people what it was capable of doing and how you were pushing the limits with it, which in my mind is different. I think a comparison would have been for you guys to just play something you had recorded a few days before and change the volume of the diff channels in real time.

  10. Timbot says:

    That’s good observation Tink. It’s tough though, with a larger audience. You get everyone from students to veterans and it can be difficult to have something for everyone. At my most recent presentation, about 80 percent of people were happy with the mix, but there were still some who felt it was too technical, and an equal number who felt it was too simple! Still, keeping in mind that you can’t please everyone, I think it is worth it to try and show a glimpse behind the curtain, at the ‘how’ and ‘why’, not just the ‘what’.

  11. al says:

    We were there doing our first presentation, thus making all the mistakes you talk about.. but we tried to base all in how does a small studio starts and breaks all the first barriers and obstacles .. It was fun to see people interested in us.. but it was deceiving to see really big names that just talked with not much interest, it gave me the feeling they just were there because they were invited and not because they really wanted to show or teach anything.. overall it was an amazing experience and the place is full offf good vibes

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