Reasons to: Design, Code & Create 2017 – Conference Review

While the suffix of ‘Reasons to…’ may have changed from ‘be Creative’ to the now more direct ‘Design, Code & Create’, it’s still very apparent that the talks – and the leading emphasis behind John Davey’s conference – is inspiration.

Indeed, John’s spirit is the driving force behind the event in the heart of Brighton, and, as he points out on more than one occasion over the three days, he chooses speakers not just because of their fame or hierarchy in the industry, but often simply because their work inspires him. It means a break from just the same old faces, and, importantly, brings a wealth of exciting new talent.

It’s this attitude that has seen the conference grow to become one of the best around, and coupled with a genuinely friendly atmosphere, a low-key social media presence and no pressure of talks being recorded, means that everyone can relax and simply absorb the wealth of industry knowledge and creative skills around them.

Day 1: Monday

Monday is all about work-life balance, or as The Dots founder Pip Jamieson prefers, work-life blend. Having started what can crudely be described as LinkedIn for creatives, we hear how she has transformed the business from a joint startup on her houseboat to her own regular office-based company without losing that unique personality.

Fresh from his typography workshop the previous day, Elliot Jay Stocks is another advocate of mixing your business and pleasure, giving advice on the benefits of fitting your side projects, as well as your outside life, into your everyday work. As he can attest, those fun tasks can often lead to greater things, but the key is finishing them.

Vic Lee takes things one step further, demonstrating a portfolio of storytelling murals that have taken him from simple beginnings to following his passion through to a hugely in-demand business. In a day filled with inspirational tales, it’s hard not to want to rush home and fire up all those half-baked, discarded projects of your own.

Day 2: Tuesday

Things get techy on Tuesday, starting with Jon Howard and a breeze through the future of machine learning, including a live demo that reveals a world of fascinating, unique opportunities and potential moral dilemmas, with the ability to manipulate live video facial movement and speech.

Over in the ‘Court of Siteground’, self-proclaimed CSS Wizard (and these days experienced lecturer) Harry Roberts demonstrates why websites need to be built to be fast, both for your own business’ benefit and that of your end users, considering the vast range of connections speeds and devices across the globe. If you needed proof – recently Trainline reduced latency by 0.3 seconds and gained over £8 million. Quite staggering.

Of course, it’s not just the technical side of design that needs to be quick. People’s speed of information comprehension is crucial too, often aided by iconography – something that Jon Hicks knows more than a thing or two about.  Correct icon design may seem rudimentary to a layman, but we learn how conventions are formed, the necessity for context, and the often forgotten importance of local knowledge. Thankfully, it seems that Adobe have finally listened to Jon’s many requests for over 100 Illustrator artboards, which should be one less thing to worry about.

Matters then get truly inventive and technical, with what might be the ultimate side project-turned-business of the event. To describe Anouk Wipprecht’s work would be to undersell it, but combining fashion, robotics, and fun is no mean feat; creating dresses that can sense boundaries and attack with spider limbs, or even mix and serve you a cocktail. It’s truly captivating stuff.

Day 3: Wednesday

The Elevator Pitch session that kicks off the last day is one of the highlights of Reasons to conferences; participants get three minutes to propose their ideas, with the top three gaining full speaker slots next year. We hear teaser talks on a huge range of topics including mental health, designing for a better world, children’s story books, and the benefits of constantly sketching.

Next up is Carlos Ulloa delving into the futuristic world of VR and AR – particularly SLAM augmented reality – and the incredible possibilities as we search for a hybrid between clumsy PC-driven headsets and smartphone Snapchat-style filters. As the title of the talk suggests, ‘Anything you can imagine, you can make it real’, and it seems what currently is a niche source of fun may soon be integrated firmly into our daily lives.

From the future to the present, as leading designer Mark Boulton talks us through the current state of the industry with tips from his varied and successful career. The recurring theme of small projects becoming corporate jobs raises its head again, as he explains how he’s travelled from a small one-man studio to giants like Monotype and CERN amongst others, and now finds himself back where he started.

To say Noma Bar’s work is eye-catching would be an understatement. Not only is it simplistically beautiful, but also full of details that wonderfully trick the mind. He walks us through an astonishing portfolio with an incredible use of negative space, proving that serious design can be both humourous and smart, and most of all, that it should be fun.

It would be a disservice to the other speakers to say that they’d saved the best until last, but in his elder design statesman role, it certainly seems appropriate that Erik Spiekermann brings proceedings to a close. A flying run-through of his lengthy career sees many wise words and plenty of invaluable advice, as well as many laughs. He spans several eras of technology which have now brought him full circle back to the beautiful simplicity of letterpress printing in his later years. It’s a marvel to witness, and a perfect ending to a wonderful event.

These are just a handful of the speakers from the event, which featured over 30 different sessions, and three additional full-day workshops. Based on feedback, next year will see a shortened two day event, moved the end of the week to avoid the back-to-school rush. It’s a welcome change, and with ticket prices amongst the lowest around, you’ll be crazy not to be there.