Jun 13

The Awwwards Digital Thinkers Conference

A couple of weeks ago we attended The Awwwards Digital Thinkers Conference in sunny Los Angeles. The two day event consisted of 20 of the most influential, accomplished, and inspiring design thinkers, all gathering to let their messages be heard. And luckily, we were there to absorb as much as possible. We trekked up from San Diego to Los Angeles, and immersed our souls in some incredibly fascinating topics, ranging from artificial intelligence, to graphic design, to business strategy- all tying back to the overall framework of our digital world.

Top 10 Most Impactful Takeaways (In Our Opinion)

Awwwards - Aaron Draplin

1) “Do good work for good people (this exists!)” - Aaron Draplin
Aaron Draplin, founder of Draplin Design Co., had quite the monumental presence, and his high energy talk kicked off the event. This is such a simple statement, but reminds us to stay passionate about our output and do it with genuine love. We met this guy afterwards and he was super laid back, friendly, and generally awesome.

2) “The most valuable skill you have is the ability to learn new ones.” - David Navarro
From Stink Studios, David Navarro had many tips on thriving in a post-digital world. As a caveat to Mr. Navarro’s “post-digital world” statement, he means the world is now digital, we don’t have to say “The Digital World” anymore. It’s just “The World”. He spoke on how to stay challenged through constant learning in order to remain relevant, and to keep our brains active and engaged. This mindset helps to produce thoughtful, innovative work that adapts parallel to our technology and tools at hand.

Awwwards - Marc Hemeon

3)“Design one for the stakeholder and one for you.” - Marc Hemeon
Working in an agency, it’s easy to want to pick internal battles with what the stakeholder wants, or thinks they want. It’s often tempting to alter their requests in realization of a “better” solution, yet Marc suggests not succumbing to one over the other, but instead giving them both, and seeing what sticks.

4) “Human communication with machines is forced binary.” - Peter Smart
Peter talked about the future of human-computer interaction, and put on an incredibly engaging and insightful presentation. Communication as we know it is not automatic, and we must actively use our brain to produce a specific result. So, with technologies like Alexa, Google Home, Echo, and other virtual assistants, we must speak in a very “Tarzan” way, as technology doesn’t know what we’re asking of it otherwise, and the way we speak and write can often have multiple meanings on top of that. Peter mentioned that the future of these interfaces leverages AI and emotional intelligence as well, simulating human psychology to hold conversations, which is both mildly nerve-wracking and very exciting as new opportunities will unfold.

5) “Raise your quality standards as high as you can live with, avoid wasting your time on routine problems, and always try to work as closely as possible at the boundary of your abilities. Do this, because it is the only way of discovering how that boundary should be moved forward.” - Alex Cornell
This was one of the most abstract and interesting talks, titled, “The Inner Monologue of an Insecure and Distracted Designer,” where Alex interacted with his pre-recorded internal thoughts during the entire presentation. He certainly moved boundaries forward with a talk that was strikingly relatable to the feelings and deliberations many of us struggle with during the design process, questioning the optimal time or status of when to arrive at and pursue an idea or solution.

Awwwards - Jessica Walsh

6) “Creativity thrives off of constraints.” - Jessica Walsh
This lady is a total badass who became a partner at Sagmeister & Walsh when she was only 25. Jessica talked about how limitations that suggest seemingly impossible solutions can oftentimes result in the most successful, innovative, and creative projects. She proved this with her killer design work and side projects.

7) “The straight path is rare” - Khoi Vinh
Khoi talked about his book, “How They Got There: Interviews with Digital Designers About Their Careers”. He found that the trajectory into design oftentimes had emerged from other disciplines, and many of these very successful designers have a background not in design at all, but were able to apply learnings from their training to the design world. We both started our education in non-traditional design fields (Engineering and Architecture), and this observation validated that these backgrounds offer the ability to approach our work from another angle, ultimately bringing additional interests and experiences into our work everyday.

8) “In our pursuit for identity, we’ve given ourselves entirely to metrics, validation, and our algorithms.” - Mario Hugo and Jennifer Marie
Hugo & Marie’s talk “harmony” exemplified the importance of a harmonic balance in work and life. This message is also analogous to the relationship between design and strategy, and the classic balance of form and function. We often get caught up on data, metrics, and conversions, that we refrain from innovating due to fear of “losing”. Their talk reminded us that despite the importance of data, there are times when data can welcome questioning in order to create new identities. They stressed the importance of using data to inform but not dictate designs, and suggested that it is possible to break the mold without sacrificing positive results.

Awwwards - Dann Petty

9) “Relationships = work. More than portfolios” - Dann Petty
This was a great piece of guidance, eliciting that although work is important, it’s simply irrelevant if it creates, causes, or is the product of a failed relationship. Additionally, good relationships = even BETTER work.

10) “Don’t work for assholes.” - Paul Woods
This was one of Paul’s key points in his talk “Agency Etiquette for Non-Assholes.” It goes without saying, and we’re sure glad we don’t work for one- thanks Paul Woods for the friendly reminder!


Applying These Concepts to Our Everyday Work

The Awwwards Digital Thinkers Conference was an immensely inspiring experience. It allowed us to understand and take part in what other professionals defined as the “Digital World” (or if you are David Navarro, just simply, “The World”). We took the chance to absorb information and communicate our own ideas in priceless discussions. We are able to now infuse these ideas into our practices as design trends, human expectations, and our technological tools continue to evolve.

Office culture is important to us at DO, and getting out for a few days to attend the conference brought so much value back into our work. We stayed at a cool Airbnb in DTLA, met other interesting people across the industry, tried some swanky vegan food, had about 4 cups of coffee a day (because it was free), felt the electrifying passion of speakers inciting an urge to continue to create innovative projects, and shared an experience that brought us closer together, helping us continue to move our boundaries forward to produce even better work.

We left the conference on a cloud, with ideas, actions, and practices that we couldn’t wait to apply. Although admittedly, in the days to follow, there was a process of that cloud dissipating and us being brought back down to earth only to face the realities of harsh deadlines and restrictions of never ending client work. But, that reality we were brought back down to seems quite a bit brighter and immensely more exciting, and we don’t think that is something that will change.

If you want to learn more about this experience and our design capabilities, feel free to reach out to us anytime! We would love to help you out with any future design projects, and we’d be happy to answer any questions you may have.