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Episode 14
May 30, 2017

A Room Full of Strangers

Andy and Matt are joined by Cap and Maurice to talk about our relationship with conferences and other design events. Even though all four of us have spoken at events before, why is it that we almost never attend them ourselves? What responsibility do conference organizers and speakers have to the greater community?
Full text transcripts brought to you by XYZ Type.
Andy
You're listening to Working File, a podcast about design practice and its relationship with the world. My name is Andy Mangold.
Matt
And I'm Matt McInerney.
Andy
On this episode, we're joined by Cap Watkins and Maurice Cherry, to discuss conferences and other design events.
Matt
We're gonna talk about why you should go, or why you should stay at home, and just pat your dog on the head.
Andy
Nice pats, fuzzy head.
Music
Andy
Hello boys. This is a boys nights, this is a boys-only episode. How's everyone doing?
Laughter
Cap
I'm hanging up.
Andy
You're hanging up already?
Laughter
Andy
Oh no! I was trying to bond with my fellow men, but I did it wrong, like I always have my entire life. Anyway, does everyone have their lanyards or whatever. We're talking about design conferences tonight. And we have two returning people, we have Maurice, and we have Cap. So, welcome both of you.
Matt
Thanks for having us.
Cap
Hello.
Andy
And we are gonna talk about design, conferences, and I use the word conference liberally, because I know that lately the sort of traditional conferences may be falling out of fashion, and now there's these un-conferences and other kinds of things, that are also like design events. But I think we just wanted to talk about the sort of place that these events have in the design community, and in culture in general. And I think we should just start by talking about our history with them, so people have some sort of ground work to understand where we're coming from. And I can start. I've attended a few events. Most of the ones I've attended are ones I was speaking at. And I've probably spoken at, I don't know, four or five events maybe ever, not many. One of them was when I met you, Cap, actually, at the design... What was it?
Andy
RGD Design Week... Design Thinkers. Design Thinkers, that's what it was called, in Canada. So I've attended a couple, I've spoken at a couple. And I did actually organize one small design event here in Baltimore once, so I have a little bit of experience on the organize something side. And by experience, I mean I learned that I don't like to organize events, and I don't ever want to do it again. But yeah, that was the thing I learned. So where else is everyone else coming from? What is your relationship with these kinds of events and conferences?
Cap
I've attended a couple of them, I've only spoken at one. I did a panel one time, and one of the guys was 45 minutes late, so we got cut from an hour to 15 minutes, and it really stunk. But it was fun to be invited. I've always been somewhat skeptical of the whole thing, like "Why am I paying all this money to go see the same people talk over and over again?" But I don't know. Too skeptical.
Andy
Well if you never go, then it's not the same people, you've never even seen them talk, it's your first time.
Cap
I have the internet, I know how YouTube works. [chuckle]
Andy
Okay, okay we'll get to that. Maurice what about you, what's your history with events, and your relationship to them?
Matt
Wow. So, I've been speaking and attending conferences on and off for the past, probably 10 or 11 years now. I think I probably really started speaking more around 2010, and I've tried to do at least one or two events every year or so. And I've mostly just gone as a speaker. There have been a few conferences I've gone as an attendee, but of course when you're a speaker at a conference, you're also attending, but I feel it's a different level of participation, and sort of visibility that you get as a speaker. But I've been doing it for a while now, and I'm kind of slowing down, or kind of coming down from doing conferences anymore.
Andy
Getting old.
Matt
Well, [laughter] no. I think, well something is getting old. It could be me, but it could also just be...
Laughter
Matt
I was gonna say dang, we're really just cutting right to it here.
Matt
I know.
Matt
Really, just immediately.
Andy
We ask the tough questions on this show.
Matt
Getting old. Thanks Andy. No, I'd say probably the general kind of drama and mess around conferences that I've had to deal with in the past few years has gotten old, and it's kind of tarnished the experience for me.,
Andy
All right. Before we get into that, Cap, what about you. I know you've spoken quite a bit at conferences, what was your relationship in general?
Cap
Yeah. So, let's see... So, I've attended one conference as a non-speaker, if I don't count things like South by Southwest, which I do not count, because those are, I would say, it's more of a party than a conference. [chuckle] Yeah, I did my first public speaking thing. It was actually, I got recommended by a friend who knew I was interested in speaking at things, which I'm sure we'll get more into later. And I gave my first talk a few years ago, and blacked out halfway through...
Andy
Wait, really?
Cap
I was very nervous, I don't remember the last half of the talk...
Matt
No drinking involved, just blacked out 'cause you were nervous about it?
Cap
Yeah. Well, nobody knew I blacked out, I just have no recollection of the last half of my talk. And I've never been invited back, so I can't imagine it was good.
Andy
I've got to say, having seen you give a talk, Cap, I'm surprised to hear that. 'Cause the one talk I saw you give at a Design Thinkers in Toronto, you seemed very confident, like you kinda owned the stage. And knew what was up. Is that just because you've gotten better at it since then. Or do you still feel those kind of nerves?
Cap
Yeah, I've done it a lot since since then. It's one of those things. I was telling somebody the other day, "It's like I'm still nervous, but for less time." Actually, let me back up. So you know how lot of people when they say that they're afraid of public speaking, and they need to do it, they say they need to throw up, that feeling people get?
Andy
Sure.
Cap
I don't get that feeling, I actually have to pee really bad...
Andy
That's a different kind of throw up.
Cap
Different kind of throw up. And so. What has happened is, it used to be 24 to 48 hours in advance I get super nervous, and then feel like I needed to use the restroom maybe. And now it's gotten to the place where I've done it so much that the fear is less, but it just means that literally two minutes or 30 seconds before I walk out on stage, is when that hits me. So, just for what it's worth, if you ever watch me give a talk, no matter how confident I seem, you can guarantee that I am just dying to go to the bathroom, the entire time. If it makes anybody feel better watching me talk, that's the thing.
Matt
It puts a little bit of pressure on you, no pun intended. So, just get out there and do a good job.
Cap
Trying to get off stage as soon as possible.
Matt
Exactly.
Matt
We're not gonna talk for too long, it'll be okay.
Cap
That's right. Yeah. But I've been giving talks for a few years, I give maybe four to six a year. I don't feel too disillusioned with it, we can get maybe more into that later. I think there's a problem, but...
Andy
Let's get into it now, because I'm curious to hear. It sounds maybe Maurice is the only person who's... Maurice, have you attended a fair number of events? You said you mostly speak. Also you haven't really attended events either?
Matt
No, I've attended a few design conferences, just as an attendee. But they've been smaller type events, they haven't been a big multi-day design conference. It maybe something where it's an afternoon, or maybe a one or two-day event, something like that I've attended. But no, I've probably I'd say, done equal amounts of attending and speaking.
Andy
Interesting. Because I thought about it real hard, I do some things locally here in Baltimore, which are not on the outside of Baltimore design map, just to meet people or whatever, which I guess counts. But when it comes to traveling to a conference that I had a ticket I had to pay for I've done that once before in my life, that I wasn't speaking at, and that was one of the Exo-Exo festivals out in Portland. But other than that, we're a bunch of people that have maybe spoken a number of times at events, but are not attending them. I wonder how we kind of handle that. Because it's interesting, I don't wanna go to these events, I'm not gonna pay my money to do it. And yet when I'm given the opportunity to speak somewhere, I'm like "Well, sure". Selfishly for me, I wanna travel somewhere, and maybe make a little bit of money, or at least get my travel reimbursed.
Andy
But then, am I going and giving a talk that I myself wouldn't want to go and see? Do I feel like I'm bringing something unique and special to that? It's interesting, the disillusionment there. Because I do feel like there's a line between conference attendees, and conference speakers. In that the people I know that speak at conferences, don't tend to be the same people that are attending a bunch to go and listen to things.
Matt
That doesn't sound all that shocking. The one prospect is "Hey, pay a lot of money, go see other people talk". Maybe you think you have something important to say. Someone asks you, and also they'll pay you. That doesn't shock me in the least, I would also go talk more, if I was asked more. But the prospect of paying a lot of money, taking time off work, traveling somewhere far away, and also stepping into a room full of strangers, versus just being a person on the brochure or whatever. And other people coming up to you, and be "Oh, I'll talk to you about stuff," is way less terrifying, and way more appealing.
Andy
I disagree. I think the worst kind of stranger room, is a stranger room where everyone has a picture of your face, and a little bio you had to write. That's a room I don't wanna be in. [chuckle] So, let's just dive in. So, why don't we, the four of us here on this call, feel compelled to attend conferences? And Maurice, I'll start with you because it sounds like your disillusionment has perhaps amped up a little bit recently, and I'm curious to know why you're not attending events.
Matt
Yeah. It has metastasized into not speaking at any more conferences for a while. And it's so funny, 'cause I just sent out my tiny letter to people about a few days. I do this little story time at the end, and the story time was "I'm done with speaking at conferences". And the decision has been coming for a few years, and it's just kind of gotten to a fine point where I'm doing a few events next month, and then that's it for a while. I actually really like going to conferences. I love speaking at conferences. To me, it's sort of a mini-vacation in a way. I get to talk with people that are interested in my work. I get to answer difficult questions that might challenge my perceptions. There's opportunity to network with other speakers that are there. And some events can even go the extra mile by having a speaker dinner. I've gotten gifts for speaking at conferences.
Matt
You get a little bit of free press. You get an honorarium, hopefully, knock on wood, fingers crossed, but we can talk about that a little later. And you get to kinda go to different cities, and stay in a nice hotel. Aside from that time that you're at the conference, it is kind of a little mini-vacation. But the problem that I've had, that has sort of come to this point where I don't wanna speak anymore, is that it's really just been with conference organizers. They value what you can bring, but not enough that they will actually pay you.
Andy
Sure.
Matt
They'll say "Oh, we love your work, we've seen your work here, we've seen your work at this, and we would love to have you. Oh, but we don't pay speakers. But it would be great exposure". And I'm at the point in my career that, that can't pay the bills. I've been running my own studio now for almost nine years. Everything that I have to do, needs to be, hopefully, something that's making me money, otherwise I'm not gonna just go. And the problems I've had, gotten back feedback from conference organizers, is like "Oh well, asking to have your travel reimbursed, that's just greedy, that's just ungrateful. Why are you being so difficult."
Matt
What?
Matt
That sort of thing.
Matt
Is that really a thing, that specifically? Just asking the question is met with that?
Matt
Oh, it's a thing. I'd say probably between '08 and 2010 I got blacklisted for a little while [laughter] because the conferences wanted me to speak. It was a conference in Miami, and I was like, "It's not that far, but I still need to be paid to show up, and put together a presentation." They were super angry about the fact that I even asked, and then they went and told a bunch of other people. And so for a while I didn't do a lot of speaking, until 2010, which was my first time speaking at South by Southwest. That was kind of me coming back onto the scene a little bit.
Andy
So you're telling me, there's a design conference mafia that put you on the no-fly list or whatever, and you...
Laughter
Matt
I don't know if that's the case now, because the whole conference scene has become so variegated because of social media and the Internet, that it's not a big deal if you don't speak at these AAA, top-class design conferences. 'cause there's so many different meet-ups, and two-day conferences, and online summits, and Twitter chats, and Slack chats, and all this kind of stuff where you can still get the opportunity to "speak." You know, I'm doing air quotes here without having to go through all of that other stuff.
Andy
My disillusionment with events is partially just something that has nothing to do with design or whether it's a good idea for my career to go. Partially, it's just me personally. I like to be in my house, and sleep in my bed, and pat my dog on the head, and not do stuff, I guess is the best way to describe it.
Matt
Andy the homebody.
Andy
I'm not shy. I'm not gonna be nervous going out and meeting people. It's just so much. And then, I don't really like most people. So, you meet new people, you don't like them, and then it's like, "Well, why am I doing this anyway. I already got the people I like. I know them already." I don't know. Generally, the whole scene of going to do a thing is not so much for me. But I will say that I also don't, from a practical standpoint, see the appeal. I feel like Matt does in that there is a wealth of design articles on the Internet, there are videos of other people's talks, there are conversations you can have on social media or otherwise with people in the community. I've got my friends and peers that I can talk to about things. I don't feel there is a hole in my life where I need to fill it with more design content, more thought leadership, or whatever you want to call it.
Andy
And I also don't feel like, frankly, as a speaker, if I was to get invited to speak more, I wouldn't expect it to be something that would advance my career. I don't expect it to lead to more work for friends of the web. I don't have any reason to believe that it would make anything better. It would be a thing I could do and an experience I could have and if I get lucky enough to have my travel fees reimbursed, then it's a free experience I can decide to have if I want to. But aside from that, I don't see for me the real benefit of attending one of these things and therefore, not being able to pat my dog on the head at the end of the day, which is what I really want to do. So, that's where I'm at.
Matt
You should put that in your speaking contract. You have to bring your dog.
Andy
Oh, there we go. That'd be great. She hates traveling.
Matt
Your dog is very well-behaved. I think your dog could handle a trip.
Matt
Call her your support animal.
Matt
There you go.
Andy
I've thought about that. That seems unfair, though.
Laughter
Cap
I've also encountered seeing the same person speak at two or three events and realizing they say the exact same thing every single time. You're kinda like, "Mmm. Podcast exists. YouTube exists."
Matt
And they're probably on there too.
Cap
It would been very easy to see literally this exact same speech. Maybe it's valuable if you get to talk to that person and have a more one-on-one interaction, but that's not the format of a conference. So, to me it's like paying a lot of money, going a place, if it's not more of an experience and it's just listening to somebody, there's so many mediums where you can do that for free. It's kind of hard to make the case for a conference.
Matt
Yeah, I can see where that would be a real drawback. And a lot of conferences, I think, fall into this habit of only bringing in the same six or seven dozen voices to speak at all these different types of events across the country or even around the world. And like you're saying, there's podcasts, there's other things, but then those people end up being on there, too. And it's like, for me, if there's one downside that I would have to design conferences is that there's not enough new and diverse voices that are being featured. Where's the new blood that's coming in? Do we really need to hear the same person give the same type of presentation year after year or every other year? Kind of like what you're saying, Matt, is there's no variety there.
Andy
Yeah. And to come back to something you mentioned earlier, Maurice, I'm curious to know. So, you mentioned that your issue is not really with the conferences, but you said specifically the conference organizers and their unwillingness to pay for reasonable travel accommodations and other things. Do you think that is actually the fault of the conference organizer for misallocating resources? They have the money, but they chose to give some giant honorarium to some famous person for the keynote speech and then they have nothing for anybody else? Or do you think that's just a flaw with the format? Like, you can't charge people enough money to pay people to speak, and also to rent the space, and to have somebody there to clean up the trash, and all the other operational expenses. I'm curious to know where you think that problem comes from.
Matt
I think that it's both, and I want Cap to chime in on this, too, so it's not just me giving my perspective. I think it's probably a little bit of both. I certainly have been approached by conferences who have already filled up maybe 80% of their roster and they just need that little bit of diversity to say, "Hey, we're really trying to find more diverse voices, really trying to diversify our speaker lineup." And I'm thinking, "If you're coming to me for this specialized purpose, I should get something out of it."
Andy
Where's the diversity budget?
Matt
I don't know if they approach the other people that they have brought up in that same manner, but often times when it's leveraged in that way I'm thinking, "Well, I got to get something out of it if you're coming to me for this specific reason." Not saying it's not because of my work, but they often will lead with the diversity angle and it's like, "Uh okay, alright." And I guarantee you any person of color, woman, LGBT, etcetera, that has been approached in that same kind of way for speaking at a conference, it's kind of a groan because you're like, "Ugh, that's all that you want me to speak about?" Not that you can't speak about your work, but they are looking at you I guess as maybe a demographic point to hit or a quota to fill in some sort of way. And so when...
Andy
Well, the thing I always feel...
Matt
Well, I mean when it comes to that I don't feel bad about asking for having my travel or things reimbursed, but the problem that ends up happening is because it might be at the tail end of their planning, "Oh, but we can't afford to pay this." Or you find out that other speakers are getting paid more than you are but you're presenting at the same level in terms of the amount of time that you have and all of that sort of stuff.
Andy
In those situations, the cynical person in my brain just has to go, "You just don't want to get angry tweets when your lineup is all white men." That's a big motivator for trying to reach out to the diversity for a lot of people, I think. They just don't want the backlash and the blowback.
Matt
I think so.
Andy
At least when it's in that situation where it's last minute and they're coming to you because they're trying to fill this slot, that's to me is like, "You're not solving the problem, you just trying to avoid the repercussions from it." You're just trying to not get in trouble, which is not the same as actually valuing different perspectives when you're planning your conference and making it one of your high priorities to get different voices there. Which, I don't know, is a thing.
Matt
Yeah, that is very much still a thing. I've got probably two requests like that in my inbox right now. That are pretty much that same thing. But sometimes conferences will ask just for the sake of asking to say, "Oh, we reached out to people and I guess they didn't fit whatever our invisible criteria we're to have them speak." So, you know.
Andy
Yeah. Cap, you said you're less disillusioned perhaps than we are. What's your response to all this?
Cap
I mean, yeah. Damn. You guys hate conferences.
Laughter
Cap
I don't know, there's a lot to impact there. I feel the diversity thing is real. I'm not gonna name the conferences or whatever, but recently I was asked to speak at this conference. And I look at their website. I always look at their conference website ahead of time, look at their line up. Because I don't want to contribute to that problem, obviously. It's something like, "I've cared about my career, cared about what the team's I'm on." So I looked at this conference's website and it was last year's line up and it was all white dudes. It was 15. It was a ton of people.
Andy
Jake and Chad and Matt and Brad and John, and all of those guys, yeah.
Cap
Sure. And so I replied to the email and I tried to be really nice about it, because I assume no one ever said anything before. And so I was like, "Hey, probably we shouldn't do this because of these reasons, these things are really important to me, here's why, whatever whatever." And they replied, and they're like, "Oh well, we're really trying to change up this year. We totally get that from last year." And I said, "Great." I was like, "Well, let me put you... I'm happy to put you in touch with, there's a ton of people at BuzzFeed. That would be great for this. That would totally help you with that problem, right? If it's something you're committed to let me hook you up." And they were, "Great. What about this person." And they named a white dude at BuzzFeed.
Laughter
Cap
And I was just, "What just happened?"
Andy
Interesting. Interesting.
Cap
It was super confusing. I actually didn't mind of just not responding. Because I didn't know what to say. That's a real problem. I agree I think that's real. In terms of the, I don't know, the value of a conference in general I think it's easy to think it's worthless if you have access to all these people or to this content in a way that makes it feel more accessible to you. Actually to be honest with you, a lot of conferences I speak at now are pretty small. I just spoke at one in Ottawa, which was a couple hundred people. I spoke in Halifax, in Saskatoon, a lot of small Canadian places. But what winds up happening, what I've noticed, is your smaller audiences. A lot of them are students maybe? Or just very early in their career where their companies are investing in them to go to this thing and kind of maybe learn something, or know something they didn't know before. My personal opinion is the smaller the conferences the better it is. I have a better time as a speaker. I get to actually talk to almost everybody that goes to the conference in that case at some point or another. It gives them a lot of access to me. Because it's usually a couple of days. There's events planned, and again it's not that many people. So it's not like people are splitting up or anything.
Andy
Sure.
Cap
And the feedback I've gotten from the people at the conferences that it's really great to be able to talk to... A person will hear about other places that they... They don't live in New York, in San Fransisco, right? And so living in Ottawa, living in Dublin or wherever is like you are divorced from this stuff. Even if, yeah. You totally watch a YouTube video but it's just not enough. It's not the same. And so the attendees seem to really enjoy it. So I don't know. It's hard to say it's not worthwhile when the folks that are there seemed to really get a lot out of it.
Matt
Yeah. I will say, I'm throwing that criticism, right? One of the more valuable things I ever did was going to, not a conference, but just going to a school and talking in a classroom full of design students. And that, I loved. I feel like maybe I'm throwing criticism at really big conferences where the speakers are not accessible. But when I got a chance to speak at a university for design students, it was great 'cause there was thoughtful questions, more time for interaction, everyone was genuinely interested. That, I loved and I guess, that's not different than what a conference could be, but I just picture it as a different thing.
Cap
And to Maurice's point actually, what's been interesting to me is it seems like the bigger the conference, the more unlikely they are to wanna pay you. It's very strange, like the more that the conference treats itself like a business, the more they try to nickel and dime the speakers about this stuff.
Matt
That's true.
Andy
Yeah. Like a business. That's what businesses do.
Cap
Like a business.
Matt
It's not different than a prestigious place where they're like, "Well, we're very prestigious, so we don't have to pay you as much." Right?
Cap
Yeah. Sure.
Matt
And you go, "Oh, I didn't know. I guess, yes?"
Cap
Yeah. Well, what's funny is it's really interesting to me 'cause when that happens, I go like, "Oh, but, wait. This like student-run conference in Ottawa, paid their speakers to show up and to... The whole thing, right? They took care of things. And if that's possible, and they're not charging that much 'cause it's a bunch of students and it's a couple of days, how is this conference with thousands of attendees... How is that possible?" And then, I realize that it is capitalism.
Laughter
Cap
At it's very worst.
Andy
Because the can. Cap, that's why it's possible. Because they got people to show up without paying them, so...
Cap
Totally.
Andy
It worked I guess.
Cap
I think it actually comes down to the speakers, 'cause I don't go to those things because I'm not going to do that, but obviously some people will, and so it's kind of this, I don't know, like you just said, it's the speaker's fault that that's happening because a lot of people are willing to go or, or their companies are willing to pay for it. They think it's a good marketing opportunity or whatever. But it's our fault that it's that way 'cause we're willing. Some people are willing to do it, obviously.
Andy
You make a good point about the reasons why people attend these things. I wanna make sure the reasons I don't see myself wanting to attend these are, strictly my reasons, I'm not trying to be critical of somebody that wants to attend events. I don't think there's any reason to be, under any circumstances. If you think it's gonna be valuable or, you've done it a bunch, and it happened to be something you enjoy, then by all means, I'm not here to stop that. It's interesting to think about the types of people that end up at events. And I think it's this self-sustaining system where if you're the kind of person that wants to go to an event, and wants to go to the bars in the area afterwards and talk to people, and that's the thing you wanna do, then, you're gonna meet other people that also wanna do that thing, and you're gonna get along with each other. And people like me are gonna sit at our home and pat our dogs on the head, and be alone, and that's what we wanna do. So it's kind of like a self-selecting thing, I think, when it comes down to the attendees in a way that, I think, works. I don't think there's a problem with that system in my mind.
Matt
Yeah. Yeah. I don't know.
Cap
Actually, I feel like there's value there. Again, I feel like the smaller it is, the better it is in terms of all that stuff. Even people who are pretty shy can still glom onto a group that's going to talk to somebody they might be interested in hearing from or whatever. I think it just becomes a little bit easier and more intimate when it's smaller. And I've also been doing this thing recently where I'm experimenting now with other ways to make the conference better for me, that has nothing to do with the conference. So actually the last one or two that I've gone to, I've sent an email to the conference organizers a few days beforehand and been like, "Hey, here's a link to a calendar appointment set-up thing for a few hours. You can just send this out to the attendees and have them sign-up if they wanna hang out for 30 minutes...
Andy
Oh interesting.
Cap
In a block of four hours."
Matt
That's cool idea. I like that idea.
Cap
And it's worked out really well. It fills up really quick and then I get to meet people. It's at a coffee shop. It's not at the conference. It's not after I spoke or something, I try to do it beforehand. And that's been pretty great. It lets me talk to people which I like to do. And again, it's about access, right? So how can you give people more of an opportunity when time is a scarce resource? So, I don't know... It's been an interesting experiment.
Andy
And create those moments that you value. You mentioned that the sort of one-on-one conversations of the smaller groups are the places where you feel the event is more successful, and so you're just making that space. Even at a bigger event, you're making that happen for yourself.
Cap
Yeah. There's been senior designer people in my life that have changed my life, changed my career by giving me some advice or telling me something that stuck with me for a long time. I don't know that I actually am able to provide anything even remotely close to some experience like that.
Andy
You never know.
Cap
If anything even struck somebody, that would be an interesting outcome.
Matt
No, I love that idea on both sides of it. When I did that school-talk I mentioned, part of it was a portfolio review where they just signed kids up because I was there talking. They also signed me up to do portfolio reviews after. And that was really fun, not because we were reviewing portfolios, but just every kid got a chunk of time and we got to talk about their work, and talk about my work.
Andy
I love portfolio reviews.
Matt
And how they relate.
Andy
They're so fun to do.
Matt
Yeah, it's really fun. And on the flip side, when I was in school, there were a couple of designers where I got invited to go hang with them after a speech. And I didn't care so much about going to see someone talk as much as I did getting to sit with them at dinner and ask them questions. There were definitely a couple of those that changed my life, so that part, I'm saying the same thing over and over again, but the more intimate connection part has always been valuable and I love that part.
Cap
Yeah, I feel like conferences aren't set up to... It seems like the criticism that we have is that conferences don't create those situations, and so I think there is an opportunity for them to be better than they are.
Matt
Right. My main criticism would be that if you can... If the conference is set up in way that it could be very easily repeated by a medium like YouTube or video online, or a podcast or something, I don't know, think about what the point of getting everybody in a room is, right?
Cap
Sure.
Andy
Yeah. I think that there's a lot of people I've talked to that have attended a lot of conferences. I've talked to people that have the opinion that the conference is a MacGuffin. The whole point is just to get these kind of like-minded people in the same space and then they're there for the things you're describing. The things they're actually there for are, like meeting at the bar afterwards, or finding people in a coffee shop, or just making new friends and going out and doing something else, not necessarily for the sanctioned, organized events. And some conferences at least, I know I've attended Exo-Exo, and they specifically have some number of tickets they sell to what is effectively the Conference with a capital C, where you see all the speakers on the main stage and they do their presentations. And then they sell a much bigger batch of other tickets for people that are there for, I forget what they call it, it's like the satellite of other stuff going on. And there's smaller events going on, and there's a games room, where board games are out and stuff like that. But you can pay just to go and show up to basically be there.
Andy
You're not attending the main talks that are going to be on YouTube later, you're just showing up to see people. And it was interesting, because that's what I did for Exo-Exo. I just did the hang out around the area and see the kind of side-event stuff, and it felt like that was an attempt at what we're describing of turning a conference that is a relatively big deal. I mean, Exo-Exo intentionally stays small relative to number of people that are attending, but they have like a lottery every year because they have more people that want to go than can, and so it's a somewhat big deal. But they've intentionally kind of carved out this space for people to just kind of show up and do whatever pops up, which it was pretty successful I would say. As a person that doesn't love attending conferences or events, it worked out pretty well.
Matt
Yeah, I was gonna say, you decided to go, so was that...
Andy
I did.
Matt
Better than the main event, or worse, or?
Andy
So I'll be totally transparent. The reason I decided to go was because there was a reunion show for You Look Nice Today, which is probably my favorite podcast of all time. And just the opportunity to see that happen was worth it to me to pay the entire ticket and for the entire airplane trip, and the rest of it was kind of gravy. So, if not for that, I would never have gone and I haven't gone since, but yeah, it was a good experience.
Cap
You can't go anymore, right? I think it's over.
Andy
Yeah. Did they officially announce that it's actually over? I know they never commit to doing it again until... Like, they don't say there's going to be one next year until they decide to do it. But maybe it's actually over now. I'm not sure. We'll find it out and put it in the show notes, one way or the other. But is that an idea you've all come across, the idea of like, "the conference is a MacGuffin?" And I guess I should explain. For people that don't know what a MacGuffin is, it's the idea that this thing is just drawing people to this place, it's just pulling the plot forward and you're just gonna... It's not the actual reason, it's just the reason that everyone kind of congregates in this one place. That makes sense to me. I get that more than I get showing up for a bunch of talks, frankly.
Matt
I would say, sometimes it is. I've certainly talk with organizers where they've been very transparent that the reason they put this event together was so they could bring all these people in one place and kinda grow the network there, so to speak. But there have been conferences I've been to that kinda had this sort of built in networking component to it where you got a chance to... I think I did portfolio reviews at a conference last year, and it is really fun 'cause you get a chance to interact with people one on one, and I really like Cap's idea of doing that sorta off-site meeting sorta thing, 'cause oftentimes when you're done with your talk, you're like, "That's it. I want to go to the bathroom, I want to get something to eat." And people are like, "I wanna ask you questions, I wanna ask you questions." Which is great, but oftentimes it's like, "I can't... I mean, I didn't think I was gonna stand around here for 30 more minutes asking questions. I thought I was going to whatever the next thing is." But then having that opportunity to meet them off-site for a coffee or what have you, while you're in the area, is pretty valuable.
Cap
Yeah, but the truth is the reason people go is, and the reason conference exists, are it's complicated, like everything else. It's a mixture of all the things.
Andy
A lot of motivators, yeah.
Cap
Would it be as successful if there were zero talks? I don't know. I don't know. I actually don't know the answer to that question.
Matt
There is, there would be, "What do you gather around?" I mean, I guess you could just have group activities or something? But I do understand the point of like, gives you a schedule, gives you a thing to focus on, gives you a thing to talk about.
Cap
Sure.
Andy
I also wonder how many people, kind of like me and Exo-Exo, would be in the position of like, "I want to see this one thing, and so I'm gonna go for this one thing, and the rest of it I don't care about, and I'm just gonna kind of float after that." But if that's the situation, and everyone's coming for a different thing, then you kind of get these people all in the same space even though they're coming for different reasons, which could be interesting, probably.
Matt
I feel like that might be the case for pretty big conferences, like that have multiple tracks, where it's impossible for you to see everything.
Andy
Sure.
Matt
People will come just to see one or two folks. Or it might be honestly the only event that they go to. Maybe wherever they're working at, that's what their professional development will pay for, so they go to that one conference and try to get as much out of it. Or they go because they know other people are going, 'cause, yeah, it's about the speakers but also if you know that friends of yours are going from another company or something, that's another sort of social aspect to it as well.
Matt
Yeah. Actually I have to say, my own company's gone to conferences as a group and that's been a successful thing. So more as a company bonding thing than a...
Matt
Yeah.
Matt
Who cares what the specific conference is? I can see that value.
Cap
Yeah, Obviously the design team at BuzzFeed has a conference budget that we make work for the design team that we have. And, it's interesting, the managers right now, how it works today, is the managers plan that budget and plan the conferences that designers go to based on their professional objectives. And so we have some designers who have professional objectives around visual design and so we're like, "Oh, well typographics might be really interesting because typography is kinda the basis of many different skills that they could learn. And so, we try to kinda match people to specific types of content and specific types of people that would be also interested in that content. Right? It's actually, like I said, it's complicated right? If you go to typographics, the odds are you're going to meet type nerds, right?
Matt
Yeah.
Cap
Probably. And that's kinda cool and it'd be really, again, valuable for the people that we have working for us to experience that. And then, on the flipside, the reason that I speak at conferences or why people on the design team at BuzzFeed speak at conferences, and why if I can't go to one I pass one off to them is first of all, obviously it's a professional development thing for all of us. I actually think it's valuable for my career and also their careers to be doing that. But the real truth of it is, and this was true at Etsy too, these places I'm working, these last two places I've worked, people know what they are but they're not necessarily on the top of peoples minds when they're thinking about, they're at their job and they're like "I think I'm probably ready to move on. What's the next product design job I'm gonna have?"
Cap
When I started at BuzzFeed or at Etsy, I wouldn't say that BuzzFeed or Etsy were the very first thing someone would think about or even in the top three, maybe, of tech companies that someone would think about. And so, you also think about it from a PR campaign standpoint if you're in a position in a company that you're trying to hire for, and you know you're gonna have to hire eventually too. So that when I reach out to somebody about like, "Hey, product design at Etsy. Maybe you should come work for us." That would be super rad, right, that they're not like, "Wait, Etsy does product design? What's that?"
Andy
Yeah.
Cap
What do they do? So kind of there's also that segment to it where it's like we are on a constant PR campaign to let people know the kind of work we do, like the values we have, the goals that we try to go after so that maybe they're interested in those and maybe someday when they're ready they'll think of us when they wanna move on to something else.
Matt
Yeah, and I think that's a big difference between the way you see it and the way I see it, it's 'cause I feel like like my company's not anywhere near that where it's we can expend the resources to try to recruit people in that way. I have that same thought you have just not on that level. But that does kinda change the way you would think about it, right? If I were working for BuzzFeed as opposed to kind of a small agency.
Cap
Yeah, I mean you should come work for BuzzFeed.
Laughter
Matt
They've got him programmed well.
Matt
Sorry, it's just a reaction I have when someone says something like that, yeah, sorry.
Andy
Nervous tick. You just tell people to work for BuzzFeed. So, I wanna talk a little bit more about, kind of our relationship to this topic. I guess, Cap, Matt, and I specifically as the over represented group in conferences. And Maurice, I'm curious to hear your perspective on this too, but I know that I don't get invited to speak as much as I used to. And as I started speaking less and less, I started more and more doing that thing Cap was describing where someone emails me and says "Hey, do you wanna speak at this conference?" And I say "Thank you very much, but I'm gonna pass. Here's some other people you might consider." And this response I've given to people has evolved over the years. When I first started doing this, I was dumb and young and my response was like, "You're screwing up the diversity stuff and here's some people you should have speak instead of me." And that is never met kindly. I got so many nasty emails back because, I get it, right, because people think they're doing you a huge favor by inviting you.
Andy
It's an honor to be invited to something and your response is basically like, "Pitewy, I don't want that honor." Instead, I'm gonna tell you what doing your job wrong, and tell you go to do a better job. Now, which is a really hard thing to sort of negotiate. So it used to be like that, and then I started just, instead of explaining why, I would just be like, "I am gonna have to pass and here are some people you should consider." And I would provide a list of people that are voices that are not heard so often in conferences to try and encourage them to do that without, you know, saying it totally obviously.
Andy
And, I'm curious to know how much of the responsibility do you think is on speakers to turn things down when they're in a group whose voice is being heard a little too much. And how much is on conference organizers to do a better job and just invite a better group of people so that this isn't a problem for the speakers down the road. Basically, I don't think that no white men should ever speak at conferences, but on an individual basis, if, James Victore gets an email inviting him to a conference, I would like him to say no and point to some other people. So, I have a hard time, kind of resolving that whole conflict in my head.
Matt
Yeah. Well, I think that can also boil down to the person's, their individual reasons for wanting to speak at conferences. Like you sort of said before, you said that, you know, you like to be at home, you like to be around your friends. And so, speaking at conferences is like...
Andy
Yeah it's easy for me to say no.
Matt
I don't wanna be around these strangers but for people that are trying to be seen as subject matter experts, every conference that that they speak at is like another step to get to that point. Or it could be for up and coming speakers, it's a chance for them to kinda practice and hone their presenting and their speaking skills, and that often carries over into lots of other areas. It carries over to just talking to people in general, talking to strangers, chatting it up with folks, etcetera. It's a circuit, the whole speaker circuit. I know several people that speak at conferences all over the world and it's just kind of the thing that they do. They have their talks, they send out their proposals or people invite them, or because they've spoken at so many places, so many conference organizers already sort of have them in their Rolodex, and it's just kind of an easy sell like, "Oh yeah we saw you speak at XYZ, do you want to speak here", and they're like, "You know what? Okay, sure, fine." Like I said before, for me, and I really hope that I'm not coming off as the angry black guy here, but the conference experience...
Andy
Definitely not. [chuckle]
Matt
Generally for me, what I've spoken has been fairly good. The only problem has come down to be saying, "Okay, I need to be compensated because I put together this new talk," or "I have to fly across the country and stay out here for five days," Or what-have-you. "I should get something back for that or some kind of a honorarium or something to that effect." And the conference organizers I've largely spoken to have been like, "No, we don't think so. We like your work, we value what you're doing, but paying you? I mean, we'll see what we can do... "
Andy
We value it with our words, not with our money.
Matt
Yeah, like, "We'll see if we can talk to a sponsor or something." And one thing that I have gotten and this has been from some smaller places where, even with smaller places, now, I'm not trying to get rich here. I'm not saying "I need to be flown out first class and staying at a suite at the Ritz." I'm just saying, general economy ticket, stay at a, I don't know, like a three-star hotel, not a roach motel or something. But stay somewhere decent that's close to the venue. I think that's equitable based on what I'm bringing in terms of my expertise and the time that I put together to create this talk and do the research and practice it and time it. I should get something for that.
Andy
I think it's barely equitable. Honestly, why shouldn't you be trying to get "rich", honestly. And the "rich", obviously in air quotes. [chuckle] You're not gonna make a billion dollars doing this, but you are good at giving presentations, you are practiced at it, you have a perspective that's worth hearing, you provide value to these conferences in a way that I think you should get paid handsomely for it. I don't think it should be like... I don't know.
Matt
The way I think of it is I definitely know my hourly rate, and if I have to take time off of work to go do that, I would kind of be like, "The very least you can pay me to fly there and stay there. If not, some money on top of it." I can't help but not do the math. But to be honest about what I would do and, the situation Andy described, I get invited to a conference, should I write a letter back saying, "You should invite these people instead"? If I got an email today that said they would pay for those things, they would pay for my time and whatever. I think I would just say, if I liked the idea, that conference, I would just say "Yes. I certainly wouldn't offer other ideas for other people", even though I know I'm over-represented. So I can be honest with myself that way, but it probably has more to do with how good a deal is it for me.
Matt
Yeah.
Andy
Exactly. It is what it comes down to. In the past, I've accepted the one where I got to go to Canada. I've never been to Canada before. That seems cool. So there's always the sort of competing factors. And the one in Canada, specifically, I was like, "Alright, I'm gonna accept this." And they told me they didn't care what I talked about. They kind of left it wide open. So they kind of compromised. I made up myself as I'm like, "Alright I'll accept this, but if I'm going to, I'm gonna: One, donate any of the non-expense pay I get." Which was nothing. It was a couple hundred bucks or whatever. So I donate that. And then I'm gonna talk about something that is relevant to the issues, and not just some fluffy presentation about whatever. So I gave a presentation which, actually, in some ways, is kind of like, I stuck to my most expertise; which is I talked about the prevalence of white male culture in design. Just how those things are so linked. Things that we think of as being designed things are often times just white male things and vice versa.
Andy
Which is a thing I'm imminently qualified to talk about 'cause I've had lots of experience being a white male and also doing design things. It was interesting. So I gave that presentation and mostly good feedback on it, and some people then invited me to other conferences to do the same thing and I was like, "No, this was not the intention." I did not want to become the de facto expert on this subject. If I wanted to go to this thing, I wanted to feel better about doing so by talking about something relevant. And then I had to get more invitations that I had to kind of point other directions, because it didn't really make sense. Now, there's one really interesting thing that happened. I don't know where this is going to go conversation-wise, but it's a story I have to tell, which is that some of the conference did that thing I just said. They either knew somebody that was at this talk, or one of their employees was or they've heard about it somewhere and it's not online. So I'm not sure where they would have seen it.
Andy
But they were like, "Hey, we heard about this talk, we think it'd be great talk to have at our specific diversity summit we're having. We're having a summit for our big company about diversity." It was a private company and they were having this big summit for all their employees and, "We want you to come and give this presentation." And I gave them a response that was like, "Thank you, I'm very grateful of you to invite me, but I think if you're having a diversity summit, maybe invite some other people." And I actually kind of went back and forth on this a lot. Because I worked hard on this presentation, I think it's good. I think the content of it is good. But also, I don't want to become the guy that gives this presentation to kind of put myself in these spaces.
Andy
And after talking about it a lot with some friends and whatever I landed on agreeing to do with the caveat they would let me do it with somebody else. And bring somebody else along, and the idea of bringing somebody that didn't have as much experience speaking, that cared about the topic as well, we could present it together. And then this other person who is not a white male would have an opportunity to maybe carry the baton forward to do something else. I thought that was a good compromise. So we went back and forth with this company, a whole bunch blah blah blah blah blah, they were like, "Sounds great, fine, we'll bring two people out and not a problem." And then they were like, "What are your speaker fees?" And I was like "I don't know what speaker fees are." So I talked to this person that we'd agreed to do this thing with and we came up with a number that seemed reasonable.
Andy
Again, like you said Matt, doing the math based on how long is it gonna take to make the presentation and to travel out there and how much time we have to take off and then divide that by five or 10 reasonably because no one's gonna pay you for all those hours you taking off, at your full rate, obviously. So we came up with a number and we said, "Here's the number for speaker fees. We would just like you to donate it instead to this organization." And we just never heard back. And I was like, "Okay this is weird. We already signed a little thing and we agreed to come, we are looking at tickets and then a couple days later they sends an email and they're like, "Thank you so much, you're no longer need as a speaker" and they completely quit the whole thing and I still to this day don't know what to think about it because it was so weird, they were all gung ho about bringing me out. I was like, "Can I bring somebody else that is not a white male?" And they were like "Sure." And then when it came to have to actually do it they were like, "Actually maybe don't come out. Maybe don't." That was such a weird experience that I don't know what to make of that.
Matt
That is so close to an experience that just happened to me recently. We're at a conference. They saw this one talk that I gave. I gave this talk at South by Southwest in 2015, "Where are the black designers". The talk is on YouTube, it's on AIGA and a lot of people have found me and asked me about speaking at conferences from that talk. And since that talk I've updated it for the different years and I've changed the timing on things of that nature and I think because people have seen it online for free, when I asked them for speaker fees to go out to their conference, they're like, "Well we could just play your presentation from YouTube." And I'm like, "Okay, you can do that, that's fine.
Matt
If you wanna use that two and a half year old presentation go right ahead." But to your point, I did get invited to a conference recently and they were very gung ho about having me out there and then something happened where one of the staff members had to leave for a personal reason and then I just somehow got uninvited from the conference as I saw that speakers were being put up on their website. I'm like, "Where's my stuff that I sent in to you months ago? Why am I not listed on there?" I still have never heard anything back from them. The conference is actually in a few weeks. I will not be attending. I didn't even have time to put a talk together because I just somehow got ghosted from the whole event and even then it was a thing where I had to fight them just to get them to cover my transportation allowance and it was across the country.
Andy
The idea that they could just play, they were kind of, not threatening you but like saying, "Well we can't afford to pay you because we could just put your YouTube video on a presentation."
Matt
I have actually recommended that.
Andy
Well it's so funny 'cause that's so perfect because it's as if they don't realize that it doesn't cost you anything for them to play the video either. You're like, "Yeah, play the video. Great. That does not take 40 hours of my time to fly to your state and do my thing there so I also am fine with that." And they're like, "Oh I guess we'll just do that then." That's an interesting turn of events there.
Matt
Those are smaller type events. And I mean these are events that maybe are like one or two days where again, I'm not asking for a ton of money. I may be asking for transportation and boarding. That may be a $1000, $1500 tops. Not a lot. It's just me. I don't need a lot but even that must have like, "Oh we have to think about it." There's been conferences I've have been invited to speak at where I have to pay my own way for registration. Like the registration's not even...
Andy
The registration?
Matt
"Are you serious? I'm part of your schedule." And it's like "Oh well, you know everyone...
Andy
That's like a bad joke.
Matt
That's attending has to pay." And I'm like "Well, not me." [laughter] I'm not gonna do that.
Cap
Yeah. I've seen that. Like they give you a special speaker rate for it too. They will be like, "Oh it's a $100 off since you're speaking."
Matt
One thing that has happened and I think this might be unique just based on, like I said that "where are the black designers" talk, I sorta been, I don't know, corralled into the diversity and design conversation which is not a bad thing mind you. But I will have people that want me to speak at conferences and then the minute I mention something about compensation, I get this weird, I don't even know the way to put. They look at me as someone "fighting for the struggle" in terms of diversity in the industry which I totally understand but because I am that person, they're like, "How dare you ask for money?" That's such a capitalist thing to say. Something along those lines where it's been like "That's so greedy and you're just being ungrateful." I have my own business. I could understand if I had a 9:00 to 5:00 and I was doing this in my spare time and I didn't need the money.
Andy
Not even then.
Matt
But everything I do with my business has to contribute to the bottom line, so.
Andy
That's just weird and insidious thing. Right? Where their perspective is that they're giving you a platform to further a message and that's them being good. They're like, "Look, we care. We're gonna let you go on the stage and talk about this thing you think is important." And so they feel like they've already done the good deed and to pay you for them to do a good deed? That's seems like totally asking too much. That's really subtle and pretty insidious.
Matt
Yeah that's why I said it's sort of come to a point where I'm like, "You know what? I'm good." Speaking at conferences for a while. Like let me cool off for a little bit...
Andy
Can I recommend getting a dog. You can pat it on the head. [laughter] It loves you. It's great. I highly recommend it.
Matt
Good idea.
Andy
Alright. Let's move to our closing thoughts and wrap this up. Who wants to start? Who's got something to say?
Matt
I'll start, I'll start.
Andy
I call on Matt.
Matt
I feel like I always assume conference just means big, nameless group of scary strangers, that you walk into a room, you don't know anybody, and then you go listen to someone talk and there's no interaction. I appreciate what Cap was saying in that I can see the value in a smaller, more intimate group, I've been a part of that. I really appreciate that setting, and really I feel like maybe more what we should be thinking about when we think of conferences is just like group of people getting together and we should think about how we can do that better, how do we make a more intimate environment. A lot of us are working on the Internet, working remote. Human connection is valuable, so rather than just conference being this thing where you just sit in an auditorium and listen to someone talk at you, maybe there's a way to think of it as smaller groups of people appreciating each other's company and it's just grouped around a theme or something, and that's something I can appreciate. Maybe I organize a conference someday and it's more like that and not the thing that I think I don't like.
Andy
I'll say for my closing thoughts that I think if you're listening to this and you've never been to a conference or an event like this and you're wondering if you should go, I would say you should. I think you should go to one of these just to try it out and see what you think about it, and everyone is different so not that you can have one experience and assume that's what all of them are like, but I think you could give it a shot and then honestly figure out if it's something that provides value to you and something you wanna do, because I do think that a lot of the event and conference culture is kind of like a holdover, right? It's survived past its days of real value.
Andy
I can totally imagine how before the Internet, these kind of events would be stellar, like incredible. You've never even heard of these ideas before and you're seeing people you never even knew existed and it's this whole new world you get to go and experience, and I really do think that now, with just access to the Internet and some ability to search up things and Google and dig a little bit into a community, you can get so much of that from the comfort of your own home. I don't think we could have found a contributor to this show that would tell you that you have to attend these events because otherwise you're falling behind and you're not on the cutting edge of your industry but some people truly have that opinion, "You have to go to these things, this is how you stay relevant." I don't think that's true anymore, and so I would say do it for yourself and if yourself and if you enjoy it then do it a bunch and if not then stay home! Pat your dog!
Matt
Stay home and pat your dog.
Andy
Cap, what are your closing thoughts?
Cap
So many thoughts. I don't know, I was thinking this whole time. I know obviously there are the evil conference organizer, I think that's a theme of this podcast. Having spent time with some of those folks, some of the people who organize these conferences, particularly the smaller ones, particularly the first time ones or the second time ones. First of all, I have a lot of empathy for those folks and a lot of gratitude for them, because it is very hard, and it takes a long time and it's a lot of effort, and sometimes you don't break even, and I've been at a conference were literally the organizer told me they broke even during the first day of the conference itself. He was going to lose money personally having put this on. I've seen conference organizers break down and cry at the end of the whole thing because it's just been so stressful and they put this whole thing on and it was really successful but it's still this huge release of energy.
Cap
So I have a lot of empathy. I wanna also shout out to those conference organizers who try to do it all the right way, do pay people to speak, or at least to travel to speak, because it's insane. If you go to a conference, you're sitting there in your seat and you think, "How hard could this possibly be? You have like five people for a couple of days giving talks then you're having drinks at a bar, how hard could that be?" It's really hard.
Matt
Yeah.
Cap
It's really difficult.
Andy
It is insanely hard, I will say. I tried to do one thing once, and man, it so hard to organize I won't do it again.
Cap
Yeah, it's really difficult, and so I have that perspective on it, and then in terms of whether or not you should go, you should, and if you're speaking, I think we kind of danced around this, I feel like speakers more and more now have an obligation to our industry. If I have an obligation to my own team to make sure that we have a diverse team, it seems insane to me I shouldn't hold the events I'm paid to be at or whatever accountable in the same way. I think dancing around it is kind of silly. I think there's a way to approach it in a way that isn't assuming that they are being malicious, and that maybe they're just not informed, or haven't thought about it, which is wrong but I think we should be kind to people and point things out in a way that doesn't elicit a response, that makes us not want to bring it up again maybe?
Cap
Because that's something we talked about is, I bought it up and people responded poorly, so now I just shy away from talking about it. I think that's a bummer, because the people that I do bring that up to, I bring it up to them even before I know what the lineup is, and I'm like, "Hey, just so you know, this is really important to me and I want to make sure it's important to you too". I don't know how much of a difference just me doing it makes or whatever, but if a lot more people are doing that, it should supposedly at the Internet scale have some effect. I also think for people going to conferences you should pay attention to that when you're looking for a conference to attend or who to give your money to, because it's different for me to get paid or for someone to speak for free than it is for you to pay a conference like a $1000 plus all your travel stuff that isn't bringing you diverse opinions in the industry from all the perspectives that you deserve to be hearing from particularly for that amount of money. I think conferences are great. I disagree with everybody on this podcast I think. [chuckle] And people should go to them but its a complicated topic and I feel like the only way to make it better is to engage with it but I also obviously respect Maurice's exhaustion with the bullshit.
Laughter
Matt
But thanks for disagreeing with us and not just being like "yeah whatever you guys say. You're boring."
Andy
Well that's what we try to do. We try and get people that disagree.
Cap
Well I know in the email you sent me about this. You said that I needed to say yes, [laughter] to whatever you said but I ignored the email. I didn't read it till just now. I'm just looking at it.
Matt
Perfect.
Andy
Says here agree with everything or else, weird.
Laughter
Andy
Very weird.
Cap
That's right.
Andy
Maurice, what are your closing thoughts?
Matt
Okay, so I guess to kind of trying to put a cap, no pun intended on all of this...
Cap
Oh I see what you did there.
Andy
It's pronounced chap.
Matt
I know that some of the views that I've said have probably come off as a bit contrarian but I think that for people that are listening that are not white cishet men, they might get some idea of what I'm talking about with some of the microaggressions and things of that nature, when I'm talking about speaking at conferences in general. So my words are kind of to them to say even though these experiences can happen and I mean there have been incidents at past conferences where a person has spoken up about something that happened at a conference and then it now snowballed into them losing their job or their careers or something. I wanna say that it's important for us to just be in the room at the conference. At whatever, the conference or the event or the meet up is.
Matt
Technology and social media has sort of shifted the role of the design conference, I'd say probably over the past five to seven years. There are these big huge multi-day design conferences but now there are also a lot of smaller regional events that are more targeted, that are more specialized. There are meet-ups that might happen every month. There's online conferences or summits and even for some of the larger conferences that people go to you'll find that people are live streaming events. They are Facebook living it. They are Periscoping it. They're talking with the hashtag about the event on Twitter and so there's ways that you can be a part of the conversation without necessarily being in the physical space but the importance of being in the physical space is to let the conference organizers know that, "Hey this is important to me as whatever my identity is." sort of like what Cap was saying with people looking at events and deciding what they want to support with their money.
Matt
The thing is that those tickets end up being the validation like how you're saying that some conferences will break even the first day or something like that. If they see that they've been continuing on this same sort of the model of a completely monochromatic speaker panel so to speak and they see that people are still coming out and they're still selling out. They'll think, "Hey if it's not broke, why try to fix it?" But if you're there in the room and you're able to voice your concerns or voice your opinions on these sorts of things it at least lets them know that it's not just something that's coming from the outside, from people that aren't even there. You are there. You've invested your time, your money or your company's invested their money for you to be there and so for you to want to try to get as much out of it as whatever your identity is, I think it's important to speak up and sort of talk about that. And from the conference organizer side I do realize that it is super hard to put something like this together. There's sponsorships. There's venues. There's so many moving parts to conferences that attendees and sometimes even speakers don't realize when it comes to just putting on an event.
Matt
But I think it would just kind of help to have a little more empathy. Try to start these conversations with people if there are certain types of diversity angles or what have you that you're trying to hit. Just try not to make it your last minute, eleventh hour request sort of thing. Try to make sure there's something that's part of your planning from the beginning and then hopefully you can get more people dialed into it as you continue forward.
Andy
Well Maurice, Cap thank you both for joining us. I really appreciate it.
Matt
Thank you guys.
Matt
Thank you.
Cap
And there's no need for sarcasm.
Laughter
Overlapping Conversation
Andy
No. I mean genuinely. This is a tough thing we're trying to do.
Matt
I realize I said that and you can't see my face. [chuckle] so I was totally joking.
Andy
No, I get the point. I do think it's worth mentioning it. I don't want this show ever to be a bunch of people that agree with each other and we're trying to walk this tightrope between like we don't know each other well, the four of us. Matt and I do. Maurice, you and I have talked a bit and the Cap I think we've talked a couple of times but it's difficult to have conversations where you don't agree with people and you don't know them super well and that's what this show is effectively trying to do. We wanna get different people in a space where they feel like its okay to disagree and so I'm glad you disagree with us Cap. I think that's the kind of thing I want to try to cultivate with this show.
Cap
I think what's funny is it's all very nuanced. Actually I think it's funny we all agree a lot more than it maybe even seems like.
Matt
Yeah I think really do. I mean we all sort of like conferences to a certain point.
Cap
Can I tell you what I don't like about conferences is that, can we have a moment for the kind of like catered sandwiches thing.
Andy
Yeah, let's talk about that.
Laughter
Cap
They've been sitting there for God knows how long. Can we just put a moratorium on...
Andy
They're like a temperature where you wonder if they started warm or cold, but you can't really tell anymore?
Cap
I was like what is this gelatinous substance on top of a turkey? I don't know, it's just something wrong. I don't know.
Matt
I'm trying to think if I've been to a conference that has had that. Have you spoken at South by?
Cap
I haven't spoken, I have attended.
Matt
At South by, they have energy bars and soft drinks, I don't think I've been to an event where I've spoken, where it's been a catered kind of meal. They've done speaker dinners, which I think is always nice, because it gives you an opportunity to network with the other speakers outside of that kind of conference arena. So you get to talk to people one on one hopefully, and have a drink or something, but...
Cap
Sorry, you said conference arena, and I imagine speakers fighting it out in speaker fights. That's the new conference I'm gonna start after this.
Matt
I would go to that conference.
Andy
I would go to a design celebrities no hold-barred caged match, for sure.
Matt
Oh, hell yeah, like a celebrity death match?
Andy
Yeah, that sounds very compelling.
Cap
Don't invite me to speak, I don't want a piece of that.
Laughter
Matt
No, you just wanna watch, you don't wanna speak at that one.
Matt
I would just watch. I think my money would probably be on Debbie Millman. She's short, but she's really scrappy.
Andy
Got those elbows. Throwing those bows.
Cap
Got those elbows.
Matt
She's been in the game for 25 years, for a reason.
Andy
Do either of you have anything you wanna promote at the end of the show for listeners to go do, or read, or click on, other than work at BuzzFeed? You should all go work at BuzzFeed, obviously.
Cap
Yeah absolutely, come work at BuzzFeed. Sure, yeah, we said come work at BuzzFeed, but it's true. We are hiring people. We've been posting a lot of documentation recently about our hiring process. One of the managers on my team, Sabrina, has a three part blog post series going on right now, about every single detail of the hiring process, which is pretty dope. So if you read that and you think that, "Man, that sounds cool, I wanna try to do that," you should let us know.
Andy
What do you wanna promote Maurice? You're not speaking anywhere soon, so can't promote that.
Laughter
Matt
Well actually I will be at Vectors, which is taking place June 15th in San Francisco at Stripe Headquarters. Tickets should still be available for that. They're $20 for general admission, and students get to for free. It's a half day event. I think it starts at 5:00 PM Pacific, it's from 5:00 to 10:00. So you can go after work. I'll be moderating a panel that's talking about hiring, and diversity, and stuff. So, it should be pretty good. And then of course my regular things that I'm doing. I have my creative studio lunch that's at...
Andy
Hire them.
Laughter
Matt
That's at yepitslunch.com, and then there's my design podcast, Revision Path at revisionpath.com.
Andy
Listen to it.
Matt
Yes, listen to it. We're coming up on...
Andy
I'm your hype man, Maurice.
Matt
200 episodes. We'll be celebrating our 200th episode in mid July, so pretty big.
Andy
That is an incredible accomplishment.
Matt
That's amazing.
Andy
That's huge. The dedication it takes to do that, is something that I want people to appreciate, because it is so hard to make a podcast all the time. So that's a huge accomplishment, congratulations Maurice.
Matt
Thank you.
Andy
All right, this podcast is over, 'cause Maurice said South by, so I'm done.
Laughter
Matt
Because I said South By?
Matt
You said South by multiple times, I can't handle it.
Music
Andy
Wait, stop, don't turn off the podcasts. I know it's basically over, but we have a request for you. For the next episode of the show, we're gonna do something a little bit different, and try and answer listener questions, but that means that we need you to send us your questions. We're gonna be joined by Kara Haupt and Lola Landekic, who are both returning contributors. They're wonderful, smart women, who have lots of knowledge to give you, so ask them good questions, and we can make a good show out of it.
Matt
Find us @workingfile, and mail@workingfile.co, send us questions, please.
Music