The Design Conference

To badge, or not to badge

You arrive at the conference and straight away are presented with a dilemma – the great name badge debacle. At this point those attending the conference are divided into three categories – those that wear their name badges with pride, those that refuse to wear it at all, and my favourite category – the ‘I submitted to peer-pressure and put the badge on at registration, but have now craftily managed to hide it under a well placed scarf’. The latter two categories can be interchangeable depending on the judgement in the eyes of the person checking you in, and the person checking in next to you.


When choosing a seat in the audience there is one group of people in particular that should be avoided – the ‘Timmy Typers’. These are the people that open up their MacBook the moment they sit down and begin typing, and continue to type for the rest of the talk. Some of these people treat the talk as a dictation exercise, and are typing furiously in order to not miss a word. These are often the ones that insist on filling up the conference Twitter feed with a commentary Tweet every 30 seconds, hoping that just one of those will make it as the much revered ‘Tweet of the day’. 

The rest of the ‘Timmy-Typos’ have zero interest in the conference, and are sat answering emails and on Facebook. They’ll upload the occasional Tweet to give the illusion of interest, but this is really just to prove to their bosses that they did actually attend. 

Questions at the end 

When the speaker has finally reached the end of their speech the audience is presented with the opportunity to ask questions, and again these questions can be divided into three categories.  

The first is the genuine questions, these are the ones you wish you’d thought of, and a ripple of jealousy creeps through the room. The speaker at this point tends to be flummoxed, and will often provide a response that has little or no relevance to the question asked, and uses this as their opportunity to shoe-horn in something they now realised was missed off from the presentation. 

No matter how rambling and irrelevant the answer the speaker provides, when they finish with ‘Does that answer your question?’ under no circumstances whatsoever, can anyone reply ‘No’. Instead they must dutifully nod yes, even though everyone in the room knows that this is a clear lie.

The second category is what I like to call the ‘compliment questions’. This is the opportunity for certain members of the audience to butter-up to the speaker in a terribly cringeful manner, with questions like ‘I’ve always loved the care and effort you put in to the design of your slides…’ At this point they tail off, suddenly realising that there is actually no question at the end of this compliment. They flush red, and the speaker now has the incredibly difficult task of fudging together an answer to a non-existent question. It’s a terrible moment for all involved. 

The final category of questions is the ‘I have an interesting point, and I want to show the room that I in fact am more knowledgable in this field than the speaker.’ They’ll state their point, and then much like the ‘compliment questions’ they’ll suddenly realise that this is not in fact a question, and so suddenly add in ‘and I just wanted to know your opinion on that’. Again this puts the speaker on the spot, and they are forced to counter act with a more interesting, knowledgeable sounding point that again may have little to no relevance to the first point raised. However as long as it is a more interesting answer than that of the smart ass who asked the question, they will win.


After the first talk it’s time to head to the lobby for the awkward interlude chat and a cup of tea. Upon reaching the front of the cue for the hot drinks the pressure mounts when you are presented with the task of extracting hot water from what is essentially a bomb-proof canister, and everyone around you gets ansi whilst watching you struggle. The person behind you valiantly offers their support, but it soon becomes apparent they too have no idea what they’re doing, and the whole thing becomes even more awkward that you begin to wish you’d just gone and hung out in the bathroom cue instead. After pushing and pulling every available lever on the canister it comes to light that the hot water has in fact run out, and the task was impossible from the outset.

After a moment of jubilance when you finally leave the hot drinks station with the much sort after cup of tea, it suddenly dawns on you the reality of the situation you’re now in. In the time it has taken you to make the tea, all of the available tables or ‘lean-to ledges’ have been taken, and with all of your hands occupied with the compulsory conference folder and laptop bag, it is simply an impossible feat to drink the tea. You therefore are forced to ditch it at the first exposed surface you come to, admit defeat and head to the toilet.

The ever present Milky Bar Kid

After the coffee break is a seminar – so far you’ve been coasting through the morning with the odd bit of note taking and quiet reflection, but now the work really begins with your first seminar and the dreaded ‘ice-breakers’. There is simply nothing more intimidating in life than being forced to turn to the person next to you and come up with an interesting fact about yourself. Your mind turns blank, and in a terrible moment of self-doubt you conclude that there is nothing interesting about you. Your partner turns to you and smugly buys himself time by getting in there first and asking you the question. Sweat is dripping down your face, you stumble and mutter and finally pull an obscure fact out of nowhere – something along the lines of you owning a weird piece of memorabilia. You relax in glorious relief as you realise that your answer is both mildly interesting, and more importantly, socially acceptable. Your partner however wins this round by declaring that he was in fact the Milky Bar kid. I think almost every conference I have been to has had someone claiming that they were the milky bar kid, my aim is to find the ultimate question I can casually ask them that will publicly expose them for the fraud that they are. 

A seminar I attended once was about the idea of embracing failure, and so the genius running the session thought it would be a good idea to go around the room and get people to introduce themselves, and give an example of one of their recent failures. The first few people to go came up with something relatively light – typos on banners, personal Tweets sent out on work accounts, that sort of thing. But then things started to escalate, and each confession got slightly darker; ‘I wasted 3 years of my life building an app no one wanted or needed’, ‘I fell out with the client and lost my company its biggest contract’, and ‘I re-mortgaged my house to invest in a product that had already been invented’. I became more and more convinced that the final person was going to confess to murder, but luckily the guy running the seminar stepped in at the last minute and declared we were out of time. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief that the impromptu therapy session was now over.

The Loot

Numbers filter off throughout the day, and by the time you reach the conference close the audience is a slither of the committed, and those certain of victory for the ‘Tweet of the day’ award. 

Various t-shirts are thrown around the audience – t-shirts people will leap over each other for at the conference, but then never again see the light of day. As you filter out into the lobby you enter ‘operation hoard’, and go on a mine-sweeping mission for every possible piece of free loot. There are always Sharpies and pads of Post-it Notes lying which people casually pocket when no one’s looking. I’ve never purchased, nor known anyone else who has purchased a Post-it Note pad or a Sharpie, and have come to conclude that all in circulation today are the result of mild thievery from conferences. 

And so the conference comes to an end, and with your pockets stuffed with stolen loot and at least a few page of notes to justify your visit you skip off to the train station just in time for the 4.05pm train, smug in the knowledge that everyone back in the office still has a whole hour left of work.