A Conference in the Time of Coronavirus

We are all getting sick of looking at screens. We look at them for work, we look at them for connection, and we look at them for entertainment. So how would it feel when an important part of your career inspiration is now going to be seen entirely on a screen?

This is the question that the Registered Graphic Designers (RGD) wrestled with when they moved their student/emerging designer conference, Creative Directions, on to Zoom.

Creative Directions is considered one of Canada’s best student-focussed conferences and attracts hundreds of new professionals. It also attracts top-notch speakers. Over the course of the three-day conference, there were close to 150 senior designers, art directors or creative directors speaking from keynote level, individual short presentations and also panel

Realizing that it would be hard for people to stay completely attentive, the RGD decided to split the conference across a week: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. This helped with screen fatigue for sure but actually worked to raise the excitement of what was coming next. When you weren’t in a consistent loop of speakers you really considered who you were going to see next and what the content of the talk or panel was going to be. I had the honour of being the MC (I painted my own set, see above) for the first day, and introduced the keynote by Meg Lewis. Each day started with a well-known designer from around North America giving a keynote talk. Meg’s talk was a very inspiring way to start the conference because of how exuberant, colourful, and against the grain of commercial graphic design her studio’s projects are. The following days’ keynotes by Zipeng Zhu and Brian Collins were also fantastically personal and intriguing. With RGD setting that tone, the rest of each day felt like we were all intimately learning from some of Canada’s most knowledgeable professionals by sitting in their studios with them.

The range of subjects helped to move everything along as well. Topics included ‘What Employers Will Be Looking For (Post COVID-19)’, ‘Perfecting Your Portfolio’, ‘So You Wanna Design A Better World?’, ‘What Brand Designers Know’, ‘The Missing Design Course’, ‘Perfecting your Job Search Tools (Post COVID-19)’, ‘Show Me the Money’, and ‘What Digital Designers Know’.

So, back to what it means to host a conference on a screen. RGD are really experts at doing this anyway with their Future by Design series, but this was the first time that 12 sessions basically happened back-to-back. Conferences are about networking, and I think attendees were really looking forward to that. If we are now living in a time when our inspiration both visually and verbally must come from a laptop, tablet, or phone, then I think this conference proved that you can still be as inspired and excited when a speaker isn’t in the room, but is talking directly to you.

Congratulations to our RGD staff for their huge effort that resulted in a pretty great experience.