The most recent edition was held in Berlin, such an astonishing city. I’d always read about it in books, seen it on the news, and daydreamed about what it would be like to live there. The story of this wild and wonderful city has always fascinated me; I’ve always wanted to know the people, understand the language and grasp this gregarious culture. As a South African, these places feel so far away and can be difficult to get to. This one in particular resonated with me, especially with a history as colourful and revolutionary as ours.
Since the event was only a two-day seminar, I was super excited to get stuck into this remarkable agenda. As expected, the conference was exactly the creative boost I needed, it covered so many diverse areas of design from the conceptual approach - including the history of design, the psychology of design and the importance of empathy - to the application of design - including CSS, animation, real art application and typography. Seeing these speakers in real life felt so inspiring, it gives one the motivation to network; a lot of our teams at Amazee Labs work remotely, and I think meeting other designers can be super inspiring! Especially when the people you meet get it when you explain what you do.
Thursday started off wonderfully, we were even lucky to have a morning filled with glorious sunshine which brought the temperature up to, um... 9 -- yikes it’s cold in Berlin. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that sort of cold, a freezing day in Cape Town is a pleasant 14 degrees. But still, a good cup of coffee from the kiosk and we were on our way.
Jeremy Keith - The Layers of The Web
The opening talk was given by the dynamic Jeremy Keith, who hails from Brighton England, recognised for making awesome websites for the well-known agency Clearleft. His talk spoke about the history of the World Wide web, yes it turned 30 this year (the same age as the fall of the Berlin Wall). Of course, the web has changed fundamentally over that time, these changes have accumulated over time, evolving and building, almost on top of each other, like layers. The term he refers to when building websites is called ‘Pace Layers’. This approach helps us to learn how to utilise layers to build resilient, structured and accessible user journeys. Building in layers means, building in resistance, reinforcing the idea that if one layer fails, it fails well as there is a foundation below it. Check out Jeremy’s full talk here.
Aaron Gustafson - Conversational Semantics
After a quick tea and coffee break, where we all patiently queued with our spanking new Beyond Tellerand mugs, I sat down feeling fancy with a cup of Earl grey AND a croissant – yas!
The second talk perfectly complemented the first, with some great insights given by the practical and insightful Aaron Gustafson who spoke enthusiastically about conversational semantics. Aaron is passionate about web standards and accessibility. He’s been working on the web for over two decades now and is a web-standards advocate at Microsoft. The focus on this talk was understanding semantic HTML and being more creative in the way we code. How can we, by taking advantage of native browser features, create things like powerful phrases, mindful links, effective organisation, accessible, rich internet applications and friendly forms? I loved this talk, it reminded me of how important it is to always keep the user in mind, experiment and be curious. Watch Aaron’s full talk here.
Cassie Evans Interactive web animation with SVG
After a long lunch, we hustled back into the conference room, our tummies full up from the diverse cuisines found on the nearby streets of Berlin; we were ready. Our third talk for the day was given by a very bright and bubbly Briton, Cassie Evans; her talk called “Interactive Web animation with SVG”.
If you’ve ever felt uninspired by the code you make, like your code is all work and no play – there is a light at the end of the tunnel, the SVG animation. Cassie introduced us to the SVG code, saying that it’s also a mark-up language, similar to HTML. SVG is an alternate universe version of HTML, focussed on graphics instead of documents. They are images you can manipulate with code. We can, of course also style HTML elements to make animations too, but this can be tricky. SVG is built for drawing in a way that HTML and CSS are not. Cassie then took us on a journey, showing us tutorials, tips and tricks on how to animate our SVGs, creating meaningful and impressionable experiences. I found myself aching to learn code, to add to my designs. Animation is a powerful tool; it can be fun, and it can also be useful to a user journey. See Cassie’s full talk here.
Burton Rast - On Finding Purpose
After another short tea break and a quick walk around, we were greeted with our fourth talk of the day “On Finding Purpose” given by the very ambitious and passionate Burton Rast. Burton has had such a colourful journey; he’s never had any formal training but has always had such a passion for design and the impact it should have. His obsession with Punk Rock and its revolutionary message is clearly evident in the avenues he’s chosen to explore. He spoke of his early career, working with award-winning agencies and getting sucked into the agency hustle, finding his validation in winning awards and an almost false sense of recognition. After a while, he became cynical and felt stuck, finally deciding to give it all up, to find his purpose. His career completely transformed and he realised he wanted to change, to create designs and journeys for real, unmet human needs. His journey finely ended at Google, where he works with like-minded people, as UX Design Lead on Google's privacy and data protection team. He ended with an amazing quote, summarising how he feels about truly standing up for consumers and keeping his standards ethical. Reality is we live a privileged life. We won’t be exposed to this. Know that the work we do is important to the people who need this type of protection. That’s why I bring my activist self to work every day.
Wilfred Wood – Head Builder
Talk number four – what a surprise. The title, Head Builder – I thought, perhaps it would be all about code. Not at all, the talk by the wonderfully talented and slightly kooky Wilfred Wood blew me away! He began his conversation by delving into his creative family history, his parents were very artistic, with Dad illustrating frogs for a scientific publication and so art felt like the natural thing to venture into. After a strong career in graphics, Wilfred plunged into prop making, painstakingly crafting and working on a British Cult Classic TV show, Splitting Image. His work is absolutely mind-blowing and his story so entertaining, his work started in the eyeballs and blinks department, finally moving onto dogs and sheep. It’s been 25 years since that adventure and he now works as a portrait artist, building heads for famous people like Justin Bieber, Prince William and Caster Semenya. His colourful talk ended with the offer to illustrate members of the audience at 30 Euros a portrait, needless to say, he did pretty well. See Burton’s full talk here.
Mike Hill – The Story of You
After a long break and my 12th cup of Earl Grey, it was time for our fifth and final talk. In Berlin, it gets dark and even more freezing at 4 pm, which feels really strange at first. But the early nighttime sky brought with it a whole new atmosphere – people were ready to network, I think the promise of free drinks after the talk lifted social spirits even more. The last talk was given by the seemingly modest, but very successful Mike Hill. His talk focussed on the psychology of why we do the things we do, and what drives us to make decisions and how do our personalities initially form. Mike spoke about how our personality is a defence mechanism, it acts almost like a suit of armour, helping us navigate through all sorts of situations. The talk simplified what complex psychology tells us about why we behave the way we do. This modern approach utilises a current system of psychology used by David Fincher, the prominent director of movies such as Fight Club and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as well as the series House of Cards and Mindhunter. This talk was eye-opening, simplifying the complex and helping us understand ourselves a little better. Check out Mike’s full talk on this topic here.
Friday morning began slightly earlier, with the first talk starting at 10 am. As we sat down, the theatre looked slightly emptier with smaller groups of people arriving gradually; many were feeling the effects of a long night of German beer and socializing.
Sharon Steed – Engaging Empathy
We were all soon wide awake, clearly focussed on our next amazing speaker, the bright and enthusiastic Sharon Stead, whose talk about engaging empathy really spoke to me.
Sharon Steed is an international keynote speaker, author and founder of Communilogue, a corporate empathy and communications consultancy.
Sharon opened up about her struggles in communication due to a stutter from a young age. As she grew up, she decided to pursue a career as a business writer, believing that this path would allow her to communicate face to face a lot less, but as a freelancer having to meet new clients this could still be tricky. She felt that she was ready for a change and through some solid advice decided to pursue a role in public speaking. Along the way people started sharing stories which connected her to people and situations that she had never experienced before, finally realising that vulnerability is the gateway to opportunity, but in order to expose oneself to possibilities, one must have empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. To engage empathy, one has to continue to choose empathy. Sharon also spoke about collaboration and empathy, how this approach requires open lines of communication, it requires a feeling of safety and inclusion as individuals need to be able to ask for what they need, in a safe space. Engaging empathy is also agile – culturally agile, being an agile communicator and being an agile thinker. See Sharon’s full talk here.
Natalya Shelburne – CSS at the intersection
After our morning tea break, it was time for the second talk. A more tech-focussed theme centred around CSS. The talk is titled “CSS at the Intersection” and was given by the very enthusiastic and tech-driven Natalya Shelburne.
Natalya Shelburne is a developer, designer, writer, educator, speaker, and artist. She currently works as a software engineer at The New York Times and is also an occasional instructor at Harvard Extension School. Throughout the discussion Natalya delved into the notion of mental models, we tend to construct these various models when working in tech. She also spoke about the various conflicts we experience when confronting change, especially surrounding CSS. She then discussed how our individual mental models are created, how they are built like layers with a strong foundation based on all the prior knowledge accumulated. CSS has a separate mental model, as most developers debate on how broken or awesome the model is. The main takeaway of this talk is to allow ourselves to communicate and accommodate individual models, allowing designers and developers to interact more effectively alongside each other. Check out Natalya’s full talk here.
Charlotte Dann – Taking the web offscreen
After a quick cup of tea and coffee, we wandered back into the theatre, where we were greeted by the clever and highly creative Charlotte Dann.
Charlotte is a creative technologist and maker She combined two very different aptitudes, jewellery design and web development, forming a very creative and unique web app called Hexatope. This app allows anyone to design their own jewellery online, which she then manufactures in her London studio. Her very exciting talk spoke of this journey. When developers build a site, they don’t get to experience the touch and feel of the websites they’ve created. Although it is possible to create art using code, there is a new demand for a more tactile final product. Charlotte through her passion for art and creating showed us her creative process and even her final product in the form of a necklace she wore, this necklace was designed using Hexatope. See Charlotte’s full talk here.
Jason Pamental – Dynamic Typography with Variable Fonts
The third talk and final talk we attended on Friday, veered back into the subject of communication and tech, namely typography. The speaker, a highly creative and articulate Jason Pamental, spoke in a talk he called “Dynamic Typography with Variable Fonts”. Jason has been in the industry for over 20 years, in his occupation he focuses much of his time establishing robust typographical systems and digital strategies for clients. He helps various teams work smarter and more efficiently, running workshops along these lines. There are many new modern improvements in CSS, improvements which make it easier than ever to create scalable and seamless typographic systems on the web. Developers are now able to add variable fonts, allowing the design to adapt to various screen sizes and performance requirements, enhancing the visual experience. The talk focussed on the combination of CSS capabilities (custom properties, grid and calculations) with these variable fonts, which can now take our reading experiences online to a whole new level. Check out Jason’s full talk here.
Attending Beyond Tellerrand was absolutely wonderful, I learned so many things and it awoke a new passion in me. I found all the talks incredibly diverse and the speakers encouraged me to want to learn more about what it means to be a designer, not just intellectually but also in the work that I do too. As a web designer, my design doesn’t have to only live on screen, it can live offline in my behaviour toward others and how I potentially influence them. I should have conversations with developers, not only to hand over design but to learn from them and to share what I have learned. I’d love to better my skills and wear all kinds of hats – designer, developer, animator and artist. I’ve learnt that I don’t have to be a unicorn, I can just be a clever and very special horse.