Deciding on a Conference

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Updated October 11, 2023
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If there aren’t many events in your part of town, see if you can attend a conference that brings design professionals together, ideally for a couple of days so that you can make a couple of high-quality connections. There’s no shortage of conference lists these days and, with talks now going remotely, attending is easier than before—no need to figure out the logistics of scheduling flights, hotels, and transportation to the venue.

Organizers and Topics

Before going, it helps to familiarize yourself with the conference itself. What’s the theme? Who are the organizers? Have they done this conference before, and how were those (you can usually find reviews online). Next, look at who’s going to be speaking and what their credentials are. Based on this info, start comparing conferences and earmarking the ones that look good.

important Aside from looking at the speakers and companies that are attending, take a close look at the schedule. One major thing to watch for are the breaks between presentations. The magic happens between, not during, the talks. More breaks equal more opportunities to connect. Is this conference packed back to back with little time to spare, or is there enough time for breaks between talks? Are there also dedicated food breaks—lunch, extended coffee, and treats?

Conferences that last a couple of days offer more chances for you to connect, not just at the venue itself but also afterward over dinner or drinks.

Getting a Discount or Volunteering to Get In

In my experience price is not a good indicator of quality, and unfortunately most conferences tend to be pricey. If anything, price is an artificial barrier for who can attend. That said, most conferences do offer discounts, especially if you’re a student or if you’re in transition. You can also look for ways to volunteer. Usually, by helping organizers with setup and logistics, you get your ticket fee waived.

storyWhen I was trying to save up some money, I reached out to one of the conference organizers for a volunteering opportunity. I helped out by packing swag bags, helping out with speaker timing, and manning some tables. The effort wasn’t demanding, and it was fun to build camaraderie with other volunteers along the way.

While conferences tend to be pricey and are a one-time deal, events are usually a fraction of the cost and happen more frequently.

Picking Events to Go To

Depending on where you live, the cadence of events varies. It’s usually easier to find them in larger cities. When I used to work in a suburban area, I would drive an hour to Boston just to attend some of the events there and stay close to the community. Here are a couple of things to consider when evaluating where to go.

Interest-Based Design Events

One way to choose events is based on a topic or theme. Over the years I’ve been passionate about healthcare and design and have attended multiple events in that space, from hackathons, to quantified self meetups, to design events with a focus on healthcare. Attending these types of meetups is a great way to meet people in the broader industry and especially good if you want to focus your career on a specific vertical.

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