Responses by Matthew Haynes, founder of The Design Conference.
Background: I designed TheDesignConference.com.au (TDC) to be a resource for documenting and promoting The Design Conference Brisbane, a four-day festival held in Australia each May. If you have followed TDC over the years, you would notice that the current website is in constant state of evolution. The current version has ditched the navy and gold from 2018–2019 to introduce a burnt orange and a range of grey tones. This version of the TDC website was designed to reflect new school energy with old school values in an effort to position TDC as a meaningful experience, designed to surprise and keep you on the edge of your seat.
As a rule of thumb, I begin a redesign on the website immediately after each event. I do this to make sure I have a solid design platform to launch the next event come November 1st—six months before the next event—when passes go one sale. With the site squared away, social templates, Mailchimp templates, posters and all things TDC are then designed in preparation for launch. Being in a state of flux, nothing is ever finished; however, come January and February of each year, we’re usually in the home straight and firmly fixed on delivering a kickass experience.
Design core: Putting a finger on the site’s core features, elements and style is difficult. To be fair, I am always trying to balance the hierarchy of type and image with updates, promotions and god knows what else. As I was explaining earlier, I strive for the site to promote a holistic experience of self-discovery. I think it’s a big mistake to rely on the speakers’ reputations to sell the majority of your event passes. In this day and age, that prevents any event from differentiating itself in an energetic way.
Favorite details: I love that the site has an analog feel—by that, I mean I designed it to look like it’s been constructed with paper. We receive incredible support from G . F Smith, Colorplan and Ball & Doggett, and to be able to incorporate their paper products into the site’s aesthetic means a lot to me and what TDC stands for. Our event partners are an incredible group of people and entities, and their involvement enables us to keep TDC accessible, affordable and in a growth trajectory.
Challenges: I’m not a programmer and have limited knowledge of CSS. People are often surprised when I explain to them that the TDC website is built on Squarespace. I love typesetting, and I feel that love is obvious in the design. The TDC website is almost a celebration of the grid and type, two core principals of design.
I am of the opinion that the website is never done. My good friend Matt Fountain hangs shit on me for the length of time I will sit and articulate a decision. For me, even decisions should help me make the next decision, and so on and so forth. If my previous decisions lead me to a place where I am unhappy, I start again—hence the reason we start the next site immediately after an event. At the end of the day, I want to inspire my community to dream big while continuing to be part of our story.
Divergent paths: Every year, everything is updated. Only the platform and the primary font family—Söhne by Klim Type Foundry—will stay the same. To sit back and let the site run a few years on the same aesthetic is to sit back and miss an opportunity to not only grow as a product but also as a designer. I want to produce great work, and for someone like me, that takes time, effort and a considerable amount of thought. I mean, outdoing yourself should, right?
New lessons: I learned some incredible CSS this year! I had no idea that you could use multiple background images and position them to create patterns. It was with this method that I positioned the background grid over the background textures using only one piece of CSS. #mindblown.
Navigation structure: All cards on the table, Squarespace doesn’t allow you to design highly customized menus. Our entire approach was typographical. Simply put, we gave the menu its own style by making the type all caps and adding an underline. We then designed the hierarchy to suit. Pretty normal stuff. That said, it probably took me a day, haha!
Special navigational features: The site has an incredible about of content on it. As a result, I created a piece of content called a “Quick Jump Menu,” which enables the user to use an autoscroll between content sections with the click of the mouse—e.g., speakers, workshops, side events and more. I have no idea if people are using it; however, I have had no complaints yet. #murphyslaw.
Technology: Squarespace 7.1. The template I am using is Polaris. With more than 2,000 lines of my own CSS, the final design is quite different compared to the starting point.
Also, a massive shoutout to Ti.to, who are our ticketing partners. An incredible service that lets our event to run on time every time! Really great stuff.