I’m Michael, the User Experience lead at Clause.io.  Clause is the leader in the emerging space of Smart Agreements where we provide the only platform offering access to real-time data within your company’s most important agreements, forms and contracts.  Our engineering team is still relatively small, and as such, I often look outside of our company for design feedback and mentorship.

Finding that outside mentorship isn't hard, because Clause facilitates education and community engagement. The leadership at Clause encourages me and other members of the team to participate in industry events such as conferences. This allows me to spend time learning from other designers despite not working directly with other designers.

In January 2020, I was excited for a new year of design conferences. I spent hours researching upcoming design conferences and drafting proposals for Clause to allocate budget and my time to allow me to attend. Improving my design skills and traveling the world, what could be better?

Considering recent events, you can probably guess how that turned out.

In-person Conferences are Canceled

One of the conferences I was most excited for was Interaction 20 in Milan Italy, scheduled for February 2-7.

3 days of conference, 80 talks. Interaction 20 gives voice to a diverse range of points of view. More than 1000 participants make this one of the biggest and more interesting conferences on design.

Our theme this year, A New Dawn, will explore the meaning and evolution of our practice and approaches, now that we have begun to design almost anything for anywhere.

Sounds like a great conference, right? It was at the top of my list for design conferences I was excited to attend this year. Then later in January, Italy became the epicenter of the Coronavirus outbreak in Europe. Not surprisingly, Interaction 20 was canceled.

One by one, conferences on my list followed suit and were canceled, and though I agreed wholeheartedly with the need to cancel these events, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed.

Attending Remote Design Week

Flash forward to a couple weeks ago, I saw a tweet touting Remote Design Week 2020, an entirely remote UX Design conference. Without hesitation I bought my very cheap $40 ticket and cleared my calendar from April 27 to May 1st. I was hoping this would be the conference I was looking for, even though it was being conducted entirely over Zoom and live streams.

Despite being entirely remote, Remote Design Week had many benefits over the traditional in-person professional conference.

Cheaper

When researching conferences I found that when you add conference tickets, travel, and lodging, most conferences I was interested would cost $1,000 - $2,000 to attend. That is a tough ask from an early stage start-up, so I’m grateful that the remote nature of Remote Design Week allowed the conference to be only $40. No lodging or flight tickets necessary!

Easier to connect with the right people

At traditional conferences, you have to spend a lot of time milling around the conference floor and happy hour events to find the people you’re looking for. In remote conferences on Slack, you can just make a post asking for specifically the people you’re looking to talk to, and they will respond!

Quality content

Traditional conferences are limited to what speakers can physically make it to the conference, but in a remote conference, the best speakers from around the world can participate without having to invest days of their time on travel. Remote Design Week had the best content I’ve experienced at a design conference, and I believe it was because of this.

There are many more benefits of remote conferencing that I won’t dive into, like:

  • Not having to travel and leave family behind
  • Being able to meet people from around the world
  • The ability to refer back to Slack conversations after the conference is over

A New Dawn for Professional Conferences?

The theme of the canceled Milan Interaction 20 conference was “A New Dawn,” and ironically although that conference never occurred, their theme is very apt.

Despite all of the changes to our day-to-day lives we’ve had to make, we have adapted and found ways to share experiences and learn from each other without needing to co-locate. I believe we are seeing a new dawn of the professional conference, led by Remote Design Week and others.

I’ve already noticed a parade of other remote design conferences being announced, such as

  • Indy Design Week (May 4 - 10)
  • Smashing Conf Live (June 9-10)
  • Collision Con (June 23 - 25)

When the Coronavirus is a distant memory and people can travel and congregate again, we should hope that remote conferences still remain an option. They are not a one-to-one replacement for in-person conferences, but a complement, with their own benefits and drawbacks.