The MWUX13 team wanted their theme to have real meaning while simultaneously avoiding too many constraints. They finally settled on the theme of “Place”.

It seems their execution was quite successful according to attendees like Phillip Hunter, Senior Designer at Bing; “Talks were diverse & still wove a well-themed tapestry”, he said. And Christina Wodtke, formally of Google and Zynga, thought it was “one of the few conferences…that took their theme seriously.”

Lead Visual Designer for MWUX13 and owner of MKN Design, Michael Nÿkamp, worked meticulously to visually integrate the theme of “place” into every aspect of the conference.

His first step in the process was to meet with other volunteers to discuss the theme. “To get into the guts of what “place” means, we asked questions like ‘Who is the audience?’ ‘What exactly is it and what does it mean to designers?’”, said Nÿkamp. “From these discussions we gathered a collection of images and words that captured the many meanings of ‘place’.”

Nÿkamp cites author Malcolm McCullough’s book, Digital Ground, as being instrumental in helping them understand how to look at place as more than just location or where one is at a specific point in time, “It is a combination of things – how you interact with body, thought, and location,” he explained. These three elements inspired the conference design.

The first element was the topography of the body, i.e., “how your body interacts with the place around you: your seat, a conversation, the street… .” The body element was symbolized by a sketch of the curves of the neck, shoulder, and sternum, and came to life on the conference name badges given to attendees.

The second element was thought, i.e., “how you react internally to the place around you: to conversations, culture… .” This element was represented by a series of brain waves illustrating the progression from rest to stillness to active thinking waves. This graphic was on the name badges of all those speaking at the conference.

Possible Flickr photo

The final element was location, i.e., “where you are at any given time,” and was represented by a street map of Grand Rapids. This image was on the hosts’ name badges, illustrating their personal connection to the city.

Additionally, to add cohesiveness to the designs and define the event, a solid circle was placed within each design that signified the point of reference: “You are here!”

Nÿkamp, who described his role as “Brand Enforcer” or “Art Director,” made sure the design played out successfully across all media; “I worked with a good team. There were certainly highs and lows, but we made something that turned out well because we were in it for the greater good. Everyone came together to do what was needed to finish the project and make it successful.”

Lead Photographer for the conference and User Experience Strategist at Designvox, Paul Hart, had a similar experience when considering the theme and how to convey it via photos. Hart worked with a team of three other photographers. To prepare and unify the team “we talked about the types of photos we were going for – [how to] capture the craft and details of what people were doing in the conference. It seems simple but communication like this makes all the difference when it comes to a cohesive vision,” he explained.

As Lead Photographer, most of Hart’s time was spent reviewing and editing the photos as quickly as possible in order to share them on the MWUX photo stream “I wanted to capture the energy of the interactions between people and let the world know what it was like to be there in the flesh. The images needed to tap into that energy and allow people to live vicariously through them,” he said.

Hart’s approach to his own photography was “to frame the photos in such a way that they would tell the story of ‘place.’” He described how the story was told in one of his favorite shots taken at the UICA. “It’s hot . . . It’s technologically there, it’s full, it tells me that [the event] is popular, well-organized. That’s what the symmetry says. There is a high level of engagement.”

His favorite at the Kendall venue is a black and white photo taken in the hallway. “It tells the story of the building itself,” said Hart. “The main character of the photo is the space, not the people. You can’t see their faces; they just look like pillars in the room. They also don’t seem to notice their location because they’re focused on content. It makes you ask ‘Where are they exactly?’ and you feel intrigued.”

The photographers made such a positive impact that their work got attention and praise from many inside and outside of the conference, including keynote speaker, Christina Wodtke who concluded that, “Every conference should have an onsite photographer!”

The accolades did not stop there. MWUX13 was not only well organized, designed, executed, and documented, but it was also a true champion of the talent and opportunities Grand Rapids has to offer. My next, and final, blog will reveal how the city itself played an important character in the story of Place.

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