Face-to-Face R&D at US BY NIGHT. I hate design festivals, they’re awesome. International Magic talks on stage at the US BY NIGHT festival in Antwerp. Three days of high energy, powerful one-to-one R&D and PR mode for Dekks.
Context, UBN 2016
In 2016 I travelled to Antwerp for the very first time to visit the UBN festival (f.k.a. OFFF By Night) with the Studio 3 alumni crew, to support my friends Tom and Carl (More and More) and Marc Kremers (Future Corp) for their talks.
To be honest, design festivals were always a bit of a turn-off for me. I’m not really sure why but they always felt quite mono and boring. Maybe it was me, but talking with other designers about design just wasn’t inspiring. So going to UBN in 2016 for the very first time, I wasn’t expecting much.
UBN 2016 turned out to be amazing. It really changed my view on design festivals. The venue and its high-calibre speakers were extremely inspiring, but also the city of Antwerp was a total win … such an underdog city that wasn’t on my radar at all.
I came for the friends and stayed for the experience.
One night we all went out and Marc introduced me to Rizon Parein, the founder of UBN, to show him a magic trick (I’m a magician btw) … he loved it and we started chatting about magic and work. He told me to get in touch whenever I wanted to speak at the festival.
Getting ready for UBN 2019
Three years later and we’re on board as speakers for UBN 2019 — what a blast. We are extremely excited to fly the whole International Magic crew over along with my friend and studio colleague Paul Putzar to get inspired, drink beers and most importantly meet our (computer) friends and collaborators in real life, who are also speaking at the festival.
What do we talk about?
Two weeks before Antwerp and we’re super hyped to create a killer presentation about our work and talk about operating a remote design studio. We started thinking about what we could share to provide real value to people. Something that they could take away and learn from, or simply get inspired by, without getting bored.
We started writing a first outline of what we wanted to share from behind the scenes and selected projects from the last 3 years, where we could talk about the process, decision making, mistakes and of course the lessons we’ve learned and where this has led us today.
Tools, structures and processes are the prerequisites of any fluent workflow, even more so for teams working remotely.
Many issues and bottlenecks we’ve experienced in the past have been resolved by modern apps such as Slack for team communication, Figma for modern design collaboration, Notion for writing and storing information and apps like Zapier for automation. Not to mention the countless open-source repositories and projects for making development faster and more robust.
A major part of what we learned in the last couple of years as a team, by running a remote business, is how we work together seamlessly across different time zones on a day to day basis. Installing and mastering the right tools, structures and processes is the real MVP of a company I believe. If you take the creative part out, these are really the most essential things of a modern team.
Hacking UBN with love 😇
After narrowing down and getting to the core of what we wanted to talk about, it became clear that we needed to use US BY NIGHT as an opportunity to talk about Dekks. UBN is the audience that Dekks is built for, it would be the ultimate resource and the best place to validate our product. Let’s do some face-to-face research IRL.
Here are the points we wanted to achieve while being in Antwerp:
- Introduce Dekks on-stage
- Face-to-face surveys off-stage
- Analyse live stage talks
Introduce Dekks on-stage
One week before UBN we talked at Design Matters Festival in Copenhagen, where we launched a quick one-pager with a simple subscribe form to let people sign-up for updates and early access. The product page wasn't quite ready, so we launched with a slim-line version.
We were worried if it would be enough to gain interest so people would subscribe. It worked amazingly well. I think if you articulate the true problem you are aiming to solve to an audience that has most likely the same issues, it sparks enough interest and mystery for people to share their email address.
Ryan Hoover, founder of Product Hunt wrote in his medium article about the importance of building an audience first before doing anything else. He shared a link to this article 1.000 true fans, which I read and was inspired by.
One week later for our talk at UBN, we introduced the slim-line version of Dekks again and around 150 people signed up that night. Two cities, and two talks later and we have 250 people signed up for the early adopters subscription → The first 25% was accomplished. 🥳 🙌
Face-to-face surveys off-stage
I guess face-to-face surveys are super old school, but there is nothing like a good conversation, a spontaneous idea or first-hand feedback from a potential user. Malcolm Forbes once said, “The art of conversation lies in listening.” … and that’s what we did.
We ran into the image creation and research dream team Jacob Klein and Nathan Cowen from Haw-Lin Services. If you are not familiar with their work and image public research blog haw-lin.com (a manual pre-cursor to the popular tumblr theme 20Syndex’ by Marc Kremers), please hop over and check them out.
Fully in R&D mode, I asked Jacob about how they collect and present image mood-boards to clients. Jakob told me that they have been collecting images for the last 10 years, but still run into the same problems. We got deeper into geek mode. I started thinking about how Dekks could potentially ease their whole workflow if we integrated a few features into the app that would enable better image management.
From these conversations, I realised that the value of real, unfiltered, face-to-face feedback from your target audience is pure gold. These insights and ideas will help us form a more solid product and ultimately fuel it with better features.
Analysis of live stage talks
We spoke to such a broad range of people and studios to inform our thinking about how we present remotely or share decks via email and about what presentations really are. We were fully in discovery mode to reverse engineer the talks live on stage. How do people tell stories and present their work? How can we bring that human touch into a digital form? And what makes a great presentation great?
With Dekks we feel we are not only producing a tool, but a medium for collecting and sharing ideas in a new way. We want to get away from cold, information-heavy slides, and move towards an engaging experience that move towards an engaging experience that enhances the flow for users. We’re also designing Dekks to be the first medium independent presentation engine that gives people the flexibility to present anytime, anywhere, and on any device.
So what did we actually learn? I guess there is no secret sauce or magic trick to make a slick presentation, but the big takeaway is the majority of successful presentations were super personal and were more about telling original stories instead of showing polished slides.
It’s more about process and peoples stories.
Big shout out to Hassan Rahim! Good friend and amazing human being who absolutely killed it and set the stage literally on 🔥🔥🔥 with his touching and inspiring talk.
The experience reinforced our idea about what presentations really are. We now have the opportunity to create an engine that allows you to simply convey information into slides but also tell a story that has a touching impact on the viewer. An engaging and persuasive experience that doesn’t disrupt the flow of classical storytelling.
We are working in ultra-beast mode on it, so Dekks can solve all this for you and delivers a little bit of …
Big shout out to the amazing people we met and hung out with at the festival → Paul Putzar, Marc Kremers, Hassan Rahim, DVTK, Shawna X, Ezra Miller, Haw-Lin, David Rudnick, Sebastian Schierwater, Valtteri Laihanen, Selam X, Aaron Skipper, Mark Shanley, Berto Herrera, Marvin Lau and our agent Nikos Dimitrios.
And big hugs to our lovely agent Veerle Verbakel from MA+Creative who got us on the line-up for this years event and a big thanks to the man himself Rizon Parein for giving us the opportunity to speak in front of this amazing audience he has built over the years.
Thanks for reading,