Feb 25, 2019 Design + Creative

11 Must-Watch Conference Talks That Will Inspire You For 2019

There’s nothing quite like attending a conference and being inspired by your peers.

In this article, Media Temple shares Oliver Lindberg’s round-up 11 of the best presentations from 2018 to inspire and get you excited for 2019. They range from the practical to the personal and cover inclusive design, web performance, layouts, product design, mental health, and much more. Look closely, and you’ll find more than 25 talk recommendations, along with some useful resources for further reading.

Happy watching for an inspiring 2019!

Heydon Pickering: Get Your Priorities Straight


In this talk, delivered at Pixel Pioneers, Frontend United, and Fronteers, designer and interface developer Heydon Pickering, who recently published an ebook on Inclusive Components, explains that inclusive design isn’t about making things work for literally everyone (we’re not blessed with infinite resources after all), but that we need to reassess our priorities and stop making ‘perfect’ experiences for the very few.

With a little bit of help from Taylor Swift, Heydon explores the spurious thinking, the privileges and the prejudices behind our faulty prioritizations, and defends inclusive design as the ultimate priority when building interfaces. A funny, yet incredibly honest and invaluable talk.

Also watch Sara Wachter-Boettcher’s talk on ‘Designing Inclusive Products’.

Henri Helvetica: The Shape of the Web

Henri Helvetica’s closing keynote at London web performance conference DeltaV covers both accomplishments and challenges in the past, present and future of the web. Henri points out that the next users on the web are coming from emerging markets with poor connectivity and low-end devices, who tend to turn off their data connection to save money. Hailing Service Workers and Progressive Web Apps as one of the greater updates to browsers in a decade, he encourages us to treat ‘offline’ not as an error but a normal use case.

For more on the next billion users, watch Ire Aderinokun’s and Rachel Simpson’s talks. For more web performance advice, check out Henri’s ‘Planet of the APIs’ talk about various APIs we can use to measure the performance of web apps, all the other videos from DeltaV, as well as the talks from 2018’s other web performance conferences, including performance.now() and Perfmatters.

dina Amin: A Tinker Story

Egyptian designer dina Amin (not a typo, she simply really hates capital Ds!) shares her very personal story in this talk. She demonstrates how she started taking apart everyday objects that people have thrown away to create stop-motion shorts, which has led to animation work for clients all over the world.

“That’s impressive enough,” wrote Christian Heilmann on his blog, “but the real beauty of the talk is about her story. How she dared to do something that crazy and creative instead of pursuing a normal career and how the internet and working with other people over it made that possible.”

Hugely inspirational.

Charlie Gerard: Look Mum, No Hands! Brain Controlled JavaScript

Prepare to have your mind blown. Charlie Gerard, a developer currently at ThoughtWorks in Sydney, controls drones with her brain waves! In this captivating talk, she discusses her experiments with neurotechnology, which led to her developing an open-source JavaScript framework for a brain sensor that enables her to navigate interfaces (or robots!) with the use of facial expressions and mental commands. Also check out the accompanying blog post.

Truly fascinating.

For more innovative hardware-tinkering, check out Stephanie Nemeth’s talk on ‘Haute Codeture: Clothing as a Canvas’.

Jane Austin: 10 Easy Ways to Irritate Your Design Team

How can good design be integrated into your business profitably? Here product design leader Jane Austin, currently at Babylon Health and previously at Moo and The Telegraph, discusses the ‘anti-problem’. She shares 10 ways designers and business people can guarantee their behaviors and activities will ensure they never see eye-to-eye, their efforts will be wasted and everyone involved will know it’s not their fault.

“It’s slightly tongue-in-cheek but it’s 10 different ways that I’ve been massively pissed off by different people in different situations,” she explains. “What I’m actually saying is ‘don’t do these things!’”

Conversely, Jane also covers good practices to help make good work happen.

Farai Madzima: Cultural Bias in Design

Everyone has unconscious biases, and in 2018 our industry really started waking up to their consequences. In this personal talk, Farai Madzima, currently UX Lead at Shopify in Ottawa, explains how his Zimbabwean background made it difficult for him to collaborate, co-design, and even conduct user interviews with people he thought of as senior. To help us improve the way we work in diverse teams, Farai offers practical tips for anticipating, identifying and adapting to cultural bias.

For more on this topic, read Farai’s accompanying article on overcoming cultural biases in the workplace and watch the talks by Lauren Isaacson on ‘Boosting Your Bias Immunity’, Rahel Bailie on ‘Examining Cognitive Bias in Bots’ and Joy Buolamwini on ‘Fighting Bias in Algorithms’.

Jenny Shen: Build Bridges, Not Walls Design for Users Across Cultures

Designing for international audiences is more important than ever before. In this talk, independent designer and strategist Jenny Shen shares some lessons learned from designing for users in Europe, North- and South America, and Asia. She explains that simply translating a website isn’t enough and advises on how to localize products to adapt to cultural differences. A timely reminder that there is no ‘one size fits all’ in product design.

Also see Chui Chui Tan on ‘ Designing for Global Audiences’.

Jen Simmons: Everything You Know About Web Design Just Changed

Jen Simmons, designer advocate at Mozilla and host of YouTube show Layout Land, was actually a little nervous about the title of her talk because it sounds so clickbaity. But she really believes that we’re at the threshold of an entirely new era in digital design — one in which, rather than hacking layouts together, we can actually describe layouts directly.

In the talk, which doesn’t include any code, Jen introduces the concept of Intrinsic Web Design and describes how, beyond responsive design, we are now getting real tools in CSS to do amazing things that were previously impossible. When it comes to web layouts, graphic design and art direction on the web, there’s hardly anyone more knowledgeable than Jen. Essential viewing.

For more on Intrinsic Web Design and the web layout revolution, read our upcoming interview with Chen Hui Jing and watch her talks on Box Alignment and applying Bruce Lee’s philosophy to web design.

Mike Monteiro: How to Build an Atomic Bomb

When Mike Monteiro speaks, people sit up and listen. Here he reminds us that we are not just service providers but responsible for our work and its consequences, however unintended they might be.

“We can’t be surprised when a gun we designed to kill actually kills someone,” Mike rages. “We can’t be surprised when a database that we designed to catalog immigrants actually gets those immigrants deported. And, when we knowingly produce work that is intended to harm other human beings, we are abdicating our responsibility as designers. When we ignorantly produce work that harms others because we didn’t consider the full ramifications of that work, we are doubly guilty.”

The use of the f-word is impeccably timed, and Mike has the delivery of his rants down to perfection. Not many speakers in our industry get standing ovations. Mike does.

Also check out A Designer’s Code of Ethics and Who Do Designers Really Work For.

Sara Vieira: Your Brain Doesn’t Have a Fix Flag

Last year mental health issues, still a taboo subject for many, finally got the attention they deserve on the speaking circuit. In this standout talk, Sara Vieira, currently developer advocate for software engineering consultancy YLD, gives a very personal and honest account of struggling with depression and anxiety and shares what she learned in the hope that it helps as many people as possible.

Also make sure to check out ‘Impostor Syndrome and Individual Competence’ by Jessica Rose and ‘How I Cut My Working Hours in Half and Somehow Managed to Get More Done’ by Jason Lengstorf.

Tim Holman: Weird Web & Curious Creation

Code is for work, but also for play. We have so much power at our fingertips, it would be silly not to relax every now and then and make something weird. That’s the premise of this very funny talk that had the audience in stitches at ffconf. Tinkerer Tim Holman presents an overview of the projects he’s built over the years, including Obnoxious.css (an irritating CSS framework), Wowen Wilson (hear Owen Wilson say ‘wow’ and guess which movie it’s from), Elevator.js (which fixes those awkward ‘scroll to top’ moments), and generative artistry.

Even though the experiments sometimes seem pointless, Tim demonstrates how the skills he learned on each project — maths, new APIs, psychology, etc — are applicable to more conventional web development.

Bonus! David DeSandro: Read Color Hex Codes

Discover how colorblind designer David DeSandro relies on reading color hex codes and interprets those six-digit codes into visible color.

So what talks inspired you last year? Let us know in the comments below!


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About the Author Oliver is an independent editor, content consultant, and founder of the Pixel Pioneers events series. He has been involved with the web design and development industry for more than a decade, and helps businesses across the world create content that connects with their customers. More by this Author