Organizing the d3.unconf

Ian Johnson
5 min readAug 11, 2014
highlights from the day

On March 29th 2014 about 100 d3.js practitioners gathered in GitHub HQ for a new unconference.

two of the four tracks

An unconference is like a conference but where the participants make the schedule and become the speakers. The idea is to fill the day with enthusiastic discussions between peers.

We made sure to invite some of the most active members of the d3 community, and were very fortunate to get Irene Ros to open the day with a great keynote!

Irene’s keynote

We wanted to create a day where people could really dive into deep discussions and projects. We wanted to create momentum in the community by concentrating so many passionate people in one place. With this as our focus we began working on the logistics.

planning with Kai, Victor, Paul and Nils at the Epicenter Cafe

The first thing you need for an event is a venue. It’s not always clear what comes first, the venue or the date, but we were fortunate that GitHub’s community hub could accomodate the date range we wanted to fall in.

Once the time and place are set, you can start thinking about who’s going to be there and what they might do when they get there.


We knew a lot of talented hackers and designers from a couple years of running the Bay Area d3.js User Group and being active on the d3.js mailing list. We made spreadsheets to track all of the people we wished we could hang out with for a day to hack on d3 with, and then got to emailing to try and ensure their presence by saving the date.


gifpop animated badges

At the same time that we were thinking of who we could get to come, we were thinking how we could get them to talk to each other. After reading a very inspiring article about conference badges, and having recently backed the gifpop kickstarter, it became obvious what we had to do.

Victor made a tool that could take any url that had some animated d3 (with a special line of code added) and turn it into 10 frames with our template rendered on top of it. For some badges we were able to even use work that the attendee had made:


The organizers of the event were 100% volunteers, taking time out of their schedules to meet and collaborate on getting everything together in time.

Besides communicating with the community, we needed to budget for food and supplies, create a website for getting the word out and selling tickets. We also raised some money to cover costs from sponsors. The following people went above and beyond to cover these tasks


Brandon Liu

Kai Chang

Miles McCrocklin

Sarah Groff-Palermo

Victor Powell

Paul Van Slembrouck

Erik Hazzard

As well as volunteers

Rachel Kalmar

Vaibhav Agarwal

Seemant Kulleen

Ben Lyaunzon

Nathan Crock

Christophe Viau

The day of

The day of the event was a whirlwind. It was one of the few days a year when it rains in San Francisco. We underestimated the thirst for coffee of our attendees, I mean what were we thinking?

Nathan, Ariel and Erik braving the rain for more coffee

We thought we ran out of lanyards in the beginning because of a slight miscalculation. Luckily we had extra blank badges for a few last minute additions, and extra lanyards not too far away.

No point in bringing too few of something when you could just as easily bring too much

There was that moment of anxiety in the morning, before anyone is scheduled to show up, and you wonder if anyone will…

Victor making last minute signage for the screens, and Brandon making the schedule template.

When the people did show up, and started having discussions and working on projects, we could finally accept that it was all real. We even have notes taken by attendees to prove it!

Sarah leading a discussion on design in datavis
show-and-tell all day
Nathan and Bret figuring out how to illuminate machine learning algorithms

Inclusive Environments

We were delighted that everyone who came seemed to enjoy themselves, brought lots of energy and left with ideas and projects. On the plane back to Boston Irene made the super useful which was inspired by a discussion at the event.

We even had an unexpected but welcome problems surface that day:

In our experience the d3.js community is a welcoming group, we think because it’s so damn hard to learn why be mean to people who are brave enough to try? We were advised to include an anti-harassment policy to encourage those who’ve had bad experiences at other events to attend. We’d like to believe these aren’t necessary, but we heard from a number of female organizers, meetup attendees and friends that unfortunately it is.

As the day unfolded we were happy to hear nothing but productive conversations, we even made an attempt to record the feelings of the day with a 4 minute video.

3 different groups sharing knowledge

All in all, it was a great day. We enjoyed putting it together, and the excitement that surrounded it is encouraging. We were able to make a slight profit between the ticket sales and the sponsors, which has is partially being saved for the next event and partially funding more d3.js talk videos.

Want to get involved next year?

email Ian at

follow @enjalot for more organizational thoughs

follow @d3unconf for updates from the SFBay d3.js community

Ian Johnson

pixel flipper. Data Vis Developer @ObservableHQ. formerly @Google @lever