Designing DrupalCamp Spain 2016: tips from the past for a future DrupalCamp
Creating the visual identity for a DrupalCamp is a great opportunity for fun if you really enjoy graphic design. While DrupalCons are professional events with paid organizers, DrupalCamps are run by local volunteers on their free time. There will be no payment for your work, but you will have a lot of creative freedom. DrupalCamps are expected to show the personality and creativity of both the local organizing team and the city they live in, and that’s good news for you, because it’s an opportunity to work outside the usual corporate flux and do something you believe in, not something to get some suit’s approval. If you work as designer for a studio, it’s also an opportunity to test yourself without supervision, and during the event you will be able to see for yourself the total outcome of your work.
This different scenario offers opportunities for you to grow as a designer, but it also comes with its own set of challenges. I’ll try to guide you through my process, so hopefully you will avoid my mistakes… and make your own instead.
Any project comes with its own set of challenges and limitations. The challenges for this one come from the nature of the event: it’s a local event, organized by volunteers on their free time, with a tight budget.
- The task’s scope is loosely defined.
- Uncertain available time and workforce.
- Low budget.
- Project driven by a non-designer mindset.
The task’s scope is loosely defined
At first, an uneducated mind would think that the task is pretty clear:
“The objective of this project is to create a brand and deliver a set of applications for Drupalcamp blablabla”
But if you “think design”, you’ll notice that the amount of blank in this definition is huge. What is our target audience? Do we want to attract local business? What about foreign participants? Is it community only? Everything tech stuff, or are we taking business as well? What kind of Drupalcamp do we want to be? This is a huge question that guides the whole promotional strategy, content and, of course, design.
Action recommended: define event personality as soon as possible. Decide what kind of event you want to have, the audience and the objectives. Push this conversation and force organizing team into considering this, don’t let this sit in the air.
In our case, there were a few things before we reached a consensus: we wanted an international Drupalcamp, we wanted to promote Granada as an enjoyable retro-modern city, provide business and management content besides tech, we wanted to look friendly and modern, we wanted to attract new people to the community and make the whole event a fully enjoyable experience that goes far beyond attending speech after speech.
Uncertain available time and workforce
Read the following words carefully: “organized by volunteers on their free time”. This means the amount of time and energy available will be short and prone to change without previous notice. Maybe you will find help on your way, but don’t count on that. People will work on this on the remainders of their day after attending work and family, so the available time and energy will be short. People who got in will go out. You’ll need to find help on your way.
The uncertainty of this work also means that nothing on the design process can depend on someone’s highly specialized skillset. For example, if your visuals are based on illustrations, you better find a style that’s easy to copy or the whole process will depend on one person.
Action recommended: Develop a visual language that is easy to understand, apply and replicate, and try to explain it as clearly as possible, including the concept side, so other designers will be able to fill the gaps themselves. Avoid using private, limited access resources if possible, such as Typekit fonts. Use Google fonts instead. Never do anything only you can make, or all of the graphics will depend on you.
In our case, we developed a simple visual language based on flat colors, typography, simple geometrical shapes with rounded corners, and a standardized way to process photos. Everything is built on those simple foundations.
Everything has to look premium with standard materials. You will have to keep in mind the cost of everything you are making, so the costs of printing is part of the challenge. Don’t blame the budget for a poor result, you knew in advance.
Actions recommended: use standard materials, colors and paper formats where possible. Try to get the most out of every sheet of paper. Printing shops charge per printed sheet, so get the most of it. If you’re using pantones for color control, ensure they convert properly to CMYK. Track the printing process yourself in person whenever possible and bring your laptop, you will be able to fix any issue on the fly. Production mistakes are expensive, but printing tests are not. Paying for a printing test is worth it.
In our case, we tracked the printing process where possible. The t-shirt was made by a trusted partner with years experience working with us. In addition to that, the whole color palette was Pantone, but it was verified to exist in the CMYK space before going further.
You are part of a non-designer team
Your task is to create something from nothing and deliver stuff according to a timeline. The problem is that other people depend on your deliverables, so they will want to establish a timeline that makes sense for their own needs. This is reasonable, but if you let others decide the timeline, they will set milestones that make sense for themselves, not for you. Take control of the process as soon as possible and remove this burden from other people’s shoulders. The usual design process — definition of the problem, finding a solid concept, building a brand, building a visual language, building applications — could be common sense for you, but trust me when I tell you it’s not common sense for an outsider.
Besides that, any difference of opinion regarding design will have to be solved by negotiation or committee, because this is a group of volunteers, not a design studio, there is no art director with the power to say “this goes in, this goes out” and terminate discussions, so you better have a very solid reason for every design decision you take, and be ready to explain it in a simple and compelling way. If you feel you have the answer, have a solid defense for that.
In other words, there is no boss, but there is a customer you have to sell your ideas to: the rest of the organizing team. Business as usual.
Actions recommended: Take control of the process and the timeline as soon as possible so it makes sense for both the organization and you. Burn as much time as you have on the first steps: definition of the problem, visual concept. It will pay off later. Use the committee to your advantage, it’s a low risk environment for idea testing, and if you can release elements in steps, you can adjust on the fly to available feedback. Make mockups to ensure your ideas are understood.
In our case we didn’t deal with this as well as we’d have liked to in the beginning. The dates and milestones for content delivery were set by events outside our control: Drupalcon Barcelona, Drupalday… and according to other people’s needs. This caused some conflict, as I had to choose between honoring a timeline that didn’t fit on a proper design process, or rush the whole thing and drop overall quality, but the moment I established a timeline that made sense for both the organization’s needs and my own design process, it started to work well. Clear boundaries and deadlines helped a lot.
The whole article can be summarized in a few very simple tips: keep good communication, keep control of the delivery process, and manage your resources in a very savvy way. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
Simple. Sort of.
Good luck and thanks for reading.
You can find a showcase of this project, and some others, on my Behance.