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This is how we switched FBTB into a digital conference – part 3: The visual expression

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This is the third part of the tell-all story on how we managed to make a digital design conference without any prior experience. In this part, we share everything about how we worked on the visual expression.

In three articles, inUse shares experiences and tips on switching to a digital conference. Read part one – project management and part 2 – the importance of research.

“Our models were SVT’s Vinterstudion and international galas.”

– Our point of departure was that it would be impossible to do a better job than we did, says Ola Nilsson, who was responsible for the format of the digital version of From Business to Buttons (FBTB).

To achieve this objective, a great deal of effort was expended on pacing, technology, music, and a creating well-thought-out visual impression.

What is your most vivid memory of this years' From Business to Buttons?
– That must be when Shinichiro Tamaki, the creator of the Nintendo Wii, popped up through a pipe beside our host David de Léon, enthuses Ola Nilsson, creative leader, and content manager at inUse.

Tamaki, who was participating via video link from Japan, made his appearance through one of the distinctive green pipes through which characters in Super Mario travel, joining host David de Léon who was in a Stockholm studio. This somewhat offbeat introduction captures some of the creative sensibility inUse was seeking to convey in this year’s FBTB; after all, one of the challenges of producing the conference digitally was to maintain the interest and energy level of participants.

– We had seen far too many digital conferences that were so poorly expressed that it was impossible to absorb the content. There’s always room for improvement and fine-tuning next time, but our basic attitude was that we would produce something that couldn’t be bettered at the time. Our models were SVT’s Vinterstudion (the Swedish public service television broadcaster’s winter sports program) and international galas. We quite simply wanted to make a great TV show, but in the form of a day-long conference, explains Nilsson.

The shift to a digital version with speakers spread across several countries and time zones placed new demands on the preparation and design of the conference. We have written previously about how the focus of project management and research shifted. All speakers performed their contributions to camera, and it was also necessary to develop a specific design language. To dovetail everything, some elements were prerecorded in a studio and the program was hosted by David de Léon, whose day job is director of UX design at inUse.

– Some elements were better suited to prerecording, while others were broadcasted live from the studio. And making it appealing demanded absolutely first-rate sound, lighting and recording techniques, says Nilsson. A dynamic, resourceful and really open host is another prerequisite for achieving this. We certainly had that in David, who is also an expert in many of the fields covered in the content of the conference. Something that quality assured every question and statement.

Jack Hollsten, Visual designer at inUse, was responsible for the visual expression and FBTB brand. The switch to a digital version meant that the graphic elements needed to play an even larger role.

– Previously, we had not used the digital channels to the same extent during the event itself. Now, we needed to keep the interest alive online while simultaneously enhancing the experience. We were keen to have an even greater digital presence and we needed to be even better at it, Hollsten explains.

So, how did you go about it?
– We couldn’t start from the ground up so, as far as possible, we had to translate and develop what we already had in place. But then we could use the studio tricks we developed with green screens, sets and scenography. This, in turn, made everything seem slightly more physical, even if it was digital.

What are you most proud of?
– That would have to be the collaboration. That we were able to help develop the expression and adapt everything to our needs.

Pacing is crucial

Aside from the purely physical expression, it was apparent that there were several other elements that would influence how well participants were able to assimilate the content. One crucial point was varying the pace.

– Transitions and shifts must have vitality and provide new energy. Therefore, we used various ‘bumpers’ and jingles and worked alongside composers, graphic designers, and animators. This allowed us to take the visual concept and transfer it to other environments. We took inspiration from looking at a great deal of broadcast media and how they worked, Ola Nilsson explains.

What were you trying to convey?
– Of course, there was some kind of inUse kind of thinking at work; that it should be as user-friendly and accessible as possible in terms of content. At the same time, it was supposed to feel as if one was inhabiting the universe of From Business to Buttons, says Nilsson.

Which part of the job was most difficult?
– Achieving a coherent whole. There were many different elements and loose ends and it was hellishly difficult to make everything work on a purely technical level. It demanded a great deal of work to get it right. But, together with all of the expertise from the staff at inUse and Twenty Studios, we were able to identify many creative and smart solutions, says Nilsson.

Responses from participants have been very positive. Both during and after the conference, and Ola Nilsson describes a very open-minded and creative climate during the planning period, with many idiosyncratic and eccentric ideas tested. In a way, this proved crucial to the end result. Although not all of the ideas got off of the drawing board, some did make it all the way to the final production. One example being the moment when one of the world’s foremost video game creators made his entrance through a Nintendo warp pipe.

– It might not have been seamless, but something happened to engage the participants and that was great, says Nilsson

Three tips for anyone working on the visual impression of a digital conference:

  1. Think about what will work best live and what is better suited to prerecording.
  2.  Wherever possible, use high-quality lamps, heavy microphones, skilled personnel, and expensive cameras.
  3.  Think pacing, pacing, pacing, and use nice transitions to achieve the right feel and energy.


Did this get you excited to take part in the next From Business to Buttons conference? The tickets have been released!

Even though digital was fun, we are excited to go back to a physical event at Cirkus in Stockholm on the 13th of May 2022. This means meeting hundreds of designers and like-minded people to share the experience with. Hope to see you there!