Just over a week ago we attended the inaugural Visual Arabia 2013 conference dubbed – “…a gathering of the creative community to celebrate design excellence, share ideas and inspiration. It is a full-day conference packed with visionary talks from top influencers in the field of design, illustration, animation and photography.”

We must commend the organizers for putting together a much needed platform for the design fraternity to come together. The programme provided an interesting mix of speakers – founder of Fikra Design who had some interesting perspectives on typography as well as some of his own personal journeys in becoming a bridge between the cultures of the UAE & USA via design; street photographer Eric Kim; Kristy Anne Ligone a very talented & young Filipina graphic designer and digital illustrator who is obsessed with zombies & based in Dubai; as well as Dutch duo Rogier Hendriks and Kasper Verweij, founders of Onesize (an Amsterdam based creative studio) who, after some technical difficulties that delayed the program by about 30mins…which had us thinking “just how many designers does it take to switch/configure a slideshow to full screen mode?” held the audience captive as they took us through some of the more comical & often uncredited levels of work that small agencies put in to deliver their best work to their clients. The duo also touched on a very important lesson or challenge for small agencies to step out of their comfort zones to take on new capabilities where possible. Be sure to check out some of their animation work via their Vimeo profile here.

As we can appreciate the amount of effort that goes into organizing an event like this we applaud the Visual Arabia team for the inaugural year. We also offer some feedback that might be considered for the next chapter (2014):

Better curation of speakers with the audience in mind. “…visionary talks from top influencers in the field of design, illustration, animation and photography.” This statement promised a lot for students potentially looking to engage with prospective employer agencies. Working professionals seeking inspiration from industry colleagues. Collaboration opportunities for both individuals & agencies in attendance. We think that the event failed its audiences somewhat and here’s why.

There were some aspects of the programme that left us and others (judging by exchanged pleasantries with other member of the audience) baffled and [some scuttling out of their seats to get a caffeine shot] – Brown Monkeys, a very talented Dubai-based art collective, self-admittedly had not prepared for their slot and decided to wing it. This was very evident in the first 10mins as they disjointedly passed the mic from one member to the next almost as if giving each member a chance to say I touched the mic as opposed to verbally contributing to a cohesive presentation. Our key take away from this troupe was to…“have fun”. No doubt each member of the group is very talented (see their website here) and we got to know that all the members do have regular day jobs & Brown Monkeys is something they do post work & over the weekends & all fueled by their passion. If we match this against the general audience types that we mentioned earlier, its a bit difficult to tie in the purpose of this presentation. Actually this also introduces another point for consideration – have a category similar to a “15mins of fame” that purely features the portfolio of the artist/artists; the amazingly talented Kristy Anne Ligone (although her work spoke for her self, we think a little public speaking coaching beforehand would have been handy) could also be a great inclusion in such a category.

Also ofcourse for any event such as this sponsors rely on getting a slot on stage as part of their ROI; while the Shutterstock talk was somewhat interesting – apparently video content is quite a big money-maker for the company, the talk by hard drive brand Western Digital bordered on being a shameless plug in the guise of a design contest & bit [awkwardly] longer than necessary (again, had some audience members scuttling for another much needed caffeine shot) presentation.

Some audience tools to encourage people interact. Anyone who’s had the chance to attend a TED event for example, will know that every attendee is given a name badge with a field where one can enter 3 things that anyone can talk to them about. It serves as a great icebreaker tool for walking up to a random stranger.

#visualarabia was announced as the official event hashtag at the start of the event, it would have been interesting to see live integration of social media updates both by the organize & attendees as the day wore on e.g. featuring of live moderated tweets or an Instagram feed that perhaps could have been manipulated / programmed into an illustrated projection of some kind – again celebrating design.

All in all we look forward to Visual Arabia 2014!