Top 10 Design Conferences to Attend This Year

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From the small screen to the big stage, designers around the world are revving up for this year’s crop of design conferences. Whether you’re interested in the well-known subjects like typography and print design or the more dense topics like JQuery and Javascript, there’s something for everyone. We’ve scoured the web to find the top 10 conferences (and organize by date) that aspiring and professional designers alike won’t want to miss out on.

Pictured at right: Legendary typeface designer Jonathan Hoefler speaking at AIGA’s Pivot conference in 2011

10. Interaction 14, Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Feb. 5-8


Interaction 14 is an annual conference hosted by the Interaction Design Association, a group committed to furthering professional interaction design. If this subject seems as distant and confusing as the planet Mars, think of it this way: Every electronic device you use is a product of interaction design and someone — or a group of someones — has put time and effort into making your device as user-friendly as possible. But the way we use electronics is ever-changing, and so, conferences like Interaction 14 were born.

Interaction 14 has opportunities for both students and professionals, and the tickets are priced accordingly. They offer design challenges, awards, workshops, and a myriad of networking opportunities.

9. Roost, San Diego, Calif.: Feb. 10-11


A conference more for developers, Roost deals entirely with a programming language known as Javascript, which is great for interactive and engaging websites. Notable examples in the wild include Panera Bread, The Interactive Ear, and SI Digital. Roost provides training, networking, and collaboration for developers who want to make the absolute coolest things for the internet.

No pricing for students available, but if you’re also attending the JQuery conference directly after, there’s a bundled discount deal.

8. Meta Refresh, Bangalore, India: Feb. 12-15


This User Experience (UX) conference is for both designers and developers, focusing on, well, The Internet. UX design has become almost an exclusively internet-based movement, ranging from the design of a simple online form to a social media platform with thousands of users. The more time we spend on the internet, the more important it becomes for our online experience to cater to us as people, not robots. Meta Refresh is a group of people who want to solve these problems, and present to the rest of the group.

The pricing structure is broken into a conference side and a workshop side, but for a measly 7000 rupees (that is, $113), you can attend both.

7. South by SouthWest (SXSW), Austin, Texas: March 7-16


Surprised to see this music festival on the list? SXSW actually offers workshops and panels on more topics than just music, including a film and interactive side. This year, they’re teaming up with AIGA, a nationally respected professional design organization, to offer awards and contests for design, specifically for film design. While not a freestanding design conference, SXSW and AIGA’s efforts will make this a good year for design in Austin, TX.

6. Smashing Conference, Oxford, England: March 18-19


For those who avidly follow Smashing Magazine, an invaluable resource for professional designers and developers, Smashing Conference will be a dream come true. A fledgling conference, only in its third year, Smashing Conference already has the support of big names like Wordpress, TypeKit, and MailChimp, just to name a few. The workshops listed are not for the weak at heart, they’re aimed at seasoned professionals who want that extra competitive edge in the design world.

5. Future of Web Design, London, England: April 7-9


After catching Smashing Conference, you may want to take in the English countryside for a few weeks before also attending the Future of Web Design conference nearby. Designers and developers are both invited to this annual three day event, with two separated tracks that allow both disciplines to intermix and learn more about each other. The workshops include skills such as designing for interactive devices and animating websites. FOWD boasts about the combined experience of their speakers and the flexibility of the two track program. These guys really get it.

4. HOW Design Live Conference, Boston, Mass.: May 12-16


The big daddy of all design conferences, HOW Design Live boasts thousands of attendees every year, almost 100 speakers, and a myriad of workshops, keynotes, and networking opportunities. Some of the biggest names attend and speak at this conference, including Malcolm Gladwell, Stefan Sagmeister, Seth Godin, and Roman Mars. If you like rubbing elbows, this is the place for you. The topics are mostly for front-end driven designers and less for developers, which means there are resources on print and web design, and different levels of business management. The popular blog The Dieline has a series within the conference specifically on package design, a crucial but often overlooked aspect of branding.

The ticket price for a professional is pretty high for this one, it’s the most expensive on the list by a few hundred dollars, but has the potential to jumpstart your career, considering the access you have to all of the wisdom and education from world-class designers.

3. Generate, New York, New York/London, England: June 20 and Sept. 26, respectively


A two part conference hosted by net magazine and Creative Bloq, Generate conference is a modest but hearty serving of print and web design, with inspiration and education a top priority for the day. They use big names like Ethan Marcotte and Karen McGrane to attract a crowd, and also make a unique gesture of giving rising stars the stage as well. This keeps the content fresh and exciting!

Only the New York conference has been announced at this time, we’ll be excitedly awaiting more information on the London conference in the upcoming months.

2. CSS Dev Conference, New Orleans, La.: Oct. 13-15


Another conference for specialists, CSS Dev Conf is the best source for workshops, speakers, and networking related specifically to CSS, which handles the formatting and look of a website. Without CSS, a website would look, well, like this. Understanding the importance of such a feature, CSS Dev Conf is an ideal middle ground between designers and developers, and they bring with them a democratic feature that allows the attendees to choose the sessions and speakers. Pricing is based on how early you purchase a ticket, so act quickly if you want to go!

1. GAIN: AIGA Design and Business Conference, New York, New York: Oct. 23-25


Rounding out this year’s design conference circuit is GAIN, AIGA’s annual design conference. Every other year they have themes related to being a designer, such as “Head Heart Hand,” and “Pivot,” and the years in between comes the GAIN conference, which is slated more towards the business side of design, which is arguably just as important as being a designer. Having hosted design conferences for at least the past ten years, AIGA knows what works, and what doesn’t, and they have the ability to draw top designers in the name of furthering the field. Past speakers have included Debbie Millman, Paola Antonelli, and Kenna Kay, so we look forward to seeing who will be a part of this year’s conference! We’ll be updating this one as soon as the schedule is announced.