Ruby Central hired me in early 2018 in an attempt to use a common designer for RubyConf and RailsConf on an ongoing basis. After years of having a different design shop for every conference, they were looking for a more permanent and personal relationship. I was excited at the thought of being a part of the Ruby Central team and jumped at the opportunity.
Since this is a large project compared to my usual engagements, I did more planning up front than normal. My first step was to present a few options for the RubyConf 2018 theme. The decisions we made as a team at this stage would inform the brand aesthetic, website style, and other conference assets for the rest of the project so it was important to be thorough and nail it from the start.
Below you can see the entire PDF I presented in our first stakeholders meeting. A few things I discovered early on was that it would be themed around the Los Angeles location, it must be friendly, and it shouldn't feel overly techy. In my first presentation I discuss options for Colors, Brands, Typography, and thoughts on our web presence. We decided to try a soft pastel theme based around Los Angeles sunsets and an illustrated brand with simple shapes.RubyConf Moodboard.pdf
Take a peek at how I work. You’ll see the first steps we took in the RubyConf design process.Starting on the brand
Once we decided on the pastel sunset theme, I got to work on the brand. The first real deliverable was a splash page announcing RubyConf, and a pre-req for that was to have a brand to showcase on the announcement page. This went through many iterations with a lot of feedback from people I interviewd and the Ruby Central team. You can see a slice of the numerous iterations I tried, with many different styles and subject matter.
I spent a week gathering inspiration, putting together some rough ideas, and showing them to about a dozen people. I learned a lot from these casual interviews, most surprising was that no one recognized any Los Angeles landmarks. The overwhelming consensus in my search for the LA vibe was palm trees and sunsets so it goes without saying, that's where my design shifted. At the end of this week of work, I presented the team with an update of where I was at. There wasn't much to talk about at this point so I continued on to ironing out the kinks.RubyConf Brand Progress.pdf
I shared this progress update with the team to let them know where I was at. I'm a big proponent of overcommunicating, it keeps surprises to a minimum.He shoots, he scores!
I knew I was getting close at this point. I was down to a few relatively polished examples and they were all met with great responses from people I was asking for feedback. It became clear that the palm tree was a winner, the skyline was non descript but made sense as LA is a major metropolitan area, and the gem shape resonated immediately with people. I added some signal lights that you might see at a movie premiere and spent a while fine tuning specific pixels that no one would probably ever notice but me, but it felt great to get it in a very polished state.
There's always a nervous excitment a designer experiences when they've been working on something for a while and they're really happy with where it's at. That time between showing the client and hearing their thoughts on it is agonizing but it's also something I thrive on. I'll admit this is the first time in a long time that I felt that nervousness and the sense of satisfaction I got when the team liked my work was such a rush.RubyConf Brand Final.pdf
This was the first finalized concept I delivered and it was met with unanimous approval. With only a few minor adjustments needed, the process felt like a great success.Splash page
Immediately after getting the brand sign off, I jumped back to some UI work. The team was at RailsConf and wanted to announce RubyConf during the closing comments a few days away. To do this, they needed the announcement page up and runnin so I got to cranking on the design.
Splash pages have a special place in my heart because they're so simple, usually with very little restriction. I had been engrossed in Los Angeles vibes for the last 3 weeks so I had a very good idea of what the page would feel like. I wanted to showcase the color palette I had been working on, especially the gradient, and some general LA imagery, plus of course the brand we just completed! I put all of these things, with the relevant info together on a single screen page, got it approved, and coded it up. After a day of design and a few hours of front end development, we had it live and RubyConf was announced at the end of RailsConf weekend.
The splash page stayed up for about 2 months as me and the team worked on the full site. This was a pretty big undertaking but a blast to work through. I had a nice luxury afforded to me in that the team had done this exact site about ten different times and we only needed to give it some 2018 Los Angeles flavor. I still started from scratch but everyone seemed to know what they wanted and knew exactly what worked, these guidelines made the process a breeze and probably the project I'm most happy with to date.
The last month or so of the project was filled with new design challenges for me. We had to create about 50 physical signs to be placed around the venue. Signs like a conference map, schedules, labels for rooms, and general directional signage. As you may know, I don't get the chance to work with print design very often so figuring out how to organize and complete such a huge project was no small task for me. I learned a new tool in Affinity Designer, I designed heavily in CMYK and Pantone colors, and worked a lot with many different stakeholders on this process. In the end everything got to print and came out awesome, another end result I'm incredibly proud of.
It had been a few years since I'd done any type of design for apparel and I couldn't wait to find the perfect design to be printed on a thousand t-shirts. If I'm being honest, it's fun to think about something persisting long past the conference is over, the site is replaced, and the only thing left are memories and t-shirts! Like most parts of the project, we went through a few ideas, and a few rounds of back and forth once we picked a direction.
I love what we came up with, a design that illustrates that the conference is in California but also that it's geared towards developers and with a little nod to Los Angeles on the state shape.
As with the rest of the project, I was very fortunate to have many examples from past RubyConf's to help me figure this one out. What was needed was very clear from the get-go and the only thing I really needed to focus on was the Los Angeles styling. The biggest challenge here for me was the logistics. I spent most of my time optimizing my process to be as efficient as posisble. This meant making sure the design files were organized, the checklists for deliverables was clear and accessible to the team I was working with, and the documents were exported properly for each different printer we used.
I'd love for you to take a look at some of my process and the final printed signs below.
Along with the signage that needed to be designed, four stickers were required to hand out at the conference. I tried about ten different designs. At first the only one that the team thought worked well was the logo I had designed, in sticker format. My feedback was that the stickers need to fit into the aesthetic more and the designs I started with didn't feel like they were part of the existing theme we'd been working on for the last few months.
With that feedback I actually simplified the designs and came back with the palm tree and California designs you see in the stickers below. The team also had an idea for a van sticker as they'd seen in some of the photography I had used in other parts of the project. I don't consider myself much of an illustrator but I gave the van design a shot and ended up really loving the result as did the rest of the team!
The last thing to deliver for RubyConf 2018 after six months and 200+ hours of work was the Digital Program Guide all attendess use for wayfinding at the conference. A lot of this was just recycling pages from the website or physical signs and making them fit into a PDF layout, appeasing our sponsors with ad placements, and packing it all up nicely in a PDF with as small a file size as possible. My biggest challenge with this was learning about PDF optimization. I had to find an inexpensive tool to add working links to PDFs and ways to trim the PDF size as much as possible with as little loss in quality as possible.RubyConf Program Guide.pdf
The Program Guide we distributed was only 2MB but I'm sharing the 5MB version to preserve some of the image quality a litter better. 😁