There’s about to be another first in America’s first city. Graphic designers, creatives and business leaders are coming together to establish the Panhandles’ first ever design-focused conference, Design XL. The conference is set for Nov. 9 and will feature both local and out of state presenters and a chance for Pensacola designers to network with the local creative community.
The leaders of the conference include Owner and Creative Director of HatchMark Studio Veronique Zayas and Lead Designer at Hail Studio Rachel Zampino. While they have only been working on Design XL since April, the idea has been talked about among designers for years. Zayas and Zampino came together and decided now was the time to bring years of talk into reality.
“There’s been a lot of growth to the design and creative industry here,” Zayas said. “We’re seeing a lot of studios working closely to each other, a lot of people that are freelancers partnering up on projects and coming together to create excellent products for their clients. There’s a lot of momentum within our own designer groups and we really wanted to have something that is a big event for that community.”
Both Zayas and Zampino are based in Pensacola and noticed a need in the industry that wasn’t being met locally or even in the Florida Panhandle. While beginning work on Design XL, the two noticed trends in designers. Many of them hadn’t been able to attend a design-specific conference, either due to travel or financial strain.
“We decided to create a conference here because there aren’t any in the Panhandle or the general area,” Zampino said. “They’re all in Atlanta or Louisiana and they’re all fairly expensive. A couple things we are tackling with this conference is keeping our price point reasonable to be accessible to people who typically can’t attend other conferences and still provide the community and educational aspect to people in the area.”
In addition to setting up a conference specifically to alleviate some of the concerns and needs of designers, another goal was to elevate a community that many don’t know exists in Pensacola. Zayas said many designers told her they struggle with getting recognition from local businesses, who go out of town to look for designers.
“We also want to make it known that there is a strong marketing and advertising design community in the area, that people can be looking here for their talent and for their design resources. They don’t have to go out of town for it,” she said.
To this end, Design XL includes workshops and speakers who focus on design, but also business aspects of a designer’s work. Business leaders can attend to better recognize the relevance of local designers and designers can learn how to make their products better seen by local businesses. The networking opportunities afforded could lead to increased work for freelance designers and a place to test ideas and learn new strategies for more experienced creatives. The conference will also give smaller communities and individuals access and knowledge of larger communities within Pensacola, including creative spaces and work collectives that have begun to pop up and flourish in the city.
With the continued success of creative community spaces like Bare Hand Collective and Long Hollow Creatives, it should come as a surprise to no one that Pensacola has a flourishing creative community. What might surprise them is that despite efforts like these open creative places, some creatives feel a lack of connection to their community.
“One of the ideas that we talked about was up until recently, everyone has been working in a vacuum,” Zampino said. “We’re all in our separate offices, working on designs without knowing what everyone else is working on and what’s going on in the area.”
One of the major goals of the conference is to bring people out of their vacuum, to foster a community of collaboration. Increased collaboration within the community, with the input and techniques taught from outside designers by the speakers and leaders at the conference, lead to a stronger community with the ability to create more diverse and better quality products.
“(The conference) provides a place for all of us to get together, meet, know that there are people like us in the area that we can collaborate with, bounce ideas off of, stuff like that,” Zampino said.
Those used to working alone or have not had a lot of collaboration experience are particularly encouraged to attend the conference. Whether a newcomer or a veteran, being able to share and work together on projects makes a stronger community and a stronger individual.
“We make each other stronger when we share and collaborate versus trying to work in a vacuum and keep everything a secret, do projects on your own,” Zayas said. “Everything is stronger and is a better result for the client when you collaborate with other professionals.”
While both Zayas and Zampino agree that the lineup of speakers and workshops at the conference will be some of the best presentations available for designers in the area, they both stress that to fully take advantage of the event, attendees should be prepared to network. Artists can have difficulty reaching out to others, but Design XL will the best place in town for creatives to gather and meet one another. The community has been talking about an event like this for years, and now that the gap has been filled, everyone is encouraged to take advantage of this first-time opportunity. Zayas said the one thing people should do at the conference, above everything else, is focus on meeting one person.
“This is going to be a very local crowd,” she said. “we’re probably going to be about 80 to 90 percent of the people from inside of Pensacola. This is an opportunity to meet your peers in the area that you may have never run into.”
While this is the first of its kind, Zayas and Zampino expect to make it an annual event, with hopes to expand it to multiple days. Zampino said she hopes this inaugural event leads to smaller workshops throughout the year that help integrate Pensacola’s community with the larger design community and enhance the talent already in the city.
Design XL joins the impressive lineup of events that November offers; Foo Foo Festival, Pensacola’s premier 12-day long of celebration of fall, is set to begin Oct. 31, the annual Frank Brown Songwriters Festival, one of the largest gathering of singers and songwriters in the country, beings Nov. 7 and the Blue Angels Homecoming Air Show will take place Nov. 8 and 9. The conference invites a new crowd to join in the typical November events while offering a chance for the greater community to support local creatives.
Design XL is a limited event, with about 300 tickets available. A full list of events and speakers is available online. Interested parties should visit designxl.org for more information or to purchase tickets.