Reflections on VizConf 2023

Matthew Magain Chief Doodler
Read Time: 5 mins

On Saturday I attended the third ever VizConf conference, which was back up and running for the first time in four years.

I say I “attended” the conference, but in fact I was wearing multiple hats on the day. This is the conference that I created back in 2018 with my friend Marcel, to bring the Australian graphic recording community together for the first time. But after two years at the helm, we ran out of steam, so when Melbourne was locked down for what felt like a lifetime, it was the excuse we needed to bow out gracefully.

However, rather than let it die, we passed the conference on to Graphic Recorders Australia & New Zealand, so it could live on in the hands of a structured committee of rotating volunteers.

So my attendance this year was:

  • part volunteer (helping the organising committee with logistics to ensure the day ran smoothly)
  • part sponsor (we had a Graphic Gear pop-up shop in operation)
  • part presenter (I shared some tips on graphic recording with pen and paper during my chatroom), and
  • part former organiser (I’ve tried very hard over the last nine months to be supportive without resorting to being a meddling former owner, and not feel akward about it—probably with varying degrees of success, my GRA colleagues might say!)

It’s fair to say that in the current organising committee’s capable hands, the new incarnation of the conference was a resounding success. While Saturday’s event contained elements of its original form, it’s clear that VizConf has well and truly grown up.

Hosted at PwC’s The Difference collaboration space, the experience incorporated thoughtful brand elements such as colourful stars and a consistent colour palette everywhere you turned. On top of this foundation sat a number of invitations to engage with fellow attendees, and a carefully curated collection of informative sessions. Attendees therefore had a taste of everything from the old (business skills and tips for working on paper) to the new (ProCreate power tips and Artificial Intelligence).

The day was tinged with a bittersweet sentiment that the impending Voice To Parliament referendum was about to fail (the polls had pointed to this, and they were right). I don’t think I speak out of turn when I say that many of us in the graphic recording community who engage in so much meaningful work with First Nations people had been hoping for a different outcome.

Here are some of my highlights from the day:

  • Reconnecting With Friends: VizConf has always existed to bring people together, and this year’s event was a testament to the power of community. Attendees, old and new, shared their knowledge, ideas, and experiences, and I loved chewing the fat with heroes of mine, colleagues, and friends that I hadn’t seen in person for far too long.
  • Workshops: I held two pre-conference workshops in the lead-up to the main event: Sketchnoting 101 and Graphic Recording 101. The participants were enthusiastic, thoughtful, grateful, and it was thoroughly rewarding to watch their progress across the two days.
  • Inspiring Speakers: The presentations from Dr Marion Piper (How to be more creative), Prof Matt Kuperholz (The Future of Creativity in an AI world), and Yee Hui Cha (A peek behind the curtain at Idea Ink) were all high quality. Getting to capture Dr Piper’s talk was a personal highlight of the event for me.
  • Sponsor Shenanigans: Our Graphic Gear pop-up shop was a fun and engaging way to introduce newcomers to the world of Neuland refillable markers. It was exciting to see the enthusiasm of those who discovered the markers for the first time, and our resident Ink Doctor (who consulted with attendees to mix their own custom colour using Neuland ink) was an absolute hit, as was the illani creative iPad stand just next door to us.
  • A Sense of Optimism: The news of the failed referendum was obviously disappointing, and some of the scenarios painted by the speakers of the future of our industry given the rise of Artificial Intelligence were equally bleak. But it served as a stark reminder of the importance (and the humanity) of the work we do. Our efforts in the field of visual communication can be a powerful tool in continuing the fight for reconciliation and equity. While the path to reconciliation and equity may be challenging, we are united in our determination to make a difference and to create a better future for all. VizConf 2023 has left us inspired and reinvigorated, ready to continue our journey toward positive change.

Of course, a conference of this magnitude doesn’t happen without a dedicated team behind the scenes. Huge props to the organising committee of Tatum, Debbie, Cat and Kate for their hard work and commitment to making VizConf 2023 a success. I know how much work pulling off something like this takes, and you should all be very proud.

I left the conference exhausted, yet excited about the unknown. Who knows what the next version of the conference will look like? What our industry will look like this time next year? What it will take to achieve equity for those who are at a disadvantage?

One thing is for certain: VizConf 2023 was a testament to the power of community, knowledge, and hope, and we all need a dose of that from time to time.

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