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Tellwell Does ConFig

Some of the Tellwell Design Team attended the yearly conference in San Francisco–and we can’t wait to share what we learned!

The design team spent the last few workdays of June in sunny San Francisco! We (well, some of us, as Riley attended virtually) were out west to attend Figma’s yearly conference, ConFig! Figma is a web-based design platform that we use for many different types of projects at Tellwell. Each year, Figma hosts a conference to gather, as they say, the people who build things. Together under one roof, we get to collaborate, share, learn, and meet other designers, developers, creators, and managers. With more than 10,000 in-person attendees and countless virtual attendees, this is one of the larger conferences that the Design Team has attended. 

We all had some incredible takeaways from the conference, and we’re excited to share with you some of our favorite takeaways.

Three women standing in front of a vibrant, geometric mural, smiling and holding drinks, wearing conference badges.
Three women walking down a busy sidewalk at a conference, smiling and wearing name badges with lanyards. One woman is taking a selfie, and others are walking behind her.
A group of people sitting at a restaurant table, toasting with glasses of various drinks. A woman in a black blazer and glasses is smiling in the center.

Annie And Humanity

For Annie, her biggest takeaway from ConFig was the conversations around keeping great design and humanity at the front of advancing tech. As we leverage new (and old) technologies to augment skills, abilities, and processes, keeping that human center becomes the guidepost for innovation.

Annie was especially excited about discussions of keeping the “fingerprints” of the individuals who worked on each piece, rather than smoothing them out. Those “fingerprints” are unique touches that keep products from becoming and feeling too sterile. Tellwell is a human company. Our work should reflect that.

Speaking of Tellwell, Annie was really inspired by Simone Giertz’s keynote. Giertz urged the pursuit of creative ideas that seem silly. Those ideas turn into learning opportunities, meaning that the “just for fun” projects are so much more. Annie is taking her inspiration and creating action by working on building a “fun” project for each creative team during the year. She wants to empower the Tellwell storytellers with an opportunity for boundless creativity and experimentation. We can’t wait to see what you come up with, Annie!

A woman wearing sunglasses and a black shirt stands smiling by the waterfront with the San Francisco Bay and a distant bridge in the background on a sunny day.

The Eras Of Megan

For project manager Megan, there wasn’t a session that she walked into that felt aimed at a single audience. She also noticed that no audience section cliqued together, which can happen pretty naturally at professional conferences of all types. One especially pithy takeaway from the actual content was the idea that we don’t rise to the level of our goals. We fall to the level of our systems.

Megan spent one of her sessions listening to Jenny Arden, the Chief Design Officer at Zillow. Arden talked about how and when to recognize when you are in your “design era.” Megan thought it was remarkable to hear about the work Arden had done and the work of others that Arden chose to highlight (such as the animated movie Snow White and its role as the catapult for Disney’s success).

Megan also spent time reflecting on her recent history. One session featured a discussion about the impact different “side gigs” can have on professional careers. Since Megan found Tellwell through a “side gig,” she was especially thankful to hear the shared experience.

Finally, Megan also learned that 10,000 people in one building is a few too many for her–and that aisle seats are underrated. She also had a blast at the Golden Gate Bridge, exploring Castro Street at the height of Pride Month, and seeing all the beautiful flowers.

A woman with long red hair is smiling and holding up her conference badge inside a large conference hall. The hall is lit with blue and green lights, and there are large screens displaying colorful graphics in the background. She is wearing a smartwatch with a rainbow Pride band.

Quality Time With Jen

Spoiler alert: you might recognize an interesting through-line in the next few design teammates’ takeaways!

Jen was incredibly excited about the use and integration of AI into design systems and processes. Listening to Jason Ballard during his “Building a Human Future with Robots” session was a highlight. Ballard created the company ICON Build, which uses AI systems to create realistic, sustainable, minimal-cost houses. His session reminded Jen that solving the biggest problems the world faces will require highlighting creative ideas to even begin.

Jen also really enjoyed quality time with her fellow Tellwellians. As one of the newest faces at Tellwell, we all really embraced the opportunity to really get to know each other and learn about Jen. Fun fact: Jen has been especially excited about building her own 8×8 pixel fonts using software built by ConFig speaker Marcin Wchary.

A woman wearing sunglasses and casual clothes poses with hands on her hips by the waterfront, with the San Francisco Bay and a bridge in the background on a sunny day.

Tech, KJ, And Trek

KJ was a little nervous going into this conference. For her, a design conference sounded interesting, but might have ended up being a “knowledge for knowledge’s sake” type of experience. Since her expertise lies in copy and related strategy, design tends to be an interesting but out-of-scope area for her daily tasks.

To her pleasant surprise, much of the discussions surrounding the development, use, and implementation in design, design processes, and the overall creative process and ethics were incredibly useful. Her biggest takeaway came from the uses of personalities (and therefore personas and anthropomorphization of) AI programs. She was also brought to tears many times from the potential she saw in the presented tech. As Tellwell’s resident Trekkie, seeing the pieces that could someday become the equivalent of a medical tricorder or even the infinite space generation of the holodeck was something she will treasure for the rest of her days.

As for the “just for fun” events, KJ took their first ever Waymo (a fully automated, self-driving vehicle). She had a blast facetiming her mother and showing off the empty driver’s seat on the way back to the hotel.

A woman smiling beside a white self-driving car at night, illuminated by street lights.

Remote Riley

Riley ended up needing to stay in “Tellwell South” (aka, South Dakota) thanks to the torrential rain. Luckily, such a tech-forward conference gave him plenty of options to attend virtually. While the group of us who were in San Francisco missed him, we were still really happy he was able to join in on the learning!

Riley was especially impressed with how ConFig repositioned AI as a tool–instead of framing it as a replacement for designers and other creatives. For him, creating systems with tools like AI sets Tellwell up for success–and it sets our clients up for success, too.

He also was really struck by the idea that creativity doesn’t need to solve a problem or have a purpose. It can exist for its own sake.

A view of San Francisco's skyline with the Ferry Building and waterfront in the foreground under a clear blue sky.
That’s A Wrap!

All in all, ConFig was a wonderful time filled with learning and connection. The team grew closer and developed expertise in ways none of them expected. Now, we’re all back from RE:Week, and we’re ready to hit the ground running. In the words of CEO and co-founder of ICON, Jason Balard: “Zoom, zoom. Let’s ride!”

A close-up of various colorful stickers on a wall, with one prominently reading "Tellwell 💜 Figma!" and another from "Morgan from Florida / The Washington Post."