In 2015, I co-founded, organised and ran a new, three-day design conference in Dublin called Rebase. Part of Irish Design 2015, we delivered a diverse programme to 200 people, giving a platform to both local talent and visionaries from around the world.

Rebase attendees, volunteers and speakers

How it started

In February 2015, local IxDA leader Filip asked me to come meet with some others who were interested in maybe helping organise a new design conference in Dublin as part of Irish Design 2015. I promised to get involved later in the year but pretty quickly got sucked in. On March 26th we launched our website and announced our first speakers.

Why we did it

Why create another conference in such a saturated market? We have a few shared motivations, including:

  • Have our field of design represented at Irish Design 2015
  • Raise awareness of the potential investing in design can have
  • Recognise the talent and craft of our peers at home and abroad
  • Offer affordable, practical learning in a welcoming and collaborative environment
  • Facilitate growth and learning at home; move design forward.

We also felt a gap had emerged that previous events like Build and Break had filled for the local community. Despite the plethora of great conferences that happen all year round, not everyone can afford to travel abroad for these or be away from home for such a length of time. Filling that gap or, rather, carrying that torch seemed like an effort worth pursuing.

Rebase lineup

The Rebase lineup

What we created

After months of hard work and long hours, Rebase took place between September 30th and October 2nd. Our ice-breaker evening fringe event allowed attendees and speakers to meet, mingle and get into the zone with three talks and plenty opportunity to chat.

Service design workshop at Rebase

Rapid prototyping at the service design workshop

Thursday October 1st was workshop day. The five full-day workshops offered practical, hands-on training from industry experts in the lovely surroundings of NCAD. The options were:

  • Visual Essentials for Product Design with Cennydd Bowles
  • Designing and Delivering a Service with Lynsey Duncan & Ré Dubhthaigh
  • Idea Factories with Christopher Murphy
  • Designing your UX Portfolio with Ian Fenn
  • Design for a Connected World with Ciarán Harris & Paul Donnan

Friday was our main day, with eight talks across a wide range of topics such as designing for connected devices, the value of embracing procrastination and looking at design as a conversation.

The standard and of these talks went beyond our expectations and we are still pinching ourselves wondering how we managed to convince such insightful and busy people to give their time to this project.

Challenges & lessons learned

I have helped organise and run various events of different sizes over the years so I thought I had a pretty realistic sense of how much work was involved in organising a conference. How wrong I was!

Christopher Murphy on stage at Rebase

Acquiring sponsorship

Acquiring sponsorship is always a bigger challenge in the first year of an event. What we didn't anticipate was the fact that many organisations agree on sponsorship budgets and commitments at the end of each calendar year. As a result, we talked to a number of companies who would have liked to sponsor Rebase but simply couldn't. Thankfully, a number of generous sponsors were able get behind the event and make it happen.

Keeping ticket prices as low as possible

One of our main goals with Rebase was to make it as accessible as possible by keeping ticket prices as low as possible. We planned to offset the reduced cashflow from ticket sales by keeping running costs down. In theory, this is simple and makes sense. In practice, it is easier said than done and without healthy ticket sales well in advance it can make managing your budget pretty tricky and lead to some sleepless nights.

Scope creep

Where there's passion involved, it's easy to get carried away with any project. What started out as a one-day event rapidly grew into a three-day event, and with that the workload and pressure to deliver a great event more than tripled. Although we were happy with the end result, it's certainly worth considering more of an "minimum viable product" approach for your first year or using a crowd-sourced funding model to gauge interest.

The future of Rebase

Rebase was hard work but also a big learning experience for myself and the rest of the team. But, nothing worth doing is ever easy. Although there was a hugely positive response to the event and an appetite for a repeat in years since, we have all decided to put Rebase on ice for the foreseeable future.