Layers Design Conference

Layers is a 3-day design-driven conference for the Mac and iOS community that takes place in San Francisco June 13-15, 2016. We talked with Jessie Char and Elaine Pow, the creators of Layers, about curating, snacks and why they are organizing a design conference in the same week as Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC).

What is the story behind the festival name, Layers?

The word Layers is simple and stands on its own without “conference” following it. It was one of the first ideas we had and while we tried thinking of other names, this one stuck. We like that “Layers” itself has a layered meaning. It has association with design files. t’s how you dress for the unpredictable weather in San Francisco. And it reflects the multifaceted content we produce.

Why are you organizing Layers?

There’s lots of Mac/iOS developer conferences, but nothing for Mac/iOS designers. Most design conferences focus on web and graphic design. So with Layers we created something that’s more specific to interface designers.

How do you curate the program?

The curation of the program is the most lengthy part of our planning process. About a year in advance we review a long, running list of people we admire and respect. We try to strike a balance between presenters obviously relevant to our audience and emerging voices who add great content but who attendees might not otherwise be exposed to.

We generally reach out to the obviously relevant individuals further ahead of time to get base content down and then work with them on ideas for subject matter. Next we reach out to people who compliment these ideas in fresh, surprising ways. A lot of thought also goes into content diversity, and for us, this begins with the diversity of the presenters.

We avoid selecting speakers by way of checking off a series of boxes, instead we try to find individuals who may add a wrinkle in perspective from whatever confirmed content we have. Our axis of diversity isn’t limited to gender and ethnicity. It also includes age, years in design, speaking experience, profession, industry outlook, and other aspects we may not have even thought about until it pop ups in front of us during the research process.

John Gruber talks with Susan Kare, Layers 2015
John Gruber talks with Susan Kare, Layers 2015. Photo: Patrick Gibson
Neven Mrgan from Panic, Layers Conference 2015
Neven Mrgan from Panic, Layers 2015. Photo: Patrick Gibson

What is different this year?

New content, snacks, and surprises big and small! Certain things (like venue and format) don’t make much sense to rework, every decision made is intentional and we don’t mix things up just for the sake of it. The idea of people returning to the same place to experience a new experience in a comfortable and familiar place really captures our attention.

Many travelling to San Francisco during WWDC never get a chance to venture outside the downtown area. Discovering new food experiences is an exciting part of San Francisco culture and we’ve embraced this by incorporating some of the city’s best taste experiences into Layers. Since we view our “snack sessions” as content, this changes from year to year. This offers a larger glimpse at the personality of SF and our attendees tell us they love it.

We enjoy coming up with ideas to treat our audience to surprises that are still relevant to the event itself. Sometimes they’re big, sometimes they’re small, but they always have a sense of fun. We’d say more, but we don’t want to spoil anything for this year.

Layers is during WWDC; why organize an event during these 3 days?

Thousands of people visit San Francisco during WWDC, even if they don’t have a pass to Apple’s event. Layers offers another meaningful reason to be in San Francisco for visitors without a WWDC pass. It’s a place where design thinkers can experience things together and a place that isn’t a veiled recruiting event. A lot of the speakers we’ve reached out to know already that they’ll be in town for WWDC no matter when it is, so it’s an easy way to work with presenters who might otherwise be less able to take time away from their usual work week.

What is the most memorable moment or unexpected surprise that can be linked to your event?

Last year Susan Kare spoke in an on-stage conversation with John Gruber of Daring Fireball at Layers. At the end of it she surprised us all by announcing she was soon joining Pinterest (See the video). It was really meaningful to us that she chose Layers as the place to make her first public announcement. This year John Hodgman, who most will recognize as PC from Apple’s Get A Mac ad campaign, will be joining us and we’re very excited to have him. The biggest surprise of all for us is that this year Apple honored Layers featuring the event on their WWDC website alongside longstanding events AltConf, Beard Bash, and The Talk Show as representation of the community being built around WWDC itself.

Jessie and Elaine launched in the weeks up to the event conference scholarships, twelve in total. For financial hardship and for women in partnership with their sponsors. This is big, helping people around who are dedicated but need some help, so they can learn and meet new people. We think this is a wonderful initiative. More conference sponsors should follow this generous example.

Based upon the inspiring line-up Jessie and Elaine have created. We look forward to the sessions of the Emoji Academy by Alexa Grafera and Louie Mantia. ‘Techies’ panel with Ana Arriola, Jeany Ngo, Tim Quirino and Chanpory Rith moderated by Helena Price. Every snack session! Learn how May-Li Khoe invents new ways for us the interact with computers. The last speaker we do not want to miss is Michael B. Johnson who works for 20+ years at Pixar.

Want to receive notifications when a keynotes starts? Our find out more about the speakers? Download the "Layers" iPhone app.

There are still some seats left, so grab your ticket fast.



13 - 15 June 2016
San Francisco, United States

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