Learnings from hosting a creative online workshop

A lot of planning and attention goes into creating an engaging workshop. Our reflections and learnings from bringing our in-person Variable Font Workshop to the virtual space!

Last week, together with Jeroen Disch, I've hosted my first online Variable Fonts Workshop lead by Typearture. It was a great experience. In this article, I walk you through all the steps we took. From bringing the workshop online to the landing page, the publicity and why we made a recording available for all attendees.

In February 2020 we organized the first edition of this workshop. Which was before the global pandemic and in-person. We got great feedback and requests to do more. At the beginning of April, we brought the workshop online for a group of design students. Shortly after that we decided to make the workshop also available for anybody else.

How we started

Before we decided to bring the workshop online, I did some research on how other organizations planned their virtual workshops and attended some myself. Just to get the experience of being there and learning from other hosts. (I can highly recommend the Creative Morning Virtual FieldTrips or Hot Takes.) I quickly discovered that full-day workshops or events online are not an option. It is too long, you get tired after some hours, and less focused. So short, max. 2 hours, intense learning moments over several days, turned out to be the best way to go for us.

Choosing the right time

Knowing that the workshop is split over three days into sessions of 2 hours we had to decide on which days of the week. We asked the first group of attendees which three days they would prefer to follow a workshop. It was a close call, but Thursday, Friday, Saturday were favorite.

Timezones are also important to consider when organizing a live virtual event. Since we’re all based in the Netherlands, Amsterdam's summertime (CEST) was an obvious choice. We also chose to do a morning program, from 10AM to 12PM. We assumed that everybody would be fit and sharp in the morning, or at least we would. By choosing this specific time block we were aware that a part of the world was not able to attend, as it would be in the middle of the night for them. But to our surprise some people did! When we started the promotion for the second online workshop we added that we would record the workshops, then we saw people from all parts of the world buying tickets.

Publicity for the workshop

To promote the workshop, I built a landing page in WordPress. For speed, I reused a theme made with Elementor for the Amsterdam Type Tours, which I organized before. We asked Arthur if we could use one of his animated letters. We transformed the animated letter in short movies that we used on social media. We promoted the event on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and in our newsletters (Halfvet and Neon Monday). We also shared it on Facebook but there wasn’t any response there. We sold out in less than a week. People were signing up for the waitlist. We wondered what now? We decided to organize a second one, which started a week later. This one sold out as well. We are planning one for September. If you are interested leave your contacts here.

For ticket sales, we used Eventbrite. Most important for us to use Eventbrite is the ability to use a local payment service. Why is this important? Not everyone has a credit card or Pay Pal account. Now I'm looking into switching from Eventbrite to Eventix. They are two-third cheaper and offer more or less the same service and have some great integrations with third-party apps.

Variable Font Workshop
Variable Font Workshop

Test Run!

A week before the event, Jeroen, Arthur and I did a workshop test run. We decided to use Zoom, and not Whereby, Hangout or other video or event platforms. We assumed everybody knows Zoom by now. There where some problems with privacy, which they fixed by providing end-to-end encryption for everybody. Zooms seamless experience has lots of features that are really good for workshops. But during the test run, we found that the Zooms chat wasn't enough, for this creative workshop. So we opened a Slack workspace. I had no experience with Slack. Arthur and Jeroen guided me through the setup and it's really easy to use. Having a Slack channel for the workshop was a great move. We opened it a couple of days before the event so people could get to know each other already. During the workshop, people shared their process and answered each other's questions. For me, as a first time user of Slack, this was great to see.

The Workshop

The workshop is pretty intense. On day one you learn to use the Glyphs App and start making a variable font. On day two you turn this font into a color font. On day three you learn how to implement your creation into a website, with HTML/CSS and Javascript. Lots to learn, so we decided to record the sessions and make them available for a short period after the workshop. So attendees can watch it back and keep learning. We’ve also added timestamps to the video so the attendees can jump through the recordings.

On the last day of the first workshop, one attendee surprised us by announcing that he would sponsor one ticket for the upcoming workshop for a design student from India. You can imagine that we saw this as a great compliment.

Why it was a great experience?

To start with, Arthur is a really good teacher, he speaks calmly but is very engaging. He knows all the techniques extremely well. He loves to share his knowledge about the variable font and its possibilities. Not only as a typeface but also as an illustration or even animation. Because it’s a hands-on workshop, attendees get direct results, which is very motivating. These emojis 👍 🙌 😍 also help when experiments are shared in Slack or during the Q&A rounds. Since it was my first time hosting a workshop online I was surprised how smooth it all went. The feedback we got and most importantly seeing the attendees' ideas came to life during these three days were very rewarding.

What's next…

First I want to finish my Tabletto variable color font, haha! But seriously, we are getting ready for the upcoming workshop. And we start planning the new edition for September. Jeroen made a really nice keynote into Variable Font maybe I can persuade him to record a video...

If you are interested in learning more on organizing an online event and which tools to use, listen to my interview with Charis Rooda of SmashingConf and Webconf.aisa

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