We went to Element Talks and learned that portfolios aren’t dead

The theme of this year's Element Talks was ‘Portfolio is Dead’. Which is an interesting and bold theme for a design conference. Because who would you invite if you are not aware of their work? But maybe more important is who would be interested in buying a ticket before checking a speaker’s portfolio?

When Paulina and Olga organized their first conference, as their graduation project in the city of Poznan, they invited several designers whom they admired. They asked them to share their knowledge about the designer’s profession. This idea and topic drew the attention of hundreds of fellow designers from all over Poland. What was intended as a small event for their fellow students turned into a two-day conference with 500-participants.
Now six editions later Element Talks is one of the biggest creative conferences in Eastern Europe, with a balanced mix of Polish and international speakers. With two stages, a network area, a crafts market, workshops, and a food truck lounge garden. With around 2000 creatives, from all over Europe, attending the conference you can say Element Talks is here to stay.

Tomek Pilch and Artur Mierzwa of blurb studio
Tomek Pilch and Artur Mierzwa of Blürb Studio
element talks pic-patmic
View on Main Stage Photo: Pat Mic
element talks food trucks
Element Talks, Garden Photo: Tomasz Pawłowski
Element Talks, Crafts area Photo: Tomasz Pawłowski

As Olga and Pauline share in the podcast we recorded, in this year's edition, they question whether or not the portfolio is dead. During the 2-days they wanted to discuss and question if designers still need a portfolio or do they need other significant skills and competencies? If so, what are they? And what do you need to develop those skills?
As I look back on the lectures that were given, most talks where portfolio presentations, going from project to project. Of course, there were lectures that told a different story. Like Krakow based agency Blürb Studio. They talked about how to communicate with clients. Or Carly Ayres shared why she closed here design agency. And sociologist and designer Agata Nowotny talked about women in the creative industry.

What I have learned is that portfolios aren't dead and very necessary when you want to be a speaker at a design conference. Attendees expect that you show your work and dive deep into one of our multiple projects and share the nitty gritty of a project. Unless you share your personal story or have a deep understanding of a specific topic as Matias Corea points out in episode seven of the Neon Moiré Show. Next to that, a designer always has to have a multiple skill set. Because as a designer you (mostly) work for clients and therefore you need to have multiple soft and hard skills. "It's all people stuff" to quote Carly Ayres.

European Design Festival

The city of Warsaw was next to the design conference host of the European Design Festival. Which is an annual festival, roaming between European cities. For this occasion, Warsaw transformed into the European capital of graphic design the first weekend of June 2019. With several award shows, exhibitions, design studio walks and lots of parties. I attended the EDAward gala, where I saw 26 Dutch projects win a price, including the jury prize.

At the Palace of Culture and Science in the center of the city, I visited several exhibitions. First I got introduced to the work of Karol Sliwka (1932–2018) who is a self-taught graphic designer. With his designs, he shaped Polish everyday life like no other. His body of work goes from stamp design to packaging to poster design and includes more than 400 logos! In another room were two smaller exhibitions. One showed the latest Polish type-design. The other was an overview of the best Polish publications curated by Magdalena Heliasz. Magdalena is the running force behind Print Control, a blog about all printed matter designed in Poland.

All European Design Award winners Photo: EDAwards
exhibition Karol Sliwka
Exhibition Karol Sliwka
exhibition Karol Sliwka
Exhibition Karol Sliwka, overview.
poster museum
Poster Museum
Poster Museum

On the grounds of the Royal Castle Wilanów, is the Warsaw Poster Museum. Here I saw the exhibition "123 Polish Posters you do not want to miss", which you can visit until June 30, 2019. On display are classic posters designed by masters like Roman Cieślewicz, Eryk Lipiński, Jan Lenica and many more.

Overall, the weekend in Warsaw was an inspiring experience. I learned a lot about Polish design culture and Polish culture in general. Olga and Pauline did an excellent job in creating an inspirational, friendly and inclusive design conference. The hospitality and professionalism of all organizing parties during the weekend was amazing and makes me curious about the upcoming years.

Wondering if you should attend Element Talks next year?

It depends on your budget and if the program interests you. That said, Element Talks provides lots of opportunities to learn, build your network, make new friends and get inspired. A big plus for me was the possibility to meet, in a private setting, with the speakers after their lecture, for a Q&A. Which is unique and super nice. If you aren’t Polish the organization provides live translation to English, which is really good in my experience. They also provided live sign language translation, which is amazing. All the people I have met, speak very well English so language should not be a problem. Warsaw is a super nice city, with lots of culture and gastronomical options. To get quick introduction to Warsaw, check out the city guide Element Talks made.

If you are inspired, like me, and want to know more about Polish design culture I would recommend to have a look at: Print Control - printed matter from Poland and Culture.pl or buy the book 'Quarks, Elephants & Pierogi: Poland in 100 Words' which won the Most Beautiful Books of 2018 Award.

More about the Element Talks conference
To the exhibition at Warsaw Poster Museum
All winners of the European Design Award
More about Polish culture all around the world
Guide to Polish design designguide.pl

Special thanks to Paulina and Olga co-founders of Element Talks, Nathalia and Lukaz of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute for being amazing host.

Share on

Get the latest design conference news
in your inbox!

Join over 2,000 readers and receive a curated mix of upcoming events, inspirational talks, and links at the intersection of tech, design, and culture every Monday.