In this episode of Podcast Awesome, Matt sits down with icon designers Jory Raphael and Noah Jacobus to discuss their experience at the Config conference. They share insights and highlights from the event, including their own talk on drawing icons in Figma. From keynote talks by industry leaders to the importance of collaboration and design-first approaches, this episode covers it all. Tune in to gain valuable insights into the world of design, tech, and business.
[00:02:23] Figma's acquisition by Adobe.
[00:06:06] Icelandic entrepreneur Halli Thorleifsson.
[00:10:28] The awkwardness of speaking to an empty room.
[00:14:14] The structured process for prepping for a conference talk.
[00:17:25] Virtual presentations and audience feedback.
[00:22:07] Variables in Figma.
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00:00 Welcome to podcast awesome where we chat about icons, design, tech, business and nerdery with members of the fun awesome team. I'm your host Matt Johnson and today we're chatting with our icon designers Jory Raphael and Noah Jacobus about their experience at the config conference. For those not in the know, config is the design and tech conference sponsored by the web-based software tool Figma. Dave Gandy and I joined our icon design duo to heckle them during their presentation and to provide moral support. I was able to get a few real-time hot takes at the conference and we chat with Noah and Jory today post-mortem to reflect on their experience. After the hassle of having to change flights on my travel day out to San Francisco, I landed at about 5 p.m., hopped an Uber ride to the hotel and Dave, Jory and I promptly met up to go to dinner at a trendy foodie place after unknowingly walking through one of the roughest spots in the city to get there. I can count on one hand the times I've truly experienced fine dining and this was at the top of the list. I've normally got a basic meat and potatoes palette but I'm always up for a dining adventure, though I don't think I'm going to be trying sea urchin again anytime soon. To be honest, the first day of the conference was a little overwhelming. I heard that there were 8,000 people in attendance, which seemed about right and after a whole lot less in-person contact over the last two years or so, being in a huge auditorium filled with thousands of people and big production sounds and lights, it was a little bit of a jolt. The year config debuted in 2020, just before COVID hit, there were a modest 800 in attendance, so Figma has grown a lot since then. In fact, Figma has been so successful these last couple years, they were bought out by design software juggernaut Adobe for a whopping 20 billion. Since then, there have been rumors that the Department of Justice is preparing an antitrust lawsuit to block Adobe's acquisition of Figma, but we'll have to wait and see how that all pans out. But we're not here to talk about the DOJ. We're talking about config and building the anticipation that leads up to Jory and Noah's genius talk.
03:00 So what are the first impressions? This is pretty big. It's actually bigger than I thought it would be. Yeah, it's kind of poop your pants big. Here's Jory. Yeah, I don't know. It's cool. It's fun to meet people who you only know from online and try and match like avatars and names and faces.
03:17 There are a lot of people here. Yeah. And how do you feel that there are a ton of people here? There are a ton of people here. I'm actually we saw a few little like moments that are a little bumpy so far. And no, we're not going to talk crap about the conference because when you factor in the exponential growth of 800 conference attendees to 8,000 over a mere three year period, there's bound to be some growing pains. The first day of the conference after the main session, there were some foot traffic traffic jams that created a little bit of a problem getting around the conference center. And there were a few awkward segues at the end of speaking events, but I'm sure that they're going to get it all ironed out in subsequent years.
04:14 I mean, it's all good things for them, right? Like that's many people here. Here's Dave. Yeah, detail in which folks got into for the final for that first talk, the main stage was I've never seen anything that level of depth on individual features before. And that the CEO is that much in the weeds is a good sign. Yeah. Good stuff. I love you, Matt. I love you, Jory.
04:30 Despite some hiccups and a few awkward main stage transitions, config was a top notch event. One of the last talks on day one, CEO of Airbnb, Brian Chesky laid out how they tackle the challenges of COVID by becoming a truly design first company.
05:02 So, Noah, what did you think of Brian? It's Brian Chesky, right? Yes. What did you think of Brian Chesky's talk? I loved it. In some ways, because I was able to get some extra insight and commentary from Dave during that from his point of view as well, but also that whole approach of reorganizing, like not keeping design and development siloed from each other or any departments siloed from each other ideally, which has been such a refreshing change for me coming to Pond Awesome, kind of being approached that same way of like, who are the best people to get this thing done? It doesn't matter what discipline they're in or anything like that. We'll get them in a room together and figure it out. And they have agency over scope and control over figuring all of these things out. So that's what I love what he said about design is that it isn't an afterthought. They need to be a part of what's driving the whole product. Yeah. All the bits need to be concurrent and needs to be a marriage in order to tell the story correctly.
06:01 But the real highlight of the day was the keynote talk by Holly Thorofson, the Icelandic entrepreneur that founded digital agency, you know, I'm 97% sure I'm not pronouncing that correctly. When Oh, no. Anyway, the hard to pronounce agency has had some heavy hitter clients like Google, Apple, Facebook, Airbnb, and the list goes on. Well, the company was eventually bought up by Twitter in 2021. And in March, 2023, how we found that he'd been logged out of his work machine. He was unable to get Twitter HR to respond as to whether he was still employed or not. So after several days, he tweeted to Musk to ask whether he and 200 other Twitter employees still had jobs or not. In a classic case of foot and mouth disease, Elon Musk doubted Holly's credentials and brutally mocked him on Twitter for lying about his muscular dystrophy and doubted his work performance. Bad form, Elon Musk later backpedaled and issued an apology. Here's a highlight from Holly's talk, which is a pretty politely savage mic drop. If you ask me, I ran one for seven years and then sold it to Twitter a couple of years back. That all went great. And there's nothing to report. Holly not only founded a digital agency, he's a serial entrepreneur and has started a high end restaurant and a project called Ramp Up Iceland that he started with the intention of building 1000 ramps around Iceland for accessibility. He's building an artist residency and studio in Reykjavik. And on the 9th of March, 2023, he released his first song and music video, Almost Over You from the upcoming album, The Radio Won't Let Me Sleep. The guy is seriously no slouch. What made the talk so powerful was his resilience despite his disability.
08:49 Talk online.
08:50 So while we'd been conference hobnobbing and attending main stage sessions, Jory and Noah were probably a little busy wringing their hands over thinking the coming
09:27 presentation the day after. So we're at the conference. What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Yes, we were to keep waffling between being super nervous and excited and actually happy that I don't have to speak today. But then also annoyed that I don't get to speak today because I don't know if I'm going to be able to really focus on a lot
09:52 as we prepare for my Noah and my epic talk tomorrow. At the conference, what are you thinking? How are you feeling about your talk tomorrow? Feeling pretty good. We had our tech rehearsal yesterday and that smoothed some things out. So I think we're going to be good. So how's it speaking to an empty room with all those perfectly timed jokes? It is a trial for sure. I think we got a couple little tee-hees out of our stage manager. But yeah, so we're hoping for some good guffaws and shortles when we actually get people in the room. Nice. Looking forward to it.
10:31 I took my time getting to the conference center on day two since I was really there as one half of the peanut gallery during Noah and Jory's talk. I have to say I was feeling really excited for the talk and I was sure it was going to slay. Dave and I sat expectantly in the first row to cheer them on and we'd planned out a perfectly timed heckle. So this is probably an unnecessary aside, but it's funny so I'm going to include it anyway. In a past life, I was a touring musician and one of the bands we toured with were expert hecklers. My band's music was very serious and artistic, of course. Our tour mates were a little more comedic and wacky so when we'd play, they'd come out at the most awkward moments and between brief segues our guitar player would say something simple about a song from stage or introduce somebody on stage or something like that. The drummer from our tour mates band would yell out, prove it! It didn't really matter what was being said from the stage. Prove it was the perfect heckle. So here's me heckling Jory in real time. The presentation went over great. The room wasn't completely full, but the audience was engaged and the presentation was fantastic. It was engaging, relatable, and most of all, funny and on brand for Fawn Awesome. Seriously guys, great job. Don't take my word for it though. So as an icon designer, I knew what they were talking about and I knew most of the content, but what I really liked was the way they presented it. This is Bonnie Kate Wolf, a stellar icon designer Noah highlighted in a blog write-up about his favorite icon designers.
12:33 Most recently, Bonnie Kate has done some great work for a little company called Netflix. Maybe you've heard of them. And the ability to explain these concepts that are foreign to most of the people in the room and make it understandable and clear and funny and silly and memorable. Yeah. Because I don't think anybody's going to be forgetting the apple pie icon combo cherry pie thing anytime soon or farts. Of course. It just sticks with you. And so I think that is fundamentally what does make a good talk is something that is going to linger because linger, get it? Linger. It's going to linger in their minds and their hearts. And in their noses. It lingers. Yeah. Is there? Okay. Too much. Oh, continue. Too much. Continue. And I liked your playful banter. I thought that was amusing. It is funny to watch when it's obviously written on the screen and that's not as funny. And then when you do it by accident or impromptu, improvised, and that's very funny.
13:34 And I just wanted more banter, more improvised banter. Yeah, it was great. Next time. Next time all banter, no content. The funny part is all of Noah and Jory's content was actually prepared. So way to go guys. The banter came across naturally. And so there you have it. That is our snapshot, a bird's eye view of our experience at config. We're really proud of Noah and Jory. They totally knocked it out of the park with their talk. And when we got back, we sat down and had a little chit chat about how things went.
14:14 I think Figma has probably spoiled Noah and I in terms of speaking at other events because the process we went through for pulling this talk together was, I don't know if involved is the right term, but it was very, it was structured. And they gave us a designer advocate, Miggy, who was our support throughout the whole process. And so we had a number of meetings with him where we just, you know, initially just talked about our idea for the talk and helped shape it a little bit more. And then as we put the talk together and we're at different milestones in the process, we would meet up with him and present to him and get feedback on how we were presenting and the story of the talk. Then all the way to arriving in San Francisco for the conference. And, you know, they walked us through things. We had tech rehearsals, we had sound checks, we had hair and makeup, we had all of this stuff that felt very professional. And although there were a ton of nerves, just, you know, you get nerves presenting, speaking in front of any amount of people, the help they gave us along the way went a long way towards making that process much easier. I'll speak for myself, but I certainly felt supported during the whole thing. And it made the process a lot less scary, I think, in the long run. Definitely. That's great. Yeah, it came across really well. Obviously I'm super biased and I was team font awesome there in the front row heckling you and everything. It was really fun to watch. And it really felt it was on brand for font awesome. There was lots of humor. It was really engaging. It was fun. Yeah, it was a great presentation. One of my fears throughout the whole process was that it was going to be boring. That was constantly in the back of our minds, I think, as we wrote the presentation and created visuals, we wanted to have fun while presenting it. And it sounds like that translated well to the folks watching the presentation.
16:08 So mission accomplished. Receiving that energy from a live audience was such a great, like, confidence booster in the actual moment, because by that point, we'd been developing the talk and rehearsing it, both individually and together for a couple months at that point, because I think it was back in April when we got accepted. So going through all that material so many times and refining it and changing it, it gets a bit stale to some degree after a time we were like, I don't know if this is going to land or if any of this makes sense by the 10th time through it. And actually being able to receive that validation from the crowd and knowing that things were landing and things were being understood was amazing.
16:42 Yeah, from a structure standpoint, like the whole process, we obviously started roughing things out and taking notes and whatnot, and just both talking back and forth each other about what we could talk about and refining that. But then when we started actually putting the presentation together, the first step was we would record ourselves, like, going through our portions of the talk. And initially, that was just sitting at your desk, had your camera on, and we'd try and just go through the slides and talk through them. There's some where Noah's sitting on a couch doing it in his co-working space or whatever, and I'm just sitting at my desk. So we start there. And then as we kind of got farther in the process, we would start standing up a little farther away from our desk, trying to click through things on our iPhone and trying to pretend like you're talking to a room full of people when you're just in a room by yourself. And then we would often do it for each other where we would do that, but the other person would still be on the call, and so we could get a little bit of feedback. And then we do it with Miggy on the call as well, so the three of us were there. And then ultimately, when we got to San Francisco, we did a run through where we were in person standing up for the first time, and Miggy was like our audience of one. Probably the hardest time for me was when we first did it for the sound check or the deck walkthrough, because you're standing up and doing it in a real world situation. You've got the big monitor behind us that is presenting things. We have our two monitors in front of us that have our notes and the confidence monitors that have our notes and the slide that is being shown behind us. But so we're doing it and there are people in the room, but they're all the tech people. So they are videotaping it and they're checking the sound and stuff and they're just being completely unresponsive. So like, they're busy doing their own thing. They're consummate professionals. Yeah. So you're doing it and you're kind of like want, you know, it feels real, but you're not getting that feedback yet from an audience. So it's just weird. Oh, okay. I think this is going to be okay. And then occasionally, I think Noah, you said that occasionally you could hear like people in the back like giggling at certain things. Yeah, a little titter here and there. And I was like, okay, they're trying to be quiet, but that's good. That's good. And then we ultimately did it in front of everybody. And that was wonderful. And then I've since watched, I haven't watched the whole thing because I don't like watching myself, but I did a little clips here and there of the actual talk I've seen, which is a whole other different thing because there are some jokes we made that in the room, people were laughing at, but their sound doesn't necessarily come through. And so there's a pause and you're like, there's a little, it's a little bit, it's a little weird, but I've also had feedback from people who've just watched it online too, and thinking went well too. So maybe their own laughter is filling in those gaps.
19:16 And so they don't notice that they can't hear the in-room audience. Nice. Yeah. It was a great presentation. It was really fun. So were there particular features? They had a big rollout, figured out how to big rollout of like additional features and stuff like that, which obviously is very strategic. You put on a conference, you're going to have something new to share at Christmas time at the conference. Was there any particular features that you guys thought were really cool or valuable or anything new that you're trying that they've rolled out?
20:02 I have started getting into variables a little bit, which I think are super interesting and very powerful. I haven't actually gotten into them as much with icon stuff. I'm a little more interested in how we'll be able to maybe employ those when the time comes for, I mean, spoiler alert, there will be another version of Fawn Awesome at some point. And the things we want to build and different, the web presence that we want to adapt or create or improve for that, I'm very excited to try out a lot of those new variables for determining a lot of that stuff. So what is the variable feature? Well, as we said in the talk, I'm not a mathematician. I am also not an engineer in any way. What little I know from having built my own website this past year and a little bit of variable stuff that I got into, you're able to store certain types of values into reusable pieces. It's a lot like the components that we use in building icons. It's being able to take color values or text strings or other numerical stuff and bake them into certain conditional reusable values that can be applied in different places. Some of the stuff they showed off specifically at config, making things easier, we're using all of these different variables for light and dark mode and being able to easily switch things on and off based on single components or being able to do adaptive and responsive layouts on the fly by having a lot of those sorts of things, minimum and maximum width values baked into components and stuff can automatically reflow and all that sort of thing. So it's bringing a lot of Figma tooling a little bit closer to what engineers expect on the web. And that kind of goes hand in hand with all the new dev mode stuff too, which I'm not a hundred percent up on, but anything that kind of like smooths out that communication and improves that gap between design and development. If there is a gap there, I'm all for that.
21:57 How about you, Jory, any particular feature there old out that you thought was interesting or noteworthy? So they announced this new feature called variables, which are really interesting to me. Now variable it, interesting. No, I'm obviously interested about the variable stuff as well, both for creating things for our website, but also in terms of, I think there's something there that we can use for creating icons. I certainly think there's something there as they evolve the feature a bit more for how we build our icon component file right now, which is a pretty easy way to use our icons in Figma. And the source file for that has a lot of different variants or different states that we have to, we had to build something fairly complex to get something simple on the other side. And so I think variables will ultimately allow us to even simplify the initial side of things there for us. The dev mode stuff is certainly interesting. Variables are what I think was interesting to us as how we use Figma, particularly. I'm really excited about the name change from Boolean groups to Koolian groups. And if you watch our talk, you'll get that stupid joke. Yeah. We're just, we're gonna keep throwing these little references to the talk that you're going to have to go and watch it if you want to, if you want to be in the know.
23:18 Exactly. Yeah. A good bit of potty humor, which they'll also have to listen in and yeah, that's good stuff. Lots of great classes. Very classy. We keep it classy here. Well folks, that's a little sneak peek about our experience going to config 2023. Many thanks to the folks at Figma that put so much heart and soul into the conference for taking such good care of Jory and Noah and for putting on a really classy event. Of course, you can check out all the talks at the config site. Everything was recorded and I'd commend all that material to you for your listening pleasure. And while you're at it, obviously don't forget to check out Jory and Noah's talk. We drew 30,000 icons in Figma and so can you. If you like what you've heard here, please tell your pals about Podcast Awesome. Give us a rating and review if you please. Podcast Awesome is produced and edited by yours truly, Matt Johnson. The Fawn Awesome theme song was composed by Ronnie Martin and audio mastering was done by Chris Enns at Lemon Productions.