beyond tellerand 2024: recap day 2


A good-vibes factory of a conference, part 2 of 3.

A few robots are visible, made by Jan De Coster.

This is part 2 of my personal recap of the conference, featuring all talks from day 2 (here is part 1). Enjoy!

The talks of day 2

“Small Technology: Building Tech That Respects Our Rights” by Laura Kalbag

Laura is a British designer who has been working in tech for over 15 years. She co-founded the Small Technology Foundation, a small not-for-profit organization dedicated to building and advocating for technology that respects our rights.

She tackled the issue of surveillance in modern technology by pointing out how the tech we use tracks our every move and habit, under the umbrella of improving user experience.As creators and users, we need to recognize how we contribute to this system and how we are exploited by it.

The talk was a much-needed privacy refresher. She highlighted the invasive practices of companies like Taboola (intentionally not linking to them) and emphasized the importance of taking control, asking questions, and standing up for privacy: even if it means holding uncomfortable positions in discussions.

Laura Kalbag on stage. Slide featuring an overview of what information data brokers have access to regarding data on consumers provided by Acxiom and Oracle.
The data-tracking-gang-bang in one slide.

One of her key points was that establishing a good level of privacy shouldn’t be a privilege reserved for an elite few with the necessary knowledge, resources, and time. Privacy should be achievable for everyone. Making technology more inclusive and ethical should always be the goal.

Laura Kalbag on stage. Slide featuring some key points of part of her talk: Bring up the issue again and again. Embrace the awkwardness. Call out questionable behaviour. Be unprofessional.
Embrace the awkwardness!

The talk had a strong indie-web vibe, advocating for more decentralized and user-focused tech. She encouraged us to be guardians of privacy and to push back against bad decisions. A great way to start day 2 of beyond tellerrand!

“Digital Type, Pre-PostScript” by Ferdinand Ulrich

Ferdinand is a typographer and type history researcher based in Berlin. He focuses on the transitional periods of changing type design technologies, particularly during the early digital period before PostScript. His deep dive into this subject earned him a PhD from the University of Reading in 2023.

His talk put the nerd-o-meter to the max, definitely the most nerdy one of the conference. I absolutely loved it! He explored an era often overlooked in the history of type. Typically, the narrative jumps from the rise of commercial photocomposition in the 1950s straight to digital PostScript fonts on the Macintosh in 1984. Ferdinand challenged this by delving into the two decades of significant developments in early digital type design technologies that preceded PostScript.

Ferdinand Ulrich on stage. Slide featuring a photo of a pretty chaotic atelier.
Organized chaos.

He presented his extensive research, which included studying old conference materials, written artifacts, and publications. He also conducted numerous interviews with key figures in the field.

He highlighted how computer scientists and font designers worked closely together during this period, creating what were known as “digital type design systems”. These systems could encode letterforms using numerical descriptions, laying the groundwork for the digital fonts we use today.

Ferdinand Ulrich on stage. Slide featuring devices which scanned a printed letter by putting markers on certain points of the letter outline. These data points were taken to create the letter outline in the digital realm.
From print to screen.

Ferdinand really brought this somewhat obscure period to life, that was quite impressive to me. It was a crucial time for typography, but the talk wasn’t just a history lesson: it was an example of how the combination of collaborative spirit and technical innovation changes the world.

“Designing with Words: Content Design at The New Yorker” by Sophie Tahran

Sophie is the Director of Content Design at Condé Nast, where she leads a team of content designers across well-known publications like Vogue, GQ, Architectural Digest, and Bon Appetit. Before this, she established the content design discipline at The New Yorker.

This talk was one of my favorites! She started by explaining the difference between content design (also known as UX writing), copywriting, and technical writing. She emphasized that content design is not just about picking the right words; it’s a strategic process that begins much earlier than most people think.

She demonstrated this process through the structure of the talk: Instead of jumping straight into high-fidelity copy, she showed us over 50 slides to illustrate the groundwork that needs to be done first. Sophie stressed the importance of asking the right questions: What does the user want? What is the task at hand? What is the context?

Sophie Tahran on stage. Slide featuring 3 screenshots of The New Yorker app showing an audio book feature.
User journey of an audio feature inside the app.

She covered some fundamental principles, such as crafting helpful error messages, translating jargon, and maintaining consistency in wording. Interestingly, she pointed out that repeating yourself can actually be beneficial. She also touched on the challenge of maintaining The New Yorker’s 100-year-old voice within an interface. This really hit home for me because it showed the delicate balance between tradition and modern usability.

Sophie Tahran on stage. Slide featuring the key question: How should the magazine’s 100-year-old voice sound in an interface?
The key question.

One of my favorite parts of her talk was when she gave an example from The New Yorker app: As the app starts up, it displays text like “loading crossword puzzles” at the bottom of the screen. This not only sets the tone but also reassures users that they’re in the right place, engaging them with familiar features of the magazine. It was a small touch, but it gave me goosebumps.

Overall, (content) design isn’t just about making things look good but about creating a seamless and meaningful user experience through words.

“Channeling Chaos: Role of the Artist in the Age of AI” by Natalya Shelburne

Natalya leads a team at GitHub, working on Primer, their open-source design system. Before this, she contributed to various projects at The New York Times.

She opened with a thought-provoking idea: instead of using AI to get answers, what if we used it to generate better questions? This shift in perspective can lead us to more meaningful answers.

Favorite quote:

There is no tunnel, and you are the light.

One of her key messages was to own your time and be mindful of time scarcity. She emphasized that AI should be seen as a learning tool to enhance our knowledge and skills, something that no one can take away from us.

Natalya Shelburne on stage. On the slide one of the key messages of the alk: own your time.

One side effect of the democratizing power of AI: anyone can sound like an authority, which makes questioning authority a crucial skill. This is something everyone should and must get better at.

Natalya Shelburne on stage. On the slide: “Lead with 'It can be anything' not 'It is what it is'”
Fighting cynicism, one slide at a time.

At the end she encouraged us to embrace our inner artists and reminded us that the future can be anything we make of it.

“On the Way to New Work – 7 Stories from a Journey That Has Only Just Begun” by Michael Trautmann

Michael is a well-known figure in the business world. He is also the co-host of the podcast “On the Way to New Work”.

If I remember it correctly, the the title of his podcast (and the talk’s title) came from a dyslexic colleague’s amusing typo, “on the way to new work” instead of “on the way to New York”.

Michael shared seven key lessons from his book and podcast, using stories from diverse people worldwide. One of my favorite quotes he mentioned was from Stephen R. Covey:

If the ladder isn’t leading against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.

This really stuck with me as it highlights the importance of aligning our efforts with meaningful goals.

He also referenced several studies, such as Google’s research on effective teams and the importance of psychological safety in the workplace. Another compelling story was from Sir Ken Robinson about the flaws in our education system. He told the story of a child diagnosed with ADHD who thrived to become a famous ballet dancer (Gillian Lynne), thanks to a perceptive doctor who recognized her potential rather than just her condition.

Although it was not part of the talk, I have to bring one of my favorite Robinson quotes (a man I greatly admire, by the way):

Human communities depend upon a diversity of talent, not a singular conception of ability.

Michael’s final story challenged the notion that humans are inherently selfish by citing studies and the book Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman (read it last year, I can recommend it), which argues that people are fundamentally good.

Michael Trautmann on stage. Slide featuring the cover image of the talk with the title “On the way to new work” being put on a building.
Couch session.

While the content of Michael’s talk was insightful and engaging, I have to admit that his presentation style wasn’t the best. It felt unpolished and could have been more dynamic (being polite here).

“No, Seriously, Fuck Engagement: Building a More Human Web” by David Thomas

David is the author of Design for Cognitive Bias and the creator of The Cognitive Bias Podcast.

He set the tone by initially arguing that the term “engagement” is often a euphemism for metrics like clicks, likes, and ad revenue, which ultimately prioritize profits over people.

What I found interesting were the points he made about the invention of the mirror and how it dramatically changed human behavior by allowing us to see ourselves. He compared this to how the web, with its behavioral targeting and personalized content, holds up a digital mirror to us. No two people see the same Google search results, and this personalization can reinforce biases.

David Thomas on stage. Slide features the “worst diagram in history”: While users watch more content that is being prohibited by policies, they enage with it more.
The worst diagram ever.

David’s least favorite cognitive bias, the “just world theory”, was another key topic. This theory suggests that the world is inherently fair and that people get what they deserve. He contrasted this with the beliefs of a Native American tribe (forgot which one, sorry), which holds that people are inherently good. According to this perspective, when someone does something wrong, they simply need guidance to return to their good nature. This approach, he suggested, could transform our attitudes towards everything from child education to social justice.

He also shared the story of Kandiaronk, a brilliant 17th-century politician from the Great Lakes region, who offered critical views of European society. What I took home from this was the importance of questioning dominant narratives and considering alternative perspectives.

David Thomas on stage. Slide featuring a hands-on todo list for the audiance: Identify your values. Start looking at how your work get you closer to or further away from those values. Co-image the future with the people hurt by the present.
Hands-on advice for us all.

His talk was truly thought-provoking and entertaining. A great way to end the conference!


Wow, what a ride! I can feel that even days after visiting beyond tellerrand the things I’ve heard and experienced are still being processed by my brain and by my heart. Part 1 and part 2 (this page) of my conference recap are a way to externalize these experiences, so thanks for reading along.

In the last and final part of my conference recap, I will add a few other things that happened around the conference and summarize observations and ideas floating in my head. Stay tuned, it will appear soon.

Discuss this on Mastodon



Please note: a β€œlike” isn’t necessarily an endorsement of the content.

  1. Tom Anypuppies liked this on
  2. Tobi S liked this on