IP in Barcelona: OFFF Design Conference

We sent two IP Alumni to Spain with the Twitter team to attend Barcelona’s 18th annual gathering for creatives, the OFFF Conference. Meet Olivia and Saaleha…

Could you start with a little intro about yourself and how you became connected to IP?

Olivia (O): I was born and raised in the Bay Area going between SF and Oakland. I currently go to the San Francisco Art Institute for painting. Before that, I went to Oakland School for the Arts (OSA) for middle and high school in the painting/drawing department. At OSA middle, I heard about IP.

Saaleha (S): I was born and raised in Oakland and am currently a senior at UC Berkeley studying cognitive science and global poverty & practice.

In 6th grade, I joined IP’s graphic design class in Oakland. I continued to take their classes until 8th grade which was when the program would end at that time. I took some poster making workshops in high school and then reconnected with Josephine (current Director of Ops, IP) when I worked with her as an intern at Girls Who Code. I reconnected with Mo (Founder, IP) in 2017 when he asked for alumni testimonials last semester.

S: I first met Olivia when we went to Twitter to meet their team before we left for Spain.

O: Yeah, we didn’t meet till we went on the trip.

“OFFF is a community inviting all those who are eager to learn to participate and get inspired in a three-day journey of conferences, workshops, activities and performances. What is it about exactly? It’s a combination of Offline/Online designers, Motion Designers, Thinkers, Sound Designers, Graphic Designers, Theorists, Developers, Professionals, Students… Putting the titles aside, OFFF is made for the curious.”


How was the trip introduced to you? What were some of your expectations going into the experience? Were they confirmed? Were you surprised?

S: The trip was introduced to me as an opportunity to attend a design conference and only once I got on the phone with Josephine did she disclose that it was in Spain!! I was so excited given I had never been to Europe or a design conference let alone knew one existed 🙂

O: Mo and I had been in contact, connecting about opportunities for illustrative work and commissions. Then Mo emailed me out of the blue a month before the trip. He said he had an opportunity so we set up a time to talk over the phone. My immediate response was yes, absolutely — but I didn’t even have my passport at the time! Since this was the first time I’d ever gone out of the United States, I tried to have no expectations for the trip. I just rolled with everything that came my way, hoping for the best.

S: I don’t think I had any real expectations. Again, I had never been to Europe and / or a design conference. I was just expecting an environment where I would see a bunch of European people speaking Spanish (or Catalan, given that the conference was in Barcelona) talking about art and color and drawing. I came to find out everything was in English—very little language gap, since Barcelona is such a tourist city—and “design” spanned from animation to drawing.

I agree with Olivia: roll with it all.

How did you decide what to do at the conference? Were there any particular people or works that changed the way you might think about your current field of study?

S: I just went with what I was drawn to. I really enjoy animating and 3D art so I tried to go to those since I thought I would understand those talks and be more familiar with that content. But overall I just tried to keep an open mind.

The three most enjoyable talks were by:

  • An animator who flunked out of his freshman year of college at Berkeley as a comp sci major but then went back to school for animation after working for Costco. Seeing his work was cool.
  • A design director at Dropbox who talked about self-care in the workplace, and as you pursue your passion, which I loved.
  • A graphic designer/artist who said:

“feck perfuction”

So overall I tried to go to everything but prioritized what I thought sounded different or interesting. And honestly I think I got lucky.

O: I didn’t arrive at the event knowing who was going to be talking on the panels or doing workshops. I think not knowing made it all the more exciting and inspirational. I was able to see and hear a wide variety of perspectives in the industry that I might not have if I decided to only go to the talks I was interested in.

Participating in the conference made me realize that there actually was a place for the type of work that I make in the tech world. Because I often feel alienated from it.

I enjoy doing animations and film and I could see myself going into the motion graphics industry.

Adobe was one of the sponsors at the conference and offered the opportunity for us to design using Photoshop & Illustrator.

Was there anything challenging about the trip?

O: One thing that was challenging for me was that there was very specific shop talk going on among the team of Twitter designers (that we went with), that was happening a lot of the time we were together. It felt a little over my head and during the short amount of time there I found it hard to find a way to interject, so that was a bit alienating.

S: I think the biggest challenge for me was not knowing anyone. I am a pretty chill person but I like knowing what’s going on and just being on top of things — it boiled down to traveling to Europe to a non-English speaking country with an itinerary I didn’t plan myself, with professionals and people I had met on one occasion so I was somewhat anxious, but excited for the adventure.

And by the end of the trip I was wanting to travel to Italy and regretting getting a direct flight back home. But my mom may have had a heart attack.

Being comfortable with being uncomfortable, to put it shortly.

O: For some reason I felt the exact opposite, like I was ready for someone else to take the wheel and didn’t feel anxious at all. I felt similarly upon arrival about catching a travel bug and wanting to go somewhere else. Because I had finally gotten over the initial anxiety of leaving the country and realized “hey that was not bad at all.” It wasn’t as disorienting as I thought it would be.


Were there networking opportunities and were they helpful? Do you usually feel introverted or extroverted? Did you learn anything about how people connect with each other at these things?

S: I like to say I can “turn on the charm.” If I’m in an environment where I feel comfortable in my experience and the people around me are approachable, I’m always down to network. On a regular basis I guess I can come off as introverted if I’m not comfortable or if I’m thinking too hard about something. Which I tend to do with everything.

I actually learned a lot about how people connect in a conference environment. Being that this was a very non-traditional conference, people wore normal clothes and were pretty chill—no suits or ties. It’s really all about finding your comfort zone in any environment; I don’t mean that I don’t like talking to people, but more along the lines of, ‘oh this person’s outfit is cute’ and if we get into a conversation about clothes I’m all there.

Find your comfort space and go from there.

O: I think I’m an introverted person naturally, but I think I was experiencing a certain degree of shock from being in a new country that made it difficult for me to network on top of feeling estranged from the tech industry. It’s not a world whose language I’m comfortable using (yet!).

I like that.

We had the opportunity to travel with six members of the Twitter design team. A talented group of designers, we joined them on company shadowing & tours of the Barcelona community.

What was one take-away for you?

S: As for a take-away, I’d say be yourself and live in the moment. As I mentioned before I am one who makes calculated decisions and thinks twice before speaking. But the speakers I saw at the conference spoke a lot about intention and action like if you want to do something, then do it. All the thought and preparation is important but nothing is spoken into reality: thoughts and ideas take action to implement. So if you have an idea or passion or interest you want to explore or see become reality…

O: Yeeeeessss

S: I’m about to quote Nike, but… “Just Do It.” Because honestly it’s exhausting when you don’t act on something you were really excited about.

O: Shia Labeouf.

S: And people are doing some pretty cool, arguably weird stuff. But they love it and I don’t think they have any regrets. Think of it like sharing a piece of yourself with those around you.

I think from this conference I learned that I don’t do enough of that and I had so many things I thought back to during the conference where I was like ‘dang why didn’t you do it’ but I couldn’t dwell and just thought ‘well now I know.’

O: For me, as someone from SF, I’ve experienced the huge influx of industry and wealth that’s come in. I see the creative community dwindling and it sends the message that art isn’t valued in the culture. I worry often about building a sustainable creative career here and can really feel discouraged.

At the conference, I could see that there is a space for my passions to live in this current tech world, and that it could be transferable. I felt I could make a living or have a career doing something that makes me and other people happy.

The message for me was: work on your personal practice and find what can be transferable. It reminded me to always try and find your own value and meaning in what you’re doing.*


interviewer / editor : Taylor Bird

Inneract Project

Bring Design to Communities