6 things I learned at Canvas Conference 2018

Written by - October 11, 2018

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Canvas Conference 2018 at Birmingham Library. The day was packed with talks from a number of leading professionals in the creative industries and breaks were filled with fresh pastries and coffee… My kind of day.

While I took home a lot from the conference, nine talks in a day is also quite intense, so I’m going to try my best to summarise the six key lessons I learnt from the day.

1. Diversity is key to successful teams and projects

Pip Jamieson is the Founder and CEO of The Dots, an online portal likened to the LinkedIn for creatives. In her opening talk she discussed how she’s learnt, through her time of bringing The Dots into fruition, how diversity in business is of critical importance.


To quote Steve Jobs, “The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.” – through individual experience, through cultural difference and through recognition that creativity is a team sport – design can be maximised and break through boundaries. Here are Pip’s top tips for running a successfully diverse business:

  • Diversity starts from the top
  • Hire people based on values fit (not culture fit)
  • Pay interns a living wage
  • Focus on team happiness
  • Train from grass roots
  • Lead by example.

2. Innovate while retaining traditions and values

Martin White, Experience Design Lead at Sainsbury’s, gave an interesting talk with insight into the Sainsbury’s brand, past and present. Two things stood out from his talk; A: make sure you design with the strictest consistency across all collateral, and B: be sure to innovate while carefully keeping tradition and values.

One example of point B from his talk is the bicycle delivery service which has been re-instated at one of its larger London stores. This ‘new’ service offers delivery via electric-bicycle within an hour and is being trialled from the Streatham Common store. What I found interesting was that this service is in fact an age-old service that originally started more than 130 years ago. A fine example of being innovative (no other large supermarkets do it!), while retaining tradition.

Left: A Sainsbury’s delivery rider in Enfield, north London, in 1913. Right: Sainsbury’s new initiative. Images courtesy of Sainsbury’s

3. The three Cs of building of a successful team

This talk opened with a quote from Ed Catmill, “If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better.”

Ilze Dreyer, a Product Owner at Booking.com, spoke about successful teams that build successful products during her 30 minutes, and focused on the three Cs that are fundamental when building a great team. She said, “… care about what you do and people you do it with, tune into the chemistry of your team and work to balance it out and focus on creating consistency and continuity in your teams with strong succession plans.”… I guess that actually makes 4 Cs, but never mind.

4. Sounds can travel to your brain via your jaw bones…?!

Jordan McRae, Founder of Mobilus Labs, introduced a piece of technology that he’s been working on since his days at MIT. This new technology allows sound to travel wirelessly, underwater and in the air, without the need for in ear devices, i.e. not restricting external sound. What I found most interesting about this technology is the fact that sound travels via two-way bone conduction, allowing it to receive and transmit your voice through micro-vibrations on the surface of your head. Jordan asked for volunteers and placed the device on their chins – still resulting in the sound being heard, inside their heads! Yep, it really is mind blowing…

5. Endings can be great beginnings

This is a little harder to summarise, and to be honest it’s something I’d never really thought about before. Joe Macleod, author of the book Ends, specialises in consumer endings and made some fascinating points about how the way we end things can determine future relationships. Considered endings can, for example, help long term brand loyalty and presence and improve consumer experience. To find out more check out Joe’s book Ends..

6.  Perfecting products from the customer’s perspective

My final takeaway from the day was from Dave Wascha’s talk. Dave is the Chief Product Officer at Photobox, and he gave a fascinating talk on meeting customer needs. He closed the talk by saying that we need to be ‘dumb’ a lot more often. He went on to say that if we can look through the eyes of a customer who has no prior knowledge when reviewing new features, designs and products, then we can more easily spot the core issues of our work, and see what we’re doing well. We aren’t doing what we do to solve our own problems, it’s our job to solve the customers’. We must advocate for our customers and make sure we bring their perspectives to the situation in order to meet their needs.

All in all, I found the conference to be a wonderful event, that will no doubt enlighten my thinking and practice going forward. I’m already looking forward to next years event!