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How sideline turned into ultimate design project: the story of Dynamic/MTL

Dynamic/MTL — one of Montreal’s top design conferences — is run by two people: art director Max Kaplun and content strategist and learning specialist André Valle. Begun as an in-house DIY initiative, it grew into a regular gathering uniting Montreal’s tech and creative communities. Since launching in 2014 Max has been building its websites with Readymag, unaided by developers.

The success of Dynamic/MTL inspired its co-founders to go even deeper and launch two more offshoot initiatives: One&All Conference and Workmode Show. The Readymag team asked Max about the story behind these projects.

Going full power

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The website of Dynamic/MTL

“In 2014 I started working at a digital agency in Montreal called Dynamo. My colleague, content strategist André Valle, offered to have a lunch-and-learn session in the studio basement: an educational gathering just for team members. I loved the idea but, coming from a branding and event background, I always think: is there a way to make this event bigger? Can we bring in partners and expand on the event concept? So I suggested we partner with Phi Centre, an arts and events venue, our neighbors down the road. We made a 10-page Keynote presentation, which made it look like we had a plan even though we really didn’t. We had no speakers and no budget. The team at Phi were interested in supporting local creatives and allowed us to host our event.”

“Then we wanted to get big-name speakers. I basically emailed a vast number of potential design A-listers. Normally, speakers want to see some photos from a previous event or other names already attached, which shows them that event is legit and of the right caliber. Since it was our first event we had no proof of success, so nobody answered our emails. We were getting desperate, thinking we might have to push back our date. Only weeks before the event we finally got our first yes: Eddie Opara from Pentagram. It was unbelievable. Eddie personally called and left a voicemail.”

Readymag comes to help

“Before Readymag we would have had to beg a developer to create our event website and update it for us. And, since it’s a free, pro bono project, it was understandably not a top priority for our agency’s developers. So it would take a long time and would never look the way we wanted it to. And then it had to be in French and English in Montreal. A few years ago we had a hack day at Dynamo to build the site when I stumbled on Readymag — which solved all of our problems.

In the 1990’s Adobe Dreamweaver promised a way to work visually on a digital layout. But, obviously, it was fairly awful. To me, Readymag was the tool that finally fulfilled that promise, allowing you to move objects on the screen visually, and it actually looks good on the front end. With code it would take a lot more finesse to achieve the same results. This is what I’ve been waiting for my entire adult life! Moreover, Readymag helped us maintain an ever-growing list of newsletter subscribers, which is our main channel for getting the word out about our events.”

Going deeper

“For four years now we’ve been running the Dynamic/MTL conference quarterly. Neither I nor Andréwork at Dynamo any longer but its founder Alex Nemeroff is the host of our events. He’s the one that introduces all the speakers and interviews them in a panel discussion.

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The website of Workmode show

In 2016 Alex gave us a mandate: “Shouldn’t we do a podcast in a professional way, where we can continue the conversation that started at Dynamic MTL and really go deeper into somebody’s subject?” This is how our Workmode show was born”.

Check out Workmode podcasts:

Keira Alexandra, founder of Work-Order

Tobias van Schneider, multidisciplinary designer

Masha Krol, experience designer at Element AI

Mikael Cho, founder of Crew & Unsplash

Silicon Valley aesthetic

“When I design anything functionality is paramount. I want the product to be easy to maintain and manage. I try to shed any pre-conceived notions about style when approaching a project and focus on solving a problem first.

The websites of One&All and Workmode, as well as my personal portfolio, are designed with Readymag. I wanted the look of the sites to subtly subvert the Silicon Valley aesthetic. I used basic geometric shapes, bright colors, and impactful typography as a unifying thread. With all of them I designed the full sites in Sketch and Illustrator before putting anything into browser”

“Last year we decided to open up to different verticals and expand our reach to new audiences so we organized a festival called One&All. We discussed fashion, commerce, business, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence — all topics that we hadn’t explored before. The fact that it was full day conference allowed us to host more people. The capacity was five times that of our usual dynamics events.

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The website of One&All conference

This year we’re taking a step back to make sure we bring top quality speakers in a strategically thoughtful and sound way. This July we’ll hold the first Dynamic MTL event of 2018. It will be dedicated to ethics in design. More dates to be announced”.

The ultimate design project

“The impact of our events is measurable from a business viewpoint. Quite a few agency clients and relationships were born from conversations held at our events. Either they were there as members of the audience or they heard about it from one of the speakers.

But that’s not all. Every designer has an itch to pursue bigger goals, and create personal projects outside their day-to-day work, and to me Dynamic MTL definitely scratched that itch. Being able to have conversations with great speakers was definitely a highlight. Hearing amazing feedback like “This is one of the best conferences I’ve spoken at”(an exact quote from designer Tobias van Schneider) means a lot. And it’s a project with no limitations, visually, so I can go up on stage and control the visuals, sweat the small details like what color gels are in the spotlights during the event and create a mix of music for each of our events. To me it’s like the ultimate design project: creating an event, creating a mood for people, and seeing the audience payoff in real life. It’s as satisfying as a design project can be”.

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Max Kaplun and André Valle

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