Giant Conference Announces Charleston 2015 Return


Olga Vidisheva, CEO of Shoptiques

Anyone who attended last month’s inaugural GIANT Conference will be thrilled to know GIANT has announced it’s coming back to Charleston for its 2015 conference.

In a statement today, the GIANT Crew announced they’re scrapping plans to move the conference to Denver, CO next summer. “Some of you were at our 2014 closing party where we told you next year’s event would be in Denver, CO. Well it turns out, Denver comes with significantly more logistics and expense than we planned for. We won’t compromise on the quality of the GIANT Conference experience.”

The four-day GIANT conference—for people who create rad experiences—held in June, lived up to its name with a giant lineup featuring 75 speakers, 6 keynotes, 4 tracks, and 9 workshops covering a huge range of niche topics in visual design, content strategy, front-end development, information architecture, interaction design, user research and usability.

To ensure that next year’s event stays just as power packed, the organizers realized the gem they found in the Charleston scene for their conference. “We are going to keep GIANT rad, and give our beloved attendees the best possible bang for the buck. Add to that some amazing support from our venues and sponsors, and it’s a no-brainer.”

With 400 UX (user experience) professionals from the world of web, print, retail and branding united with one another, GIANT 2014 brought together the best of the industry’s luminaries. That’s exactly what fellow UX designers Anthony Sanders, Joel Kilby, and Christain Manzella hoped would happen when they conceived of the idea for the conference last August.

Together they came up with the idea to create a conference that would bring the UX community together. Sanders leveraged the success of his UX-focused meetup group—Charleston UX—to select Charleston as the best location for the event. “We looked at a lot of different cities and Charleston didn’t have a UX focused conference yet. Based on the number of signups alone for Charleston UX, we knew it would be a great spot for it.”

giantconf-bandWith deep roots in music, skateboard culture, and design, the three of them set out to develop a creative “anti-conference” that would have a unique vibe and elements to set it apart from other conferences. “The three of us all have counter culture running through our blood,” said Manzella. “We were going to do it the way we wanted to do it, put our flavor on it and hope that people were going to be into that.”

The tunes of the GIANT music playlist filled with hip-hop, punk, metal, and soul set the vibe for the conference as world-renowned design stars, startup founders, thought leaders, and local talent took the stages at Charleston Music Hall, Rue De Jean, and American Theater.

Local Charleston band Loners Society rocked the stage at Charleston Music Hall along with bands A Will Away and Head North to kick off three afterparties that capped each session day hosted by Huge, BoomTown and Blue Ion.

During the event attendees were in awe seeing their favorite design heroes speak off screen and meet them in person. Conference co-founder Joel Kilby said, “I had this moment of looking at the speakers and seeing the people I have looked up to and in some way affected all of our careers. I was seriously blown away.”


Aaron Draplin, Design Giant of Draplin Design Co.

Moments worth remembering started right from kick off with design giant Aaron Draplin delivering his opening keynote Tall Tales from a Large Man. Draplin told his favorite logo design stories and inspirational lessons for both young and seasoned designers to explore and “Get Cosmic with our work in the world,” and the choice of “Loving your work vs. the Big Bucks.”

Countless highlights from the conference include the great stories of inspiration and encouragement from some of the top designers in the industry. Several Charleston-based speakers from local tech companies and design firms also took the stages throughout GIANT, representing Silicon Harbor as well. Attendees walked away with incredible information as they return to make their own ventures “even radder.”

Among the local talent contributing their voices to the rad experience GIANT focused on were designers and developers from SPARC, Blackbaud, BenefitFocus, and eHouse Studio.

• The SPARC design team panel of Chad Norman, Maggie Hall, Brad Kaloupek, and Bryan Callahan gave great insight on how to keep the focus on product design while accelerating the development of a tech startup using Agile methodology.


Aaron Quinn, Founder/Creative Director at eHouse Studio

• SPARC experience designer Jono Young advised designers “It’s What’s Inside the Box” in his session Designosophy: a six phase design methodology that brings target audiences stakeholders and designers together.

• Steve Stegelin of Blackbaud demonstrated the role of User Assistance in UA how Blackbaud’s focus on the UX of UA has led to innovative content, engaged audiences, and a complete rethinking of the traditional UX of Help

• Software Engineer Jason McDonald of BenefitFocus shared his Recipe for Creating Rad Teams describing how he built their large design team in a short amount of time very quickly and what they learned along the way.

• Local UX designer Aaron Quinn of eHouse Studio spoke about the pitfalls of site navigation, setting navigation goals and strategies and experiences you can use to better overall site usability.

Various other speakers from around the country contributed to the success and overall energetic vibe of the conference. These included:


Jared Spool, Founder of User Interface Engineering

• Jared Spool, the founder of User Interface Engineering, encouraged designers that there’s never been a better time to be an Experience Designer. Spool said, “Design is rendering intent. Great experience provides a competitive return on investment. The choice designers face is imitation versus innovation—the chance to win. Choose to do something new or take from the best.”

• Designer, developer and author Josh Clark discussed designing in the gap between devices as digital becomes physical and vice versa. “As we design in the gap between devices, there’s a huge opportunity for new and surprising interactions. It’s not enough to share content across devices, share action.”

• Success stories from startup founders like Olga Vidisheva inspired entrepreneurs in the audience. She shared the details of her journey in turning her startup Shoptiques profitable, from Y Combinator to the largest marketplace of unique boutiques.

• Brand enthusiasts appreciated Anne Bond’s session Crafting a Brand Story about the branding behind her work at Rifle Paper Co.—the one-woman stationary shop that turned into a thriving team designing goods sold worldwide.


Ethan Marcotte, Father of Responsive Web Design

Other sessions provided lessons into design team building such as Randy Hunt and Jay Carlson’s discussion on the growing pains and strategies involved in expanding the design team at Etsy from 2 to over 50 members.

Ethan Marcotte known by many as “the Father of Responsive Web Design” delivered a stellar closing keynote titled the Map and the Territory. His session revisited responsive mobile design and encouraged responsible design principles for the future. “We’re designing beautiful work, but we’re not equipping ourselves for a far-reaching, fast-moving future standard. We need to think about promoting growth and sustainability of the web beyond adaptation, through responsible design.”

At the Blue Ion afterparty, the GIANT founders announced their new GIANT beer, Breakthrough Blond, produced by Charleston brewing company Palmetto Brewing.

Bethany McDaniel, web content manager at blogged after the conference. “After days of hearing the ultimate design rockstars such as Aaron Draplin, Jared Spool, Josh Clark, and Ethan Marcotte, my world has changed. It’s not every day we computer nerds get to come together and geek out over certain innovations (such as responsive design).”

Chad Parker, designer at TGK , came away with great design lessons as well, “I would say the most valuable lesson I learned at GIANT was stepping outside of the visual design aesthetics of a project and keeping a strong focus on the overall experience. Graphic design is only a piece of a much bigger puzzle.”


Giant Founders – Joel Kilby, Anthony Sanders, & Christian Manzella

Sanders, Kilby, and Manzella were thrilled with the outcome of the conference and had hoped to bring the event back to Charleston in the near future. Many of the attendees and speakers have never been to Charleston and GIANT gave them the opportunity to experience the local flavor and culture of the city, as well as connect with its rich, growing creative community.

Manzella emphasized, “One of the things about the conference is that the event isn’t just about the speakers. A huge draw is with so much of the networking and exciting stuff that happens in between. We can’t design those spaces, but we can set it up so that they happen in rad ways and that was the idea – to keep it low key, and friendly, and the UX community interacting. It feels like we’ve pulled off what we set out to do. We gave life to Charleston and that feels great.”

Stay up to date with everything the GIANT Crew is planning on the web at or on Twitter at @GiantConf.

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