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  • In the aftermath of SketchCamp

    Last weekend, I helped to organize and host the first annual SketchCamp. SketchCamp was a one-day event for interaction design and user experience (UX) professionals; we ran it like a BarCamp with a focus on UX sketching. It was a total success!

    Since then, several people have reached out to get more info on SketchCamp so that they can run one in their city (Vancouver, Chicago, DC...) That's really exciting, and I want to support that as much as possible. Thus, I'm starting with a blog post to give some background — and anyone who is interested in talking more should email me directly. (Be sure to check out Behind the Scenes below)

    How SketchCamp came to be
    Greg Nudelman and I were inspired to produce SketchCamp in SF after attending a similar event, DrawCamp, in Milwaukee last year. We came back from DrawCamp with new tips for drawing and sketching, taking sketchnotes, drawing upside down, writing while talking, etc. etc. We felt that the appropriate focus in the Bay Area would be UX sketching. Hence, SketchCamp was born!

    Eight months later, we were a crew of 4 organizers (Greg, me, Josh Williams and Netta Marshall), 4 volunteers (Kathryn Storm, Scott Tran, Liz Dalay, and Jessica Skelton), myriad sponsors (Jess3, DesignCaffeine, HotStudio, UIE, Autodesk, Rosenfeld, and Square), and were lucky to have a beautiful venue (Singly Headquarters) for our Memorial Day weekend event.

    Day of the event
    The day before the event, all the organizers and volunteers gathered at Singly to breakdown their office equipment (tables & chairs) and set up for SketchCamp (our chairs, our layout). This took about 4.5 hours to do with 7 people helping. We set up and prepped for everything except for placing signs on the walls and blowing up balloons, which we saved for the next morning.

    On the day-of, we arrived at SketchCamp around 7am for final preparations. Breakfast arrived around 8:15...our speakers showed up early to set up...and the first attendees rolled in around 8:45am. By 9:30, we kicked it off!

    The rest of the morning, we had 3 speakers presenting on sketching and UX-related topics. Jared Spool spent 45 minutes in a conversation with the audience about how to get non-sketchers to be more comfortable sketching. Dan Willis then shared an interesting perspective on how to think more holistically about UX design by focusing on "intent paths". Finally, Dana Chisnell led us in a 1.5 hour design studio workshop on redesigning the ballot. Kate Rutter did awesome graphic recordings of the first two sessions.

    We took just over an hour for lunch, and people split off into clusters to chat with each other all over venue. At 2pm, we started the BarCamp portion of the event. We had 3 breakout rooms (named after famous UX sketchers), and each session was 25 minutes (allowing 5 minutes for people to move to the next session). Two rooms had white boards; one had a projector and a easel with large post-its.

    And, of course, the sessions all went really well:


    Daria Kempka (organizer of the original DrawCamp, Milwaukee) took this great set of photos:

    And one of our volunteers, Kathryn Storm, shared these photos:

    Behind the scenes

    Leading up to the event
    In the months leading up to the event, the organizers met 1-2 times per month until about 8 weeks out, when we started meeting weekly. Our weekly meeting spot was The Grove Cafe (Mission @3rd St.) — it was open late, had wifi, and served pretty tasty food and wine & beer. It was also conveniently near many of our downtown offices. After we signed on a few volunteers, they also attended our weekly meetings to get up to speed on our planning and help out in whatever ways they could.

    Our weekly meetings involved reviewing what progress we had made in the previous week, adding and removing items from our to-do list, and divvying up responsibilities. These meetings were working meetings since we had very little time outside of Tuesdays from 7-10pm to devote to planning. This model worked pretty well for us, though, since we gave ourselves enough prep time between announcing the event and actually putting on the event.

    In fact, we originally planned to have SketchCamp back in October or November 2010. We kept finding conflicts with other events and with our own schedules, so after we got sketchcamp.com set up, we picked a date in the distant future when we were all available. That date was May 28, 2011, and at the time, none of us realized that it was Memorial Day weekend! (This didn't prove to be much of a problem, though. It deterred a few people from signing up, but there were plenty of other people to take their places.)

    When we finally announced SketchCamp on January 5, 2011 (early bird tickets were $20), we sold out in 2 days! At the time, we were planning to have the event at ModCloth where our max capacity was around 75 people, so we released only 60 early bird tickets. It was only later when we switched venues from ModCloth to Singly that our capacity increased to 100, and we released another 20 "regular admission" tickets for $40 each. That second round of tickets also sold out in a day.

    We were not expecting SketchCamp to be so popular or to sell out so quickly! There is definitely interest in the UX community for an event like this (and I'm sure there will be in other cities too!) We joked about how we should have put a higher price tag on the event...and we could have used more funds (we came in over-budget by about $200). If we had had to pay for our venue, we would have been out an additional $500 :(

    And yet historically BarCamps have been free, so we were hesitant to charge even $20 for attendance at first. However, we knew that we needed to provide breakfast, lunch, and random other supplies, and we didn't have sponsors lined up back in January who would cover our costs. $20 is a funny number — it was nearly enough to cover food and drinks for everyone, but not enough to deter people from randomly signing up and then bailing on the day-of. We had about 25% attrition and, thus, had about 25% more food than we needed. I guess it never works out perfectly....

    The next time around, we will think about charging $50 or even $75 per person, especially if the event remains as a single-track of speakers in the morning and a BarCamp in the afternoon (aka not a 100% pure BarCamp model). As I mentioned, we would have needed the additional funds if we had had to pay for our venue...

    Our budget
    We ended up with a budget of about $3450, through a combination of sponsorships ($1250 total) and attendance fees ($2200). Our total costs exceeded this amount by about $200 — which isn't that bad in the big scheme of things, and which the 4 organizers settled by splitting up the remaning costs amongst ourselves.

    Our main costs were:

    • Food = $2650
    • Supplies = $300
    • AV equipment and chair rentals = $585
    • Domain hosting/setup costs = $135

    We were lucky to have our venue donated to us by Singly, but several other venues we were considering cost $500-$1500 for the day. Those options would have totally broken our budget and would have been less ideal all around. We ended up with a spacious, comfortable, and gorgeous live/work space in the Mission with tons of light. It made for a cheery atmosphere and cheerful attendees!

    Our food was the most expensive item in our budget at $2650. This included breakfast, lunch, and 2 coffee services from Radius SF. When our total headcount was only 75, their food quote came to ~$24 per person. When we went up to 100, the quote increased to $26.50 per person. Both quotes seem to be pretty reasonable, especially because Radius makes totally fresh and home-made organic food (all sourced from within a 100 mile radius of SF).

    We could have reduced our budget slightly if we hadn't needed to rent AV equipment. That rental alone was about $480; chairs were only about $1/chair.