Attending a Conference Alone? Here’s How to Make It Count

Attending a Conference Alone? Here’s How to Make It Count

Sweaty palms, dry mouth, fluttering heart: the beat before entering a room full of strangers is uniquely nerve-wracking. It gets easier over time but for most people, it’s never exactly fun

Going to a conference alone can feel like a nightmarishly extended version of this moment. It’s worth pushing past the initial discomfort, though. For one, you are free to schedule your days exactly as you’d like, attending sessions that interest you and skipping those that don’t. More importantly, flying solo makes it easier to connect with other conference goers. Without the comforting-but-protective bubble of a friend or group of co-workers, you are inherently more approachable.

Below, a handful of professionals share tips and strategies for surviving — no, thriving — at a conference at which you don’t know anyone. 


Put your phone down

Among a smartphone’s most powerful use cases: its ability to deflect awkward social situations. Don’t know anyone at the lunch table? You could just  immerse yourself in your screen. Like many things that feel instantly gratifying in the moment, however, using a smartphone as a defense mechanism against serendipitous conversation isn’t a productive long-term strategy.

At conferences, the smartphone’s siren call is especially strong in unstructured periods, such as at cocktail parties and other networking events. So be vigilant. “Force yourself to walk into a room with your phone in your purse or pocket,” says Kate Taylor, a frequent solo conference-goer and senior correspondent for Business Insider. Like entering a bracing pool, she finds its best to dive right in: “Say hi to a new person within 15 seconds of walking into a social event. If you wait, you’re less likely to say hi or socialize ever.”

Meals can also be uncomfortable. Morra Aarons-Mele, an internet marketer and the author of Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert’s Roadmap to Getting Out There (When You’d Rather Stay Home) deploys one of two strategies: sit at an empty-ish table and wait for it to fill up or join an already-occupied table. The first is less immediately intimidating, but requires a commitment to “making yourself open and friendly and not staring at your phone while people are milling around.”

The second front-loads the initial awkwardness, but gets it out of the way. “If I am feeling really brave, I challenge myself to go up and say, ‘Is this seat taken?’” she says. The query opens the door for further conversation. (Her preferred follow-up is “What brings you here?” a less clinical opener than “What do you do?”) 

Set your own schedule

One of the biggest advantages of attending a conference alone is the ability to decide exactly exactly how you want to spend your time. Don’t waste it!

“I am constantly checking my own temperature,” says Ashley C. Ford, a Brooklyn-based artist, consultant, and writer. “‘Ok, I’ve done four sessions – do I have the energy to do a fifth?’” 

Tending to one’s own needs – “instead of being influenced by friends and coworkers who, in a lot of cases, just don’t want to be alone,” says Ford – is a gift. It’s fine to make a game plan, but take advantage of your ability to make modifications based on fluctuations in your mood and energy level. 

Pace yourself

Conferences can be tiring for even the heartiest of extroverts. For introverts and the socially anxious, they can feel like events designed to siphon away energy until there’s nothing left. Your approach, therefore, should factor in where you fall on this spectrum.

Aarons-Mele, a self-described socially anxious introvert, has come to accept her limits. “I can’t do breakfast, lunch, and dinner with other people – that will kill me,” she says. Typically, she eats breakfast alone and forces herself to attend a group lunch. Whenever possible, she takes a mid to late afternoon break. “I need to go back to my hotel and chill.” If there’s a cocktail hour, “I try to rev myself back up and make an appearance.”

She usually doesn’t make plans beyond that, however. After a socially-packed day, “I like to have nights to myself.” She sometimes feels like she missed out the next morning, but has made a tentative peace with the fact that dinners and late-night drinking sessions are not her preferred method of relationship-building. (She does better in one-on-one interactions, and is quick to connect with people via email.) “It’s about being compassionate with yourself,” she says. “I try not to beat myself up about it.” 

For extroverts and introverts alike, failing to take time for oneself is a recipe for burnout. “Make sure you schedule some time to do something fun outside the conference,” Taylor says. “If you have time, get out of the direct area where the conference is and go for a hike, bike ride, meet up with friends or family who might be within the general area.”

Remember the actual stakes

In the moment, the consequence of making an awkward remark or aside feels momentous. In reality, it’s small talk at a conference. To maintain perspective, Ford remembers advice from her friend and former editor, Saeed Jones. “He thinks of himself as a little prince who has escaped from a castle,” she says. Freed from his normal routine, he is curious and interested in meeting new people; he wants to discover as much about them as possible. At the same time, he is a prince and therefore inherently interesting. He doesn’t have to prove himself or his worth. Instead, his goal is to learn and connect. 

“It’s not your job to be the sparkliest, most interesting person in the room,” Aarons-Mele says. When you stop trying to captivate every stranger you interact with and simply focus on having a conversation, the stakes become less overwhelming. 

More broadly, it’s important to remember conferences are just that: conferences. They can be important, but rarely, if ever, are they “make or break moments,” Aarons-Mele says. If you struggle at a networking reception or fail to attend a dinner, “the world will not end.”

Make real conversation

In the whirlwind and exhaustion of networking mixers and back-to-back sessions, actual conversation often withers. One of the best strategies is therefore one of the simplest: “Talk to people, ask them meaningful questions, be genuinely interested in their responses, and you’ll soon find yourself not very alone,” says Nicholas Epley, a professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago. 

Not only do people respond to genuine interest, the approach will get you out of your own head. “When you are present and aren’t worried about something you said before or what you might say next, you can stay calm,” Ford says. “And when you are calm there is a better chance of having a more positive, natural interaction.”

Be strategic

Pre-conference planning can be a good way to calm the nerves. “Check out the hashtag for a conference before you go as well as during the event, as people will tweet about wanting to connect with folks or offer to serve as ‘conference buddies,’” says Erin McKean, the founder of the online dictionary Many conferences also have related Slack communities where attendees can connect in advance. “Those are usually a good place to ask if anyone else is going and wants to meet up,” McKean says. 

Having a strategy for individual events can also help alleviate stress. For example, go into a cocktail party with the goal of meeting three new people, Taylor says. Once you’ve done that, “you can give yourself permission to leave.”

Approach the speakers

Attending a conference alone means you never have to rush if you don’t want to. If there’s a speaker you particularly want to meet, instead of zooming to the next session, go up and introduce yourself! “Often people are reluctant to talk to the speakers, possibly because they’re with friends who are moving on to something else, but being alone gives you time,” Epley says. “Having spoken at conferences for years, I’m always happy to talk with people in the audience who want to discuss a presentation further.”

Ford, a frequent speaker at conferences, enjoys hearing from audience members although notes the importance of reading the room. If you’re the only one to approach after a session, it’s not unreasonable to engage in a full conversation. If the room is crowded and the speaker is mobbed “know what you want to say, and make it brief,” she says. But by all means, introduce yourself: “I’ve never been like, ‘I wish that person didn’t come up to me.’”

from Adobe 99UAdobe 99U

How to Create a (Better) Speaker Page

How to Create a (Better) Speaker Page

If you’ve given a talk at a conference or event, there’s a good chance you’ll want to do it again. While public speaking can be terrifying and time-consuming, it can also be extremely rewarding. Do it once or twice and you just might catch the bug.

As you look for opportunities to speak, you’ll find every event has their own process for curating speakers, and it can be difficult to know how to get in the door. Some conferences hold open calls for speakers, but even those events handpick their keynotes. Many events curate their speaker lineups through recommendations and their own research, which can make it hard to know how to get your name on their shortlist. 

Make it known you want to speak. Tell your network and friends, add “Speaker” to your LinkedIn and social media profiles, and create a speaker page for yourself.

A speaker page can be, at the very least, a tab on your personal website that lists your past speaking engagements. At its best, it can be a way to establish your credibility as a speaker and provide event organizers with the details they’ll need to decide whether they want to reach out to invite you to speak at their event.

What topics can you speak on? Have you spoken before? How did it go? How do I reach you to invite you to speak? Take the guesswork out for event organizers and answer these questions with your speaker page. 

If you already have a personal website, that’s a great start. Here are some tips for adding a speaker page.


Make it easy to find

Create a page called “Speaking” and link to it in the navigation of your personal website. It’s a simple piece of advice that may sound obvious, but it’s important for SEO and easy navigation. If speaking is important to you, don’t bury the page. If anyone lands on your website, they should know you’re a speaker. 

Seated audience in auditorium attending a talk.

Donna Lichaw’s website highlights her speaking experience.

Introduce yourself as a speaker

Your About Page already gives an introduction to you as a creative and professional. The top of your Speaker Page should introduce you as a speaker. A large photo of you speaking is a great start. You’ll also want to include a short written introduction. Here you can share why you speak, what type of speaking engagements you’ve done, and what topics you can speak on. 

Let your talk do the talking for you

Given the chance, every organizer would love to see a potential speaker in action before they invite them to their event. As much as they’d like to see you give a full talk before inviting you, they’ll most likely only watch 30 seconds to a few minutes of video footage (this is why professional speakers often have a speaker reel). Embed a few of your best video recordings for easy viewing. If you don’t have a video of you speaking, start with what you have — a list of your experience, any photos — and make it a point to speak at an event that records its talks soon! 

Web page featuring image of woman speaking on stage

Jessica Hische’s speaker’s page includes links to examples of her past talks.

Highlight your experience

To understand your speaking experience, event organizers want to know where you’ve spoken before. You might want to highlight some of the best known events where you’ve spoken. If you have a couple of thematic talks you have given and want to continue to give, you can pull out the titles and descriptions and make them stand out.

As for whether or not to include a full list of your past speaking experience, that’s up to you. You can include a sampling or have a comprehensive list that will help you keep track and show off the breath and full history of your speaking experience. It’s helpful to include details such as:

  • Talk title
  • Talk type – was it a keynote, panel, lightning talk
  • Event name, location, and year
  • Links to your slides and video (if you have them)
  • Extra credit: highlight other well-known speakers who presented at the same event

If you have upcoming speaking engagements scheduled, keep your page up-to-date with those as well! This can give an organizer an opportunity to see you in person and a heads up on your availability so they don’t reach out to invite you to speak on a day you’re already scheduled.

Let others sing your praises

Testimonials from people who have attended your talk or organizers who have worked with you are a great way to provide extra validation. Nothing says “hire this person” like social proof. How do you find these? Ask. Reach out to the event organizer or a person you know who attended the talk and ask if they’re willing to write a testimonial. If the event had feedback surveys, there may be some gems hidden there. Put an ask out on social media and pay attention to your mentions after your talk. Mina Markham’s thoughtful speaker page pulls tweets related to her talks which is such a fantastic way to do this. And of course, include your social handles in your slides to encourage mentions!

Graphic illustrations on a web page.

Catt Small’s speaker’s web site includes a section that lists her requirements.

Have requirements to speak? Make them clear.

If you have non-negotiables when it comes to be speaking, be up front with them. This will help you steer clear of events that don’t align with your values and can help set expectations for anyone reaching out. (Although still be prepared to have the conversation, but it’s best to put it out there). Here are some great examples of speaker’s pages that include the requirements upfront:

Have a call to action with a clear way to get in touch

You sold someone on why they should invite you to speak, now make sure they can get in touch with you. Be it an email address or contact form, have a way to reach you directly on the page and make it easy to find. Looking for an example? Take a look at the big red button on Donna Lichaw’s speaker page.

Ultimately, your speaker page should be a reflection of you. Whatever personality you put into the rest of your personal website, keep it consistent on your speaker page. Start with your goal for creating the page (get more speaking engagements, ward off incompatible speaking engagements, or a combination of both) and understand what your audience (event organizers) needs from you. Then you can make informed decisions on how to create a speaker page that feels right for you. 

Your speaker page will be a work in progress. Continue to develop it as you grow as a speaker and your goals and experience evolve. 

from Adobe 99UAdobe 99U

Storytelling, Humility, and Keeping it Weird: How Conference Curators Select Speakers

Storytelling, Humility, and Keeping it Weird: How Conference Curators Select Speakers

Over two inspiring days each year, the Adobe 99U Conference welcomes 50 speakers who empower our audience to supercharge their work. Our team works year-round to curate this lineup behind the scenes, a process that involves constant research and outreach.

We often hear from would-be speakers who are keen to better understand our selection process. Like many other creative conferences and events, we look for engaging people with unique points of view, and seek out recommendations from colleagues, past speakers, audience members, and peers.

99U is just one part of a larger ecosystem of events and forums where creative perspectives are featured. So rather than tell you how we alone select speakers, we’ve collected insights from the curators across a range of industry events on our radar. Here’s how they identify talent, what they look for in pitches, and more inside info that might just help you land your next speaking appearance.


“We look for speakers who make our brains tingle”
Arianna Orland & Dava Guthmiller, Co-Founders, In/Visible Talks

“[We] keep a running list of people we know, people we admire and wish we knew, and people who have been proactive and pitched us over the years. As you can imagine, the list is quite long. We look for speakers who make our brains tingle, who inspire us to do better work, who have the potential to expand our perspectives on a creative practice, who we know will get real with us, and who make us fall in love with being creative professionals all over again. It’s also important to us that we have gender parity and to put a truly representational group of people together.  

“We do not expect speakers to know what they’re going to talk about when we approach them. In fact, we prefer they haven’t the faintest clue. We enjoy taking an active role in the curation of the conference, in part through the conversations we have with potential speakers. Our talks tend to fall into three buckets: process, inspiration, and challenge. It’s important to us that a talk hits on at least one of the three. We’re also diligent about the talks not being case studies, portfolio reviews, or product pitches.

“[Pitches miss the mark] when individuals haven’t researched the conference and don’t know what we’re about. Come to our conference. Engage with our community. Suggest ideas that challenge our expectations about what conference programming can be. (Think: performative, think experimental, think weird – we love weird.)”

“Often times people pitch themselves in a way that lacks humility”
Tina Roth Eisenberg, Founder and CEO, CreativeMornings

“We know our monthly themes a year ahead of time which gives us lots of breathing space and time to keep our feelers out. Besides having my antenna out year-round and keeping a running list of people we’d be interested in, I also like to ask former speakers for their personal recommendations. 

“My ultimate goal of any CreativeMornings event is that our audience leaves inspired and uplifted. We look for individuals who stand for something, who have a strong point of view, who inspire with their actions. Sometimes we invite speakers who have polished talks ready to go. But sometimes, we help them craft their message and talk.

“[Potential speakers should] participate in conversations, spark my curiosity, and when that happens and I click through to your site, make sure there is something there that gets me hooked. If you’ve spoken before, make sure those talks are easily accessible. Have an about page or a Twitter/Instagram bio that lets me quickly understand what you’re all about. 

“Often times people pitch themselves in a way that lacks humility. When you do pitch yourself, do it humbly. Show up with an appreciation for what this organization stands for, [show] that you get them. And then, explain what you can offer to this community. Show up generously, with a sense of giving, not taking.”

“A talk is more than just a good portfolio”
Othmar Handl, CEO, Forward Creatives

“We believe in the power of networking, cultural exchange, and experiences of lasting value. Throughout the whole year, I am hunting for ideas and in constant exchange with past speakers and the Forward community. I always aim for a diverse lineup. We had over 70 talks this year [that] not only differed in genre, but also in their presentation style. We are always looking for fresh talent and we push young creatives. Variety is important.

“A talk is more than just a good portfolio: the [speaker] should give valuable insights and be fun on stage. Nowadays, our attention span is short. If a pitch doesn’t grab my attention within 5 seconds, I can tell that the audience will also lose their attention within 5 minutes. A good talk should let people forget about their smartphones. It should be fun, insightful, visually appealing, and outstanding.”

Our approach tends to be hands-on, supportive, and collaborative.”
Leetha Filderman, President, PopTech

“PopTech has long been regarded as the forum that features emerging thinkers and doers. We spend a lot of time researching individuals working on breakthrough approaches to global challenges and societal issues.

“Speaker selections are made by our curatorial committee, based on research and guided by the theme of the annual forum. In addition to our internal curatorial committee, we consult past speakers, PopTech Fellows, and organizations we collaborate with on our non-conference portfolio of projects. PopTech does not host an open call for speakers.

“We tend to know our speakers pretty well by the time we extend an invitation. Members of our curatorial committee are regularly in discussion with speakers as the fabric of their talk emerges. Since we do not do an open call for speakers, we tend not to rely on talk abstracts. Our approach tends to be hands-on, supportive, and collaborative.”

Our takeaways:

  • Get to know each conference’s tone, audience, and style: Even better, attend the event and engage with their community and organizers. When you pitch, you’ll be prepared to do so with a better understanding of what resonates with them.
  • Clearly demonstrate what’s unique about your talk topic or speaking style: You’ll avoid blending in with other pitches. The best way to demonstrate your style? Have video of a previous talk readily available on your website, and link to it in your pitch.
  • Develop your storytelling: Few creative events are interested in a simple portfolio review or case study; they’re looking for the larger narrative and the insights you can provide.
  • Demonstrate how you’re “giving, not taking:” Even when you’re promoting yourself and your speaking, humility is valued by organizers and audiences. What can you uniquely offer them? How do you already participate in this community, whether at the live event or in digital forums?

from Adobe 99UAdobe 99U

Time Out and Time Off: How to Transition Back to Work from a Leave of Absence

Time Out and Time Off: How to Transition Back to Work from a Leave of Absence

As I typed “leave of absence from work for…” into the Google search bar, a variety of scenarios popped up: mental health, stress, surgery, school, family reasons, medical reasons, pregnancy, and so on. During our careers, most of us will elect or be required to take time off work. The reasons vary. According to Pew Research Center, about one in four U.S. workers have taken leave to care for a seriously ill family member. In the UK, stress, anxiety, and depression now account for half of all workplace illness absences. Depending on the country you reside in, you might — or might not — take substantial parental leave after the birth or adoption of a child. What happens when we take time off and how can we best prepare to return to work? I spoke to four creatives about what they wished they’d known and what helped them transition back to work.  


Take care of yourself first. 

Canadian designer and illustrator Darren Booth, was forced to drastically cut back on work after suffering from recurring migraines, which led to a mild depression. At first, he tried to work through the pain, but his migraines worsened. He says he felt down and would cry for no reason. Knowing he needed help, he worked with his family doctor for a year, trying different pain medications and antidepressants. Finally, he found relief when he saw a neurologist who discovered pinched nerves in his neck. With chiropractic care and anti-inflammatory medication, his migraines disappeared after several months of treatment. 

Now completely off medication and back to work, Darren’s health issues helped him re-evaluate his career. He made a decision to prioritize health: “Nowadays, I take care of my health first and the rest seems to fall into place. Home life is better. Work is better. Life in general is better. Although I’m still in the same career, my focus has shifted to growing my work in ways that make me happy and only taking on client projects that I’m excited about. Maybe I earn a bit less, but I can provide so much better now.”

google search results for "back to work"

Just try googling “leave of absence from work.”

It’s okay to not be okay. 

In 2016, after a sudden, severe allergic reaction to corn at the age of 30, writer and therapist Kate Aldridge went into anaphylactic shock and went to the ER. She reflects on her journey, “I was working 50+ hours a week and had to go on FMLA. I quit my job because of malnutrition due to not knowing what I could eat. That’s when I transitioned to a private therapy practice and slowly grew a caseload to accommodate my medical condition.” 

“Once I accepted the fact that I wasn’t okay, that was the first step in turning the corner.” 

Kate used the time off to sleep, recover, and plan the next stage of her career. That’s also when she began to develop her creative writing business. Writing gave her an opportunity to process her situation and ask questions. Now, it’s part of her business and her first manuscript is being published this November. As Kate builds a new chapter of her career, she says what she wished she’d known: “It’s okay to freak out. It’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to feel the things you’re feeling. Give yourself time to process.”  

Be open to change. 

For London-based designer and educator Silvia Grimaldi, both of her leaves from work were planned as she grew her family. She took twelve months off with her first child and nine with her second. Of her first, she recalls, “I was always a lecturer, but before my leave I was teaching in a university outside of London and commuting. That was no longer practical. I desperately needed to return to work to avoid bankruptcy. It dawned on me how expensive childcare was going to be, which spurred me to apply for a role as course leader at my current university. I didn’t think I was qualified, but I got it! I returned to a more senior role and earned substantially more.”

“Put value in things that are valuable for your career and the direction you want to go in. Everything else can take a backseat.”

When she transitioned back to work, she changed how she uses her time as well. Incentivized to get her work done to spend more time with family, she says she became better at saying no as well as being strategic about what she takes on: “Culture needs to embrace the idea that women also deserve a career and we’re not just there to do tasks that others find annoying — we’re there to actually grow our own careers.”

Find fulfillment beyond work. 

Another individual who planned time off was Jojo Giltsoff, a former theater producer who moved from Bristol, England, to Brooklyn after her husband agreed to relocate for work. For Jojo, meeting people in New York who didn’t know her meant she wasn’t defined by her past work. Now she employs her experience and skills of collaboration and organizing in her role as Product Manager at Oak Studios

Black and white image of woman looking into camera.

Image courtesy of JoJo Giltsoff.

Back to work, but no longer consumed by it, Jojo reflects, “I’d wanted to work in theater since I was a kid, but it wasn’t fulfilling me as I’d hoped — it took over my life and didn’t pay well. Re-entering work in tech gave me perspective that my self-worth wasn’t tied to a job. Having time off without my work identity allowed to integrate my non-work identity too.” 

Insights for a Successful Transition Back

1. Find support within your community.

Designer & illustrator Darren Booth didn’t feel comfortable sharing his health issues online, but knew several friends in similar situations. He spoke with them one-on-one, which helped normalize his experience: “Once I accepted the fact that I wasn’t okay, that was the first step in turning the corner.” 

2. Create a plan that works for you.

Writer and therapist Kate Aldridge knew she wouldn’t be able to return to her demanding, full-time job after recovering from allergy-related medical issues, “I wasn’t ready to be fully in private practice, but also knew I couldn’t have a regular 40-hour-per-week job.” So she forged a new path. She applied for her license to practice independently and balances that work with her growing creative writing consultancy. 

3. Identify your priorities.

Designer and educator Silvia Grimaldi found clarity on what mattered when returning to work after maternity leave: “Put value in things that are valuable for your career and the direction you want to go in. Everything else can take a backseat.”

4. Phase back in slowly (if possible).

Product manager Jojo Giltsoff did a trial run with Oak Studios and went into it ready to learn. After the two-week contract wrapped, it was clear it was a good fit for everyone and that gave her confidence to really invest in the role. She says, “It was a big, scary leap for me and it felt like I had less pressure to ease in.”

Whatever the reason we take time off, getting back to work requires flexibility, openness, and patience as we move forward into a new season of our careers that may look similar or altogether different. But for many of us, transition will require letting go of our expectations, as Jojo put it: “It was a process of grieving. I don’t know where I’m going to be in ten years and I think that’s great. If I’m still enjoying things and loving what I’m doing, that’s success.” With every transition, we have the opportunity to care for ourselves, reprioritize what matters, recognize opportunities, and even refine our definition of success. 

from Adobe 99UAdobe 99U

The Rise of the Typographic Flash Card in the Age of Binge-Worthy TV

The Rise of the Typographic Flash Card in the Age of Binge-Worthy TV

When HBO’s Girls first aired in the Spring of 2015, it started with a bang. Forget the drawn-out title sequences of True Detective or Mad Men, or the epic snaking interlude that opens Game of Thrones. Whenever Girls came on, one title card briefly flashed on screen to set the show’s tone. Bold sans, uppercase letters, and a different color combination each time, these cards would appear as if emphasizing a punchline. They were the cherry on top of an opening scene, standing in for an ironic eye roll or a supportive high five. And when it first appeared, this title flash seemed perfectly designed for an audience raring to binge.

2015 was the year when we were all losing sleep over season three of House of Cards, which, to the shock of TV critics in 2013, had created a ripple effect when it released its seasons in single, streamable chunks. It was the year of countless articles charting the rise of binge-watching in light of on-demand services. 30 or 60 minutes were no longer enough to satiate a viewer’s appetite: If you didn’t have to wait a week, how could you resist watching another episode after that tantalizing cliffhanger? And Girls, although it initially rolled out in staggered air dates, seemed to understand its future as a binge-prone favorite. Its flashy, quick-paced title card allowed viewers to roll seamlessly from episode to episode without the annoying interruption of a lengthy title sequence. And it did so two years before Netflix even introduced its now-essential “skip intro” button.

Blue text on black background

The title card of the HBO show ‘Girls’.

Today, the quick beat of a flash card is a formula that many shows are adopting, from the moody title cards of The Handmaid’s Tale to the punchy, pastel-colored opener of Shrill. There have been title cards in the past, of course, but these new openings have a specific function in the age of streaming.

In the heyday of network television, when you’d wait a week for the next episode of a show, theme music became vital for establishing a sense of brand: think The Simpsons, Friends, or the hooky bass of Seinfeld. But now, when many shows seek to avoid breaking from the rhythm of a viewer’s binge, their approach to the typeface (and overall branding) of a card is increasingly the thing that viewers remember. This is true of the alluring uppercase font of Killing Eve, as well as the Slavic stamp of Russian Doll. While some shows (especially those steeped in fantasy genre, like Chilling Adventures of Sabrina or Jessica Jones) do still opt for world-building openings to lull viewers into a particular mood, the flash card is becoming the best way to communicate a show’s brand both concisely and memorably for many directors.

“I never wanted a title sequence,” says Joe Swanberg, the director, writer, and producer of Netflix’s comedy-drama anthology series Easy. “They always get boring during binge watching, or skipped, so it didn’t seem worth the effort.” Instead, Swanberg commissioned individual title cards from different Chicago-based artists; the concept reflects the show’s own structure, where each episode focuses on a different set of (overlapping) people living in the city.

Illustration for Easy

Joe Swanberg, creator of the Netflix hit ‘Easy,’ commissions local Chicago artists for title card illustrations.

Cartoonist Jeffrey Brown suitably designed the card for the episodes centered on a male comic artist; illustrator Clay Hickson’s trippy tiki-bar scenery sets the tone for another about a couple navigating their first threesome. “The approach meant that each episode had a fun little surprise, and often the card made more sense after viewing the entire episode, so they were fun to return to,” says Swanberg. Switching up card design for each episode is a memorable way to keep viewers on their toes. Mike Perry’s pulsating animations for Broad City are another example of this technique for openings. 

Indeed for many TV shows, the quick flash of a title card isn’t limiting the potential for surprise or audience intrigue. For those that binge-watched the first two seasons of the BBC’s spy-thriller Killing Eve, its titles became a game. Every six-second burst pans slightly forward, and its bold typeface and background switch their colors with each episode. Finally, a little droplet oozes like a prick of blood from one of the points created by the letterform’s negative space, either from the logo’s K, N, or V. Viewers began to play “guess where the drip will appear” during the opening of each episode.


“The main title features an aggressive, bold bit of type — deliberately so — and I liked how the color combinations softened that a little, or contrasted it,” says the card’s designer Matt Willey, an art director known for striking type treatments who’s currently at the New York Times Magazine. The designer drew the type from scratch, and aptly named it Killing Eve: the font is used not just for the title, but also other on-screen graphics as well as the show’s marketing. This design direction emerged when Willey first read the scripts from season one. “They were full of added information about how each scene should look or feel, with descriptions like ‘slight laugh,’ or ‘blushing,’ or ‘wryly,’ in parenthesis through certain parts of the dialogue,” he says. The contrast between a violent action from the protagonist and then her mischievous laugh informed the idea of visual tension—culminating in a title card that combines a brutally-sharp font with pastel colors. “I started sketching the sharp V because of the eye-stabbing scene that takes place in the first episode,” adds Willey.

When the skip button was first introduced by Netflix in 2017, there was panic in the title design industry. “It was initially seen as a real punch,” says Lola Landekic, editor of motion design publication Art of the Title, which is dedicated to title sequence design across film, television, and video games. “But it’s a tool that was introduced because people were complaining that they were too long, especially when watching four or five episodes in a row. So it was a necessary UX addition.” What she’s found in the years since its implementation, however, is that the demand for sequences has remained. The variety of approaches has simply increased, reflecting the variety of shows in what’s so often referred to as a new “golden age” of television. “Removing them would be like reading a book without a book cover,” says Landekic. “I don’t see them disappearing any time soon.”

Colorful illustration

Each episode of Broad City boasts a different Mike Perry illustration for a title card.

Title sequences have adapted to how viewers are now watching TV, either by shortening the opening to a brief flash card or by rearranging when sequences appear. 2016’s Glow found a happy medium, both developing a lengthy title sequence while still making sure its bingers happily cruised through the show uninterrupted. Its first episode featured an extended animation of fantastic, neon-outlined figures that popped against a black background like lipstick-colored glow-sticks. But you only see the title sequence at the start of episode one. Subsequent episodes feature a brief title flash of the show’s brightly-outlined logo. In Glow’s case, the initial sequence is like a book cover, and the logo flashes feature as chapter headings punctuating and guiding the narrative. 

The way in which flash cards drop has become increasingly integral to the pacing of a program, too. “I like how some shows often now place a title card within the milieu of the first scene, or you’ll get these very quick title hits,” says Landekic. Sex Education, Workin’ Moms, and Russian Doll (to name a few) do this: A title is worked into the scene very quickly, sometimes placed within its elements. “Part of this trend in quick flashes could be to do with budget, too,” notes Ladekic. “Either way, with this approach, you don’t know how the title is going to appear, which is a fun experience as a viewer. So you’ll get really intense, full screen typography at the end of a joke or scene that establishes the tone.”

And the typeface — forming a show’s logo — becomes increasingly important in a time where viewers are looking for shows on web interfaces filled with tiny thumbnails of scenes, all vying for your attention. If a viewer knows the logo of a show, they’ll be able to find it quickly amidst the mix of programs, making the quick hit of a flash card all the more vital to establishing brand. Think of how effective the logo of Stranger Things has been in this regard. “Scrolling through Netflix can feel a lot like scrolling through Pinterest,” says Landekic. “The content of each image is chosen based on your viewing habits, but then the logotype placed over the image is the constant.” In contrast to the annoyance of the auto-play, repelling viewers with unexpected sound snippets while they’re browsing a streaming site’s homepage, typography — established by the brief flash of an opening — offers an effective guiding star amongst all the noise.

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