By Petra Kostevc & Vanessa Tautter |

We recently organized the international and interdisciplinary student conference Transcending Borders – Redrawing Perspectives at the University of Graz. It was a great success. We had an amazing time with interesting, thought-provoking discussions and received incredibly supportive feedback from those attending. The positive feedback frequently also praised our ‘professional appearance’ which – we have to admit – was mainly due to the professional and distinctive design developed by Petra Kostevc, a brilliant young designer we were fortunate to work with. In the following, Petra shares some of her advice on (conference) design in general as well as on the dos and don’ts when working with a designer.

Conference PostcardsConference postcards designed by Petra Kostevc

The basics: Creating your own design

Before going into more detail about the actual cooperation between academics and designers, I will provide some basic information that you may find useful if you decide to create your own conference design.

When creating your conference design, always stay consistent. Choose a style, including colours, shapes and illustrations, and stick with it. Use it over and over again. Don’t just randomly introduce something completely different or new. Create a design that your audience will continuously and automatically connect to your conference.

To ensure this important link, create a design that has meaning. A design that speaks to the viewer. A design with a narrative. A design with content. The graphic elements of your conference design should match the conference title and topic. Those who see the design should instantly get a feeling for the event and what it will be about. Moreover, your design should stand out so that people notice it immediately. But, again, it also needs to carry a message for people to actively remember it. Design has to tell a story.

Additionally, when designing your logos and other visual elements it is important that you do so using vector shapes. For those lacking basic knowledge on graphic design, the difference between bitmap (jpg, png, gif) and vector images is that bitmap (or raster) is based on pixel patterns – basically small squares each assigned with a specific colour and location, while vectors are images made of a combination of geometrical objects (e.g. lines, curves, etc.). They are based on mathematical formulas. These vector images are resolution independent and, as such, will keep their quality when resized. Bitmap images, on the other hand, appear jagged or pixelated when enlarged. Using vector images will, thus, prevent quality loss. The most common design programs for vector graphics are Adobe Illustrator, Sketch and CorelDRAW. I use Illustrator most of the time.

Conference poster series designed by Petra Kostevc

How to work with a designer

First and foremost, when working with a designer for your conference, inform them. Tell us about your project, include at least the most important details. We like to know what your project or conference is all about so that we can actually engage with you and gain an understanding of what you are looking for.

Most fundamentally, there are two options on how to work with a designer without frustrating them:

  1. Tell us what you want. If you already have some (more or less) concrete ideas of what you want, tell us. You can also prepare some examples of what you like in order for us to see what direction you want to go.
  2. Trust us. You usually (or hopefully) contact us because we know how to create a decent, elaborate and distinctive design, not just because we know how to use Photoshop.

Follow path one or two, but don’t try to take a middle way. It’s rather frustrating if you keep useful (and essential) information to yourself until the very end to eventually tell us that you like the idea, but still want to change everything. Just tell us right from the beginning what you want – because, unfortunately, we can’t yet read your minds (and you usually know more about your research than we do).

Once we’ve created something, you’ll receive some sketches and drafts. The purpose of showing sketches and drafts to clients is to get their approval (or disapproval), to talk about different ideas. Drafts and sketches are drafts and sketches, not the final product. You shouldn’t expect the most detailed work already on our very first date. While this might seem obvious when you read it, also keep it in mind once you start working with us.

The holy triangle

Design Triangle

Finally, this holy triangle sums up how working with a designer functions. Unfortunately, you can only have two corners of the triangle: The work can either be cheap and fast but bad, cheap and good but slow or good and fast but expensive.


Petra Kostevc is in her final year of postgraduate studies at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design at the University of Ljubljana. You can contact her at


Image 1: By Petra Kostevc
Image 2: Design by Petra Kostevc; photo by Vanessa Tautter (
Image 3: Design by Petra Kostevc; photo by Vanessa Tautter (
Image 4: By Petra Kostevc