The Vancouver Design Week Stack

by Todd

Brief: To make Vancouver Design Week happen, we use a collection of software tools. Most have names you’ll recognize, but some we specifically created just for VDW to make planning, publishing, and photo management easier.

As part of the core organizing team we wear a number of hats, and an obvious one is providing support on the digital end of things. Now that the weekend has just passed, we wanted to share the stack of tools we use and focus on custom pieces we created just for VDW.

External Tools

We need to recognize the external tools that proved invaluable to us, and many will be familiar names to you:

The VDW Website

In 2014 we built the original VDW site with Cause+Affect. As a new and quickly-changing event, we opted for a raw HTML/CSS instead of a CMS like WordPress so we could rework and hack in pieces as needed. As the ‘week’ blew up to fourteen days from overwhelming demand for involvement, the changes were fast and furious.

Details for the 94 events were maintained in a Google Spreadsheet available to the whole team. We built a conduit from there to the website so the information could be automatically updated. It was a little crude, but got the job done.

VDW Planner

We took a more strategic approach for 2017, aiming to provide a single source of information that would support planning, communications, and populating the website all from a single point.

As a city-wide festival, our approach to gathering and managing information about events naturally has geography at its centre, so our planning tool’s interface has a giant interactive map as its centrepiece.

The Geo-CRM in all it's glory

The map was so present that we ended up calling the tool Map App more than maybe was useful. About a month before the event, the team gathered to decide how to schedule the various locations into the weekend of programming. Here the map was invaluable, and from the data it collected and visualized, we were able to organize the weekend into four city hubs.

The Geo-CRM in all it's glory

Accessible to the whole team, event details are entered and updated as they work their way from prospective to confirmed to ready-for-publishing. In that process, there are many questions that the team has of the data, so we built a single search field that captured an array of needs:

Want to see all the Open Studios that have registered? Type ‘openstudios confirmed’. Need the contact info for HCMA? Type HCMA. Need a final count of events? Type ‘confirmed’. How about just on the Saturday? Type ‘saturday confirmed’. An expanding cheatsheet provided hints and links on how to use the search tool.

The Geo-CRM in all it's glory

Whenever information for a published event changed, the website could pull in the update and rebuild the list to accomodate. With 50+ events to track while still doing our day jobs, this was a sanity saver.

VDW Collector

Another big headache from 2014 was collecting and managing photo assets for event promotion and from the event itself. In fact, there are too many great photos that we lost because we hadn’t planned for it. Not this time.

To help solve this, another major piece of the tech stack is VDW Collector. It’s a turbo-charged photo uploader accessed through a simple web link. Photos are dragged and dropped in any number, with bulk and fine-grained metadata assignment. And photos can be assigned to events and locations, all of which are piped in from VDW Planner.

We added a simple feature for photogs to mark their personal favourites during upload, so we know which pictures they think are worthy of extra exposure (ed. oh, got a pun in after all).

Photos are uploaded directly from the browser to Amazon S3, which makes the whole process fast, dynamic, and secure.

Internally, we’ll be able move through the photo library using tags, dates, events, locations, event types… you get the picture. (ed. sigh, another pun?)

The Future

This stack of custom tools puts us in a good position for working smarter as we look to 2018, where the event will be 10 full days under a theme of Impact.