Two of our incredible designers—Ashley Nixon and Troy Chandler, Rare Bird co-founder—traveled to New York City in October to attend the Smashing Conference, which describes itself as an “inclusive [and] friendly conference for people who design and build for the web.” 

The conference emerged from Smashing Magazine, an online magazine founded in 2006 that is dedicated to web development. Each year brings a series of online workshops, as well as several in-person events in cities around the world. The goal is for attendees to engage with “practical takeaways, workflows, and hands-on insights” that can help them better engage their clients’ audiences.

“We’ve been followers of the Smashing website for many years,” Troy says, “and thought this would be a good experience.”

“Smashing has a good mix of design and development speakers,” Ashley adds, “which is what I enjoy learning about most. Development is not something I do, but I love to see the options we have as designers to push our designs a little further.”

Beyond the conference offerings, the appeal of New York itself was a major reason they wanted to attend this year’s session. Ashley thinks New York is “the perfect place to go and be surrounded by creative people.” They couldn’t squeeze in a trip to MOMA, but they did get to see Chicago on Broadway.

Each designer said this is the first conference they’ve attended in the Age of COVID. “We planned to attend the AIGA Design Conference in Pittsburgh in late March of 2020,” Troy says. “Needless to say, that didn’t happen.”

New York is “the perfect place to go and be surrounded by creative people.”


For Troy, the chance to attend the Smashing Conference between consecutive weekend visits to see his daughter in West Virginia was a welcome one. This was also the first conference trip for Ashley in more than five years. “I’ve read the list of [Smashing] speakers each year and always thought it would be a fun one to attend, so I was thrilled to get the chance,” she said. “Especially knowing it was in New York.” 

Ashley points to Cassie Evans’s presentation on SVG animation—which is when Scalable Vector Graphics (commonly used for logos, icon, and line art) are animated because the smaller files load quickly on websites while the images remain crisp and clear—as a highlight of this year’s conference. “I’ve followed her work for a while and am always impressed with how the simplest animations can make such a difference in how you interact with something.” 

And though she wasn’t previously familiar with the work of Christine Vallaure, who founded an online learning platform for teaching UX/UI Design, Ashley said she immediately began researching several of the Figma-related tips and approaches Vallaure conveyed during her presentation, adding them to her list of things to incorporate into her work for Rare Bird’s clients.

Troy’s favorite presentation was “Let’s Design an Icon Set” by Steve Schoger, a visual designer from Canada who regularly shares tips on social media and YouTube. “He walked through his step-by-step process of creating icons,” Troy says. “It was useful information with real world practical tips anyone could do themselves.” 

Ashley found Eva Ferreira’s presentation, “Tales of Accessibility Failures,” extremely valuable. She mentions how this helpful chart from Microsoft nicely contextualizes the larger world of accessibility design, as well as the statistic she most remembers from the conference: 26% of adults in the United States have a disability. “That’s a pretty large group we need to consider when designing and building websites,” she says. (This will be the topic of an upcoming post, as well.)

“With any conference like this,” Troy continues, “you hope to learn new things and come away inspired.” To see how these two may have been inspired by the Smashing Conference—along with the stellar design work of their colleagues, Alysia Legler and Mike Priami—please come back and check out our portfolio in 2023, when Rare Bird celebrates its 25th anniversary. We have some big things planned.