Element Talks, Warsaw: insights from the founders - turning a sideline into a career - creating a vital European design event

Published: August 22, 2017
Author: Steven Thomas

In April 2017 I was kindly asked to speak at Element Talks, Warsaw.   Now in its fourth year, it was founded by two students Paula Kacprzak and Olga Rafalska as a side-project to their studies.  Paula and Olga have created something remarkable.  From a small seed, they have grown a range of events that matter greatly to a lot of aspiring and established creatives from all over Europe.  I was hugely impressed by the roster of international speakers, the quality of connected events and the mix of design and business content.  What I witnessed was more than an event though, it is a movement of like-minded people all collaborating to find new ways, to create change and to level-up for themselves and their businesses'.  Oh, and they also threw a damn fine after party.

My own talk focused on 'How creatives can thrive in a corporate environment'. Delivered from the POV of a business owner/leader it is designed to help creatives (either in-house or freelance) find better ways of landing their ideas in businesses big and small.  I'll share more on this later (I have an e-book in the making).  Check out their website which has a load of insightful videos and articles that will be of interest to designers at all stages of their careers.  I managed to get a chat with Paula and Olga and we talked about how they've created such a vital organisation and found ways to turn a sideline into a career.

"We planned to make a small conference for 50-70 students, but over 800 people applied to take part in it."

How did you guys meet?

We studied Graphic Design together at the University of Arts in Poznań (Poland). We decided to make a conference together as our bachelor project. We designed the visual identity and organized the whole event.

What was 'the spark' that helped you make a start on the project?

As students, we had so many questions and doubts about the designer's profession. We didn’t really know how to deal with clients, how to deal with copyrights, what kind of contracts should we sign, how to cooperate well with other people, how to negotiate etc. We needed someone with the experience to answer them. Together we decided to invite a few great designers to do it. I guess it was our dean that encouraged us to take it one step further and make an event out of it.
We planned to make a small conference for 50-70 students, but over 800 people applied to take part in it. We realised that many designers have the same needs as we do. Now we have 2300 attendees, most of them are professional designers who want to get to know the experience of others in the industry, to see their point of view and to get inspired.


Have there been any times when you felt like giving up but managed to turn it around?

There was one time when we didn’t know if we would be able to make another edition of the conference. It was last year when we were finishing our studies and conference hasn’t brought us any money yet. We couldn’t keep organizing the event non-profit. We decided to move from Poznań to Warsaw, change the name (from the Polish “Elementarz Projektanta” to Element Talks), and for the first time, to invite international audience and speakers. We increased the ticket price and for the first time started looking for bigger sponsors. We knew that it could have been the last edition, but we had to take this risk. I think that what gave us the energy to turn the situation around was a huge belief in the idea of our event and a thought that people really count on it to happen. Fortunately, we managed to find funding and we can now spend our time organizing the conference and everything around it. We have plans to expand our activities online and to organize our events in other cities.

"I think that what gave us the energy to turn the situation around was a huge belief in the idea of our event and a thought that people really count on it to happen."

What helps you keep going?

People - our attendees. We have such a supporting audience. 2 days of conference give us the energy to keep going for the whole year. It’s also a real pleasure to cooperate with such great people around us: designers, business specialists, our sponsors and partners. We learn a lot every day.

What advice would you give others looking to find their way with new creative projects?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice!

What is the best advice that someone else has given you?

It's hard to choose one, there were so many of them. In the beginning, we were completely inexperienced in organizing events. We asked for advice from everyone that we could. For the first two years we did it non-profit, so later we needed some business advice to help us make a living. We are really lucky to have supportive friends and attendees! Many times people helped us just because they believed in our conference, they liked our enthusiasm and wanted to support young entrepreneurs. It’s truly a great experience to see how people want to help each other and share their knowledge.