By Casey Liss
Layers 2016

Layers is the fantasy conference we all wish existed, but are too scared or preoccupied or wimpy to put together. Jessie and Elaine were neither scared nor wimpy, and didn’t care that they were preoccupied. I am so very happy I was able to attend Layers.

Layers is a design conference at its heart, but it’s really so much more than that. Taking many spiritual cues from the dearly departed Çingleton Symposium, Layers brings together designers and developers, forces them to mingle, and then gets out of the way. Perhaps the best summary is on their website:

Layers is a 3-day conference during WWDC to talk about design, celebrate our industry, and eat snacks.

Like a party, but for learning.

Elaine and Jessie do an incredible job putting Layers together, catering to us for two days and change. To illustrate, there was a hangover table with all the tools (read: aspirin) required to get over a hangover. The mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks were considered sessions in their own right. The coffee bar—I’m talking the kind with baristas—also made hot chocolate. These women get me.

Perhaps most importantly, this conference made me think differently about how I perceive those around me. We’ve been talking as a community, and me on my podcasts, about the tech industry being more inclusive. Layers proved to me the power of that inclusivity.

The overwhelming majority of the presenters at Layers did not look like me. They were either not male, not white, not cisgendered, or not straight. Sometimes a combination of all four.

By the third presentation—perhaps the most powerful of the show—it was clear to me how wonderful it is to hear voices that are not like my own. Most of the time, the fact that these voices were so different was irrelevant; the content stood on its own. (You could even say it was like a… ahem… meritocracy.)

From time to time, it was striking that I was not listening to voices like mine. I was not looking at faces like mine. And I was better for it.

It also doesn’t hurt that unlike some other conferences, Layers has a clear Code of Conduct. Sometimes the little things aren’t so little. Plus, the Code of Conduct is chock-full of emoji. How can you not like that?

During the two days at Layers I ate great food, got great swag, met great people, participated in group power stances, learned great things, danced, tied rope, and made lasting memories.

If you find yourself with a couple of days in San Francisco in June, do yourself a favor: go to Layers. You won’t regret it.