‘Sometimes More is More’: Five Takeaways From Web Summit 2023

5 months ago

Alex Blyth reports on the five things he learnt at this years Web Summit

Web Summit is vast.

Held over four days every November in Lisbon’s Altice Arena (think London’s Excel with the O2 as the main arena), this year it attracted 70,000 people from 153 countries, some to pitch their tech ideas, others to make investments, and a few from agencies that serve this market.

There are so many talks that realistically you can’t hope to see more than a fraction of them.

The opening ceremony featured Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia founder, while on other stages we found Ukrainian Olympic heavyweight boxer Viktor Klitschko calling for Russia to be banned from next year’s Paris Olympics, England & Tottenham Hotspur football Eric Dier launching an agency with his brother, and so much more. 

Here’s a glimpse of the insights we picked up from the event. 

AI can’t replace the serendipitous collisions that occur in an agency

OK, let’s get AI out of the way quickly. There was a lot of talk about AI. A lot.

On the vast main stage Sairah Ashman, Global CEO at Wolff Olins, told a crowd of thousands that you could never write a rule for generative AI that would replicate the serendipitous collisions that happen in creative teams, and that generative AI is unlikely to become a taste maker. 

It felt like a sound view on the likely extent of AI’s benefits, but there’s a lot of ground to be explored before we reach those limits. Just as many agencies are busy exploring that, so AI is at the heart of many of the emerging firms at Web Summit.

If you’re thinking of starting a podcast there’s one question you need to ask yourself

Three successful podcasters – David Savage of Tech Talks, Rhett Power of Power Lunch Live, and Alisa Cohn of From Start Up to Grown Up – discussed the simple question: “Should I start a podcast?”

They all agreed that the decision comes down to just one issue: would you want to have those questions anyway?

While no doubt their podcasts bring them profile and revenue, they all seemed to love hosting a podcast for the opportunities it brings them to interview their heroes. They urged the audience not to wait until they feel ready to do it or until they can afford expensive tech – if you have people you want to interview, just do it.

Less isn’t always more, sometimes more is more

Liza Enebeis, Creative Director & Partner at Dutch design firm Studio Dumbar, took us on a whistlestop tour of her firm’s motion design work, from the Northsea Jazz Festival, to the D&AD Festival, and the Design in motion festival.

It was clear she’s not a subscriber to the view that in design less is more. An exuberance flows through her firm’s work, giving it a vitality and beauty that captivated the audience.

Jolyon Rubenstein won’t be working for Shell any time soon

Rubenstein is a brilliant satirist. He began his talk showing the video he created with Global Witness highlighting how little tax Shell pays in the UK. It was funny but serious at the same time – the mark of effective satire – and he noted that he’s available to work for corporates.

He then stood up, announced how much he loves Web Summit, and declared how appalled he was that they give a platform to Shell. He pointed across the hall to where a Shell stage proudly proclaimed the company as enablers of mobile tech, and urged his audience to turn around and give Shell the finger. Hundreds did.

Shell won’t come calling but it’s safe to say many other corporates will.

How JFK sold America on the space race

For many the highlight of the week was Brian Collins, Founder of brand design firm COLLINS. 

He took us on a dizzying journey from Lisbon as a city of constant reinvention in contrast to the small town of his boyhood, a place fossilised in memories of America’s colonial past, to how that provoked in him a passion for space travel (which President Kennedy had persuaded TV execs to made cool in an attempt to gain public support for his spending on the space race) and then on to how that inspired his passion for transformation which has found expression in his work, projects like the creation of Hershey’s Chocolate World on Times Square (to celebrate he threw chocolate into the crowd), creating the Chobani brand, and transforming Figma.

It was as breathtaking as it sounds, and the highlight in a week that was both exhausting and energising. There’s so much to see, do and learn at Web Summit that you leave full of fresh ideas, inspired by new possibilities and ready for a lie down.

It’s back in Lisbon next November, and I’d urge every owner to put it in their diaries right now.

Join 3,000+ agencies

Get the Agency Hackers Newsletter, and read candid stories from other agency leaders.