How to Make a Protest Sign

If you’re marching in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and the fight for Black liberation, I wanted to give you some quick sign marking tips to help you spread your message!


Appear Works is doing an online training to make signs together this Saturday.

Attending a protest or march takes courage, but it’s easier if you have a sign to hold up.

What to say on your sign

Remember: This is not an artistic masterpiece. A successful sign shows a short, to the point message large enough for people to see across the street, park or town square. For this reason, keep the message short so you can draw it in large letters. A good rule of thumb is to keep your message between 3 and 5 words.

If inspiration for something catchy and original strikes, that’s great! But it’s completely ok to copy something from the internet. In fact, it is often better to copy a slogan so that your sign is aligned with the message of the march.

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Although any type of paper or cardboard can be used for a sign, there are a few materials that make it easier to hold up your sign and for others to see your sign.

Sign material

  • Foam core board is stiff, strong, doesn’t bend, and is my favorite type of poster-board for marching. It costs a bit more than a regular poster board, but it won’t bend in the wind, and I’ve even found it to be pretty water resistant when marching in the rain.
  • Cardboard from a box is a great, sustainable way to repurpose boxes whether they are from a local store or from an online purchase. They are usually stiff enough to keep their shape if there is a breeze. 
  • Legal sized paper is effective if you’ll be in a space that is very crowded and small such as a sidewalk. This is also a good choice if you want to reproduce your sign or if you want to create the sign on your iPad but print it out on paper.

Markers and paint

You’ll be making a sign with large letters people look at from a distance, so whatever you use to make the letters needs to make a thick line. Although pens and pencils are good for outlining letters and making a prototype of your sign, you’ll need markers, paint sticks or brushes and paint to make letters that are large enough for people to see. I’ve found paint sticks that dry quickly to be the easiest to use. If you use markers, try to find ones that are low odor. 

Making the sign

You have something to say and materials to say it with. You are ready to make a sign!

  • Trace out what you want to say. This allows you to figure out how to place your message on the sign.
  • Give yourself enough time for the paint to dry, if you can. It might take a few hours or overnight. That said, it’s ok to show up with a sign that isn’t totally dry, because showing up is what’s important.
  • Get some helpers to help you fill in the letters on your sign or add some special touches. Fingerpaints make awesome sign filler-inners and there’s always room for some glitter! Making signs is a good activity for making friends, talking about what’s going on and collaborating on the message you want to share.

Congratulations! You made a sign! Making a sign is a great way to participate and raise your voice!

Would you like to practice making a sign? Appear Works is doing an online training to make signs together this Saturday.


Taking your event online

leftover food by bethany newman

“I want to clean up leftover food from tons of people,” said no event organizer ever.

These were the thoughts running through my head after a “Let’s Sketch Tech!” meetup I ran over a year ago. This meetup came on the heels of a successful “Let’s Sketch Tech!” conference about art and tech I organized in San Francisco at the end of 2018(?).

Then it hit me. “What if I ran this online?”

This year, it’s been heartbreaking to watch event after event get canceled because of the coronavirus. It hurts to see people who work in the events space lose their jobs and it also hurts to see so many events and communities lose their physical footing.

In my case, after the catering was cleaned up (with the help of the meetup’s attendees), I chose to take my meetup online. The next meetup was a virtual one, and it ended up being a more positive change than I expected for several reasons:

  • People from everywhere could join making the reach of my event much larger
  • I was able to invite speakers from different places
  • I was able to participate and benefit from my own meetup
  • and yes, there was no food to clean up

This year, once I was inside for shelter-in-place, I realized people would need to make some art, so I organized my meetup as a conference. I had the most attendees I’ve ever had at an event, and the feedback was wonderful as we were able to give each other an escape, if only for a few hours.

To that end, I’ve organized a workshop for June 20 to share what I’ve learned and help other organizers transition to online events. Get your ticket.

Fire the bro gun

Meet Brody “Bro” Harrison, who is at a conference, about to give a tech talk…

photo of man speaking
Photo by Marcos Luiz Photograph on Unsplash


The conference organizers have known Brody for a long time. He wasn’t on the conference schedule, but the speakers invited him to give a talk after someone had to back out. Brody, a prolific speaker, is known as a dude’s dude and prefers to be called “Bro.”

Brody, wearing a red baseball hat and cowboy boots, walks onto the stage for his talk holding a beer and stroking his beard. He makes sure everyone is watching, then takes a gulp of his beer before handing it off and stepping to the microphone. 

“Alright, guys, are y’all ready to fire the Bro gun!!!!”

It used to be that it was a major step forward for a conference to adopt a code of conduct. With efforts such as The Ada Initiative (Valerie Aurora and Mary Gardiner) and The Contributor Covenant, (Coraline Ada Emke), many conferences now have a Code a Conduct. Indeed, the conference where Brody is speaking has a CoC, but the organizers told Brody to tone it down a bit and trusted that he would listen.

But first, let’s take a look at how Brody’s talk is going from the perspective of Kaya, an attendee.

Kaya is attending her first technical conference at her first tech job. She watches Brody walk onstage and feels immediately confused. She worked her way through her coding program while being a server at a restaurant part time and Brody reminds her of the rowdiest, most annoying customers…at the bar.

Kaya worked hard to learn how to code and didn’t give up, surviving through the rigorous coding interview grinder until she landed her first tech job. She’s frustrated because she planned out how to pay for attending this conference months in advance and worked with her boss on getting the approvals necessary for the company to pay for her ticket. Her boss asked her to make a few notes about what she learned so that she could present findings to her team.

Watching Brody launch into a talk filled with references to guns, tanks and dudes high-fiving, Kaya tries to make some notes, but she feels out of place and can’t find anything in the talk worth writing down. She tries to remind herself of what she’s often heard, that it’s all about the code. But it’s hard to focus on code when she feels like an outlier at the conference. She looks around and notices that the crowd mainly consists of men who seem to be enjoying the talk.  After the talk, the man seated next to her asks if she’s a developer.

So far, the conference CoC has not been violated at all, yet Kaya is having a bad conference experience. She watched a talk that made her feel out of place and awkward in tech. The micro-aggression of being asked if she’s a developer at a developer conference makes it worse.

Kaya leaves right after the last talk of the day and goes back to her hotel room, alone, and watches TV. She knows other attendees are at a happy hour, but she can’t imagine trying to socialize with them. Back at work, she gives a quick summary of talks to her boss. The conference didn’t feel worth it to her. She doesn’t request travel to any other conferences for the next year.

Having a Code of Conduct is not enough

Protecting marginalized people’s safety over privileged people’s comfort is a guideline that can be used to think about who is being centered in a given situation and how the path is being cleared for inclusivity. A conference that creates a comfortable environment for people from under-represented backgrounds extends this guideline to protecting not just the safety, but also the experience marginalized people have at the conference.

Make no mistake, people who are under-represented end up feeling threatened because they have been threatened, possibly with their lives. It would be awesome if the reason for having a code of conduct and protecting marginalized people was simply so that people could get along, but people who are under-represented face threats to their livelihood, well-being and even their lives on a daily basis. It’s not about manners, it’s about safety and survival.

A conference experience includes the speakers, their slides, recruiters, swag, caterers, etc. No matter what the intent of the organizers, the voice of a conference comes loudly and clearly through the microphone. This is the voice your attendees will be sharing out to their friends and co-workers. Slides from talks and swag from recruiting tables shows up on social media and become the early advertising for next year’s conference. What your speakers say is what you say.

Turning it around

Clearing the path for under-represented people takes work, but, more importantly, if you come from a white and/or privileged background, it takes a shift in head space. Once you start making changes, you’ll notice that some of the speakers and attendees who were “cranky” or “curmudgeonly” before are now safety risks. It is, indeed, “time to fire the Bro gun” but this time, firing means not putting them on your stage.

It’s up to you to prioritize marginalized people’s safety over privilege people’s comfort and to make sure everyone at the conference does this as well.

Although some tech conferences will always be problematic for marginalized people, there are conferences who take this seriously. 

Showing the persistence and courage that got her into tech in the first place, Kaya finds another conference to attend, one that seems more welcoming. A Woman of Color gives an amazing technical keynote. Kaya didn’t have to worry about getting so many approvals for this conference because she was able to get a free ticket through the conference diversity initiative.

Kaya is sitting with a conference guide and feels more comfortable that she knows someone at the conference. The keynote resonates for Kaya and she smiles at the end as she claps for the speaker. She’s excited to be here and can’t wait for the next talk. In fact, she starts to think, for the first time, that she’d like to apply to give a conference talk herself.

Editing help from Molly Wilson

Leveling-up Pairing Skills with the Pear Conf Quarterly Read

Other than doing more pairing, there are not a lot of obvious ways to get better at working with a pair in any setting: pair programming, pair testing or pair design.

Indeed, what are the skills that matter if we talk about getting better at pairing? Obviously, there are the subject matter skills such as programming, testing and design, but how do you level up on empathy, listening and knowing how to trade off?

To be sure, these are basic communication skills, but there are different ways to approach them. For example, do you know how to apologize properly when you mess up with your pair? How about making sure that you are using the right pronoun for them?



To help Pears level up on these types of pairing skills, we’d like to introduce the Pear Conf Quarterly Read. Each quarter, we’ll post a short, scannable, easy-to-digest book that addresses these skills. This quarter, our book is “A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns” by Archie Bongiovanni and Tristan Jimerson.

Changing the reading experience
Nobody has time for the 300 page animal book anymore. Even if we do have them, chances are you dip into certain parts for a bit rather than read it end-to-end. Because of our changing reading habits, we’ve changed up the reading experience in 2 ways.

Once you purchase your Pear Conf quarterly read, an email will be sent to you allowing you to opt-in to a set of 3 email guides. These guides are automatically spaced apart over a few weeks and contain pointers back into the book as well some extra links for exploring. If you don’t want to purchase the book, the guides are available separately.

Each quarter, we’ll have a Pear Conf online meetup focusing on the issue handled by the chosen book. While we use the book as a starting point for an interactive session, there is no need to have read the book to get value out of the meetup.

Wanna try it?
As mentioned, our book this quarter is “A Quick and Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns.”

There are two ways to purchase:
1. Buy the book from Appear Works and you’ll get an email to opt-in to our guides.
2. If you already have the book, but want to be “on the same page” (couldn’t help ourselves) it’s possible to purchase the guides separately.

This quarter’s meetup discussing the book is in August! Sign up for our mailing list to get more details and to be notified when tickets go on sale.

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Do you know who your user is?

Are you on an engineering team with no access to a designer?

Photo by Jessica Rockowitz on Unsplash

On an engineering team, we tend to make the assumption that there’s always a designer. In reality, I’ve found that the opposite is often the case, but this doesn’t mean you can ignore design.

We typically equate design with photoshop and assets, but it’s not about that.

It’s about connecting users to the value you can bring them whether there is a UI or not.

Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash

I’ve developed a 1-day workshop to help engineering teams with limited access to designers find their own way to create value for their users. Here’s a what recent customer had to say:

“I manage an infrastructure team with no access to a designer or product manager. As a result, it’s a challenge for the team to conceptualize building with the end-user in mind. The Hypothesis workshop helped my team see more about our user in one day, than it ever has before. This has helped us to get started with incorporating user feedback in our process.”

Do you know who your user is?

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Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

Download the persona toolkit I’ve developed and start your journey to bringing your users value.