The IDSA 2018 International Design Conference: Only the name remains the same
This column was intended to discuss the theme of IDSA’s 2018 International Design Conference, or IDC. But when asked about the 2018 conference theme, IDSA Executive Director Chris Livaudais replied, “We’re moving away from themes.” This was an exceptional decision following five decades of annual forums featuring topics aimed at elevating the industrial design profession.
Eliminating the overarching theme or core thesis of a design conference might conjure thoughts of the TV show Seinfeld and its claim to being “a show about nothing.” However, there is real purpose behind the decision to radically remake our annual design conference.
This shift actually began three years ago when then IDSA President John Barratt of Teaque Design asked Jeevak Badve of Sundberg-Ferrar and Paul Hatch of TEAMS Design to analyze the existing IDSA conference proceedings and envision what it might become in the context of today’s highly collaborative and inclusive product development environment. Jeevak and Paul began by conducting research with both attendees and non-attendees, gathering insights and identifying unmet needs. They also took a look at related conferences for additional ideas and success factors. Consistent with the principles and methods of user-centered design, they created user-experience maps to guide their thinking. From there, many new ideas were brought to the table, with a goal of creating a more inclusive and cross-disciplinary event. The IDSA board agreed to this new direction, and the last of the “traditional” IDSA conferences took place in Atlanta in 2017, leaving a legacy of success.
The rationale for this radical new direction is the society’s recognition of the remarkable societal and technological changes underway globally, and that design is not immune to this change. In fact, design could assist in bringing a sense of direction during this disruptive era, to any organization. This belief is centered on how we define design today versus 10 or 15 years ago. Today, the core of industrial design practices can be found in adjacent areas of design, from UI and UX to branding, technology development, and innovation. Industrial designers are now in leadership roles in the C-Suite imagining new business models and in startups creating disruptive new products and services. In an era where the old rules no longer apply and disruption is almost a constant, the designer’s collaborative approach to problem solving can help set a path forward.
It’s important to note that this collaborative approach to problem solving has also evolved. In the past, designers were often viewed as the sole representative of the “voice of the customer” by closely collaborating with the end-user in the development of a product or service through various design research techniques. What resulted was a narrow, role-based definition of the contribution of the designer on the team. This also tended to minimize the rest of the team’s contribution to the delivery of products and services that would truly delight the customer. Today, the focus on the end-user or customer is completely team-based. Team members representing a broad range of design related disciplines share ideas with other skill centers across the entire development spectrum. To be effective in this new team environment requires a deeper understanding of the others on the team, and how everyone fits within this context. As Paul Hatch described in his thesis about the new IDC, “The whole team is the designer; the whole team has responsibility for the user and the UI, the brand and the financial outcomes. Silos collapse, and new interdisciplinary agile teams excel.”
With silos collapsing and roles and responsibilities blurring, the designer no longer operates in isolation, located in a studio apart from other design disciplines. The new collaborative team environment is both intellectual and physical, and requires an understanding of one another’s capabilities, their methodologies, and their relevance to overall organizational goals and objectives. It’s through better understanding and collaboration with the entirety of the design-related disciplines that will increase their impact and effectiveness within their organizations.
The IDSA and its leadership see the 2018 IDC as an excellent forum to highlight this approach through sharing similar experiences and ideas, while embracing an expansion of our profession. Moderated by Debbie Millman and John Maeda, these recognized thought leaders on design, experience, and technology, will take turns sharing the stage during the conference. The 2018 IDC will be held in New Orleans September 19-22. For more, visit www.internationaldesignconference.com.