What do you get when you have approximately 2,000 designers and creatives, more provocative speakers and design industry leaders than I can count and invite them to sunny Las Vegas? One of the top annual design conferences – the 2016 AIGA Design Conference, three days of design leadership filled with creativity, inspiration, networking, activities, and just down right fun!

All presentations considered, there were two themes that stuck with me the most:

 

Responsible Design

This theme was intertwined into almost every presentation in some form or fashion. Having gone to design school and starting my career as a designer, I’ve always described a designer’s job as “we make messages aesthetically pleasing and easier to understand.” After attending this conference, I realize it’s much more than that; designers touch and design everything around us, including items we use (and sometimes rely on) daily. When put into that context, it’s a huge responsibility designers have to create all of these experiences; no matter how mundane or outrageous they may be. Here’s a few highlights from some of the speakers:

  • In her presentation Calm Technology: Designing for the Next Generation of Devices, Amber Case (a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society) focused on all of the technology we currently use and depend on everyday – phones, watches, tablets, computers, even appliances (pretty much everything). As our lives become connected to more and more devices, its critical these items (and the software driving them) are thoughtfully designed to make people’s lives easier, not more frustrating. She stated “A good tool is an invisible tool” and “The right amount of technology is the minimum amount needed to solve the problem.” In other words, technology should be designed with the people using it in mind and the experience shouldn’t be overcomplicated.
  • Diogenes Brito, Product Designer from Slack, stated it perfectly “Creation is not neutral – things we make affect other people, they transmit values, and need to be ethical end inclusive.”
  • Design ethics and responsibility was most present in the presentation given by Mike Monteiro, Design Director for Mule Design Studio. He states “We design the world we live in and we all have a responsibility to design with ethics”. In his words “To change the world, we have to change who designs it” and the focus for design should move from aesthetics to ethics.

 

Life Lessons

I think by far my favorite speaker I had the opportunity to see was Paula Scher, Principle Partner at Pentagram. She took us on a journey through her career that has spanned a number of decades, presidents, and design movements to show us how a designer’s career can and will grow, change, sustain, fail, reinvent, and ultimately continue to design things they love. The life lessons that she shared with us can be applied to different fields and industries alike:

  1. Fall in love with something that was designed
  2. Have heroes and/or mentors
  3. Push back against something
  4. Defy the career staircase
  5. Go the distance
  6. Be a neophyte
  7. Find a personal expression
  8. Work for free
  9. Hang around with smart people
  10. Do what you do best but change with the times

There were many ideas and presenters that were notable that I could write on about for the next week, but there is one take away I’m left with – designers can do anything! It was truly a great event and I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference. Thank You AIGA for a truly awesome experience!

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