The IDSA conference is an annual affair bringing together a community of designers, educators, students and experts all connected by their commitment to the field of industrial design. The 2018 edition, reborn as the International Design Conference, represented a complete rethinking of this yearly tradition, where the organizers applied their design skills to redesign the whole experience. I’m happy to report that their efforts were a success, with many attendees commenting on how this was their favorite conference in many years.
Taking place in New Orleans, the organizers chose the Sugar Mill event space as a venue, a great indoor-outdoor venue which allowed them to include a variety of external vendors and experiences throughout the three days. The city of New Orleans of course offers a unique backdrop of history, culture, music and food that gave the conference organizers plenty of material to work with in terms of integrating a local flavor that provided a nice counter point to the professional design content being presented.
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The conference kicked off on Wednesday night with the International Design Excellence Awards Ceremony & Gala at the National WWII Museum. The ceremony highlighted the international scope of the program, which this year saw a record breaking 1,872 entries. Debbie Millman served as the MC for the first day of the event, and her insightful questions and conversations with the presenters showed why her Design Matters podcast is such a success. On day two John Maeda took over the MC duties, bringing his dry wit and sense of community to the stage.
The morning speakers reminded the audience to retain a human element in their work (and their lives), leaving room for serendipity, and to strive to make improvements where and when they can. The overall emphasis was to keep the focus on the people using your product/service rather than the tech, and to carry this through to your own life as well. Afternoon ‘Lightning Talks’ were more project-focused, with designers presenting examples of notable achievements, trends and ideas. Each day ended with an uplifting keynote, which is always a good way to send the audience out. On Day One Gary Hustwit screened a few scenes from Rams, his upcoming documentary on legendary designer Dieter Rams, and on Day Two Nike provocateur Wilson W. Smith described his personal design process while working with top athletes worldwide over the past 30 years.
The final day was devoted to design education element, including Student Merit Award winners, educator-of-the-year awards, and presentations on various aspects of contemporary design education. Eastman Innovation Lab continued in their generous support of this facet of the conference.
The changes implemented for this year’s conference were welcome, and brought the whole experience of the event up quite a few notches, for the attendees, the sponsors and the presenters. As always, it is the people who gather at an event like this who really make it special, and the IDSA community is definitely going strong. For those of you who haven’t been to an IDSA conference in a while, I recommend making your plans now for next year’s event in Chicago.