DesignThinkers Conference Highlights

Staying connected to the global creative community helps keep Backyard Creative’s design team current and inspired. Some of us attended the second annual DesignThinkers Conference in Vancouver at the end of May, which was programmed around the theme of “Speak the Truth”. Each of us came away from the conference with distinct takeaways.

Lisa’s top takeaways

It was interesting attending this design conference exactly a month after attending our client’s annual HR Conference. Although they were two completely different events, I saw some connections between them, which was rather validating—themes around connecting to your values and embracing one’s onlyness.

Meg Lewis was an amazingly engaging presenter who, first thing in the morning, got everyone in the room excited about what makes each of us unique. She encouraged us to simply take notice of the things we know we do better than others (i.e. our cloud of abilities) and then design our careers around them! Creative people often think they need to fit inside someone else’s box, but Meg was a great reminder that creatives can really design their own ‘box’—especially with the many technological tools we have today. There are no excuses to not love our work.

Grace Hwang reminded me of how powerful design can be. She talked about how design connects people to the things that matter most to them. Design should enable good behaviour and create meaningful nudges towards change. She emphasized that, first and foremost, design needs to lead with empathy. Her firm, Carrot, tackled the oh-so-unsexy challenge of creating an app called Pivot that supports people in quitting smoking. This app has literally saved people’s lives. It’s an inspiring re-think on a seemingly old problem, but a reminder that opportunities to make meaningful change are everywhere.

Jackie’s top takeaways

Ellen Lupton’s humour and candor engaged the audience around the value and importance of storytelling and contemporary sensory design. Through several case studies, she shared her personal and professional stories that have inspired her to explore the coalescence of the senses and how they challenge and delight people to engage in unique experiences. Her research and experimentations in sensory design resulted in several key takeaways that speak true to almost any design for positive impact and its quest to create inclusivity, enhance health and wellbeing, activate physical interaction and deliver impactful experiences. Ellen’s presentation was not only entertaining and highly relatable, but also honest and real, while pushing the boundaries on where design can evolve.

Stephen Gates was my favourite presenter of the conference. Confident, dynamic and brutally honest, he took us on a crash course through the power of Design Thinking as a methodology for empowering creative teams. His language, slides, stage presence and energy were all on point! His step-by-step guide to applying a more integral approach to creativity within a company was riveting and inspiring, and he shared his decades of experience as a master creative leader. As a certified IDEO Design Thinking instructor, his knowledge and expertise are cutting edge and insightful. His podcast, The Crazy One, is now my daily dose of creative field counsel. LOVE IT.

Overall, DesignThinkers was an engaging and stimulating two days of reconnecting with fellow design nerds and rekindling the fires of design guts and gusto. Always compelling, and never dull, I find my design approach and practice catalyzed and enlightened by this event each year.

Sebastian’s top takeaways

DesignThinkers was a fun, engaging and rewarding conference that featured a diverse group of speakers working in a number of different fields. This was my second time attending the conference and the variety of speakers—from design leaders to lettering artists—is what brought me back this year. My biggest takeaway was that there is no one ‘right’ way to have a creative career, and that we shouldn’t let ourselves and our work be defined by titles. As someone who dabbles in art and illustration, as well as design and teaching, it was refreshing to hear.

Another important takeaway was simply the value of hard work. There are rarely any shortcuts in this field, you simply get better and improve by putting the time in. It was validating to hear that well-respected designers/lettering artists like Aaron Draplin and Gemma O’Brien echoed these sentiments.

I also especially enjoyed Michael Lejeune’s talk about the challenges that he’s faced as Creative Director at LA Metro. My takeaway from his talk was that perseverance and a positive attitude are vital tools in the creative toolbox and that, no matter how strange, we shouldn’t shy away from taking chances with big and bold concepts in our work.

I left the conference feeling motivated to create positive impact through design, within my own local community, and excited to work at charting a path forward to define myself as a maker.