IDSA 2006 - Reactions, comments, rants and raves

Anyone who was down at IDSA 2006 “Elements of Change” in Austin care to share some of their thoughts…

For me it was great to see Austin and catch up with lots of old friends, and make a lot of new ones.

I do think there where somethings that could be improved on for next year:

  1. Lectures. The lectures where very right up the middle with a lack of anything that was either highly inspirational/motivational and a lack of anything that was extremely tactical. I think if the poles where covered, the attendees could extrapolate the middle. I think an example would be a lecture by Malcolm Gladwell or Steven Levitt followed by a demo by Scott Robertson. The goal of each lecture should be to leave people with the feeling “I want to design something right now” I would rather have far less sessions of far greater quality (note this is a common criticism of every IDSA national, so not Austin’s fault). Also if there where some that counted as continuing ed, a lot more corporate people would go because it would be easier to expense it)

  2. The town. Austin is a great town. Thats what everyone says. Unfortunately there where no planned excursions to the nearby lakes or other attractions like was done at IDSA Boston national.

  3. The bench mark. every year, a lot of people talk about the IDSA Santa Fe national convention as the best one ever, why can that not be matched or beaten?

  4. The gold winners. Would it be too much to ask a gold winner from each category to present a case study? What makes it a gold winner? How did they begin their process? How did they get the design through their corporate system? How did they work with marketing and retail to make sure the message was delivered to the consumer?..

Good luck to the planners of next year’s SF conference. I know planning these is a pretty thankless task, and I’m sure a huge nightmare, so thanks to all those for volunteering to put Austin together.

Where is it going to be next year?

I totally agree with yo’s first point. Once I got to the conference, things started moving quickly and in the process of attending small meetings and preparing my part for a presentation, I only got to go to a couple of sessions. I wasn’t terribly overwhelmed by any of them though. I came away from them wishing I was presented with either more theories and postulates about design process and practice, or with more knowledge of specific techniques. Either pole, as yo called them, would have been better than anecdotes and case studies with limited conclusions. Give me raw information and let me apply it to my own practice.

Overall, it was the best conference I’ve been to as far as networking and getting work done, however. I met some awesome people that I might get to work with on projects over the next year. It is really valuable to have so many design professionals in one place. I got a lot accomplished…

In conclusion, great professional and networking opportunity, but need to rethink the strategy behind the content. In my opinion, it was worth going.

As stated before, I wish I could have attended this year.

6ix, yo stated it will be in San Francisco next year. My fiancee’s uncle lives out there with his partner. Could be free room and board for me. They are both extremely nice guys with a beautiful house on the cliffs over looking the bay.

speck_ def agree it was the best one I have been to as far as meeting with a lot of people and hearing about what is going on in the industry…

As mentioned, it’ll be in San Francisco next October. Bill Moggridge will be the conference chair. He’s been working very diligently with designers around the world to pull in content that is provacative and decidedly not North American centric. It should be fantastic.

As for this year, I think the speaker I enjoyed most was Bill Green from the Univeristy of Canberra. I thought he had some interesting things to say about inclusive design - especially the focus it’s receiving from the automotive sector.

Overall, Austin was a great choice for the location. It’s a fun town and the Texas Chapter and local community really made sure we had fun.

every year they say it is going to be international (this one was supposed to be), there is going to be a high level of content, and there will be great speakers… in reality the seminars tend to be irrelevant, immensely dry, and frequently both.

There are highlights of course (the guy from ILM that spoke at the Monterey convention, the seminar about communicating with Asia this year), but in general the bar seems pretty low.

I think the organizers put a ton of effort into these things, and I applaud them. I’m sure anyone organizing these things feels like Atlas, holding up a huge weight. A lot of the other facets of the show were very good.

Maybe the problem is that a professional organizer should be involved… for 1,200 a person, I think we should be able to afford that… and some dynamic speakers…

Another attendee said to me at the conference (who posts on here frequently),“if the IDSA national were a product, it would not be a good design.” We wouldn’t want an accountant to design a product, and we should not expect product designers to put on a good conference in my opinion.

is it my imagination or has IDSA not updated their events page for a year?

yo - you are right of course - on all counts.

There are a lot of moving parts to keep track of when planning a conference and no matter how well you plan, people still have to be involved. People are erratic. They don’t perform as advertised, promised or anticipated. Sometimes that’s good and sometimes, that’s a really bad thing. The planners do work really, really hard. Nobody ever intentionally schedules a mediocre speaker.

As for your comments about the international flavor of the conference, I think Austin had more international speakers and more internationally focused content than any IDSA conference I can recall previously. It’s a step in the right direction. Maybe we should start a thread on ‘what does it mean to call a conference International’?

The 2007 conference will be international - by any metric you want to use to qualify the idea of ‘international’. That’s not a hollow claim made yet again by another conference chair or by IDSA. 2007 will be a World Design Congress hosted by IDSA for ICSID (the international council of societies of industrial design). As such, members of other ID societies from around the world will be attending - and are actively involved in the planning of the conference. Most recently (late June), Bill Moggridge hosted a two-day planning meeting in San Francisco. More than 40 designers from across the US, Europe and Asia flew in to participate. One of the exercises was a brainstorming session for speakers which included a ‘have you seen them speak and are they dynamic speakers?’ component. Bill’s anticipating as many as 3,000 attendees. If anyone can pull off a design conference that size, it’s Bill.

yo, you mentioned something about 1,200 per person. Is that what the IDSA conference costs? If so I need to set aside some money for next year.

First to Yo - Thanks for the approval of my talk (the seminar about communicating with Asia this year). I guess you were speaking of my topic “We Think Differently; How to Better Communicate with your Hong Kong/ China Partners”?

To All,

I have to admit that I found this conference to be very different from the previous ones in some great ways.

  1. By having the National and Education conferences together there was more content than you could possibly go to.

  2. The content is becoming less about the skills of design and more about the thinking of design for a very logical reason. Teaching and practicing in Hong Kong, I can see that the skills have been caught up with many Asain designers. it is the Strategic Design Thinking that is still making the US important on a worldwide basis.

  3. Of course it is a networking fest and I would pay the price of admission just for that. You would pay that much for the same opportunity to network only in many business organizations. We were discussing how ID has about two degrees of separation worldwide. Events like this make that possible. And I don’t know how many times the network has benefited my or saved my skin over the years.


yes, your talk was the one I was thinking of. It was great. A lot of us have had to learn that stuff the hard way.

I agree that strategic thinking is what separates western designers. Being culturally relevant and forward thinking… but based on the foundation of traditional skills.

sounds like a lot of great thinking is going into the SF one, thanks for the update.


I appreciate that the preceeding posts have been so positive. But in an effort to help I feel obligated to be blunt, my experience of the conference was negative. I thought that both Monterey and NYC (even with the black out) were superior. (Of course it is hard to compare conferences, I understand that).

No question that it was a great opportunity to see some friends and discuss their design methodology, process, culture, life, etc. Like the rest of those who posted I was also fortunate enough to be introduced to some very nice people many of whom were Austin natives. Fun and valuable.

Beyond the social aspect, the highpoint for me was the SCAD/Eastman presentation. The low was the IDEA gallery and the nightime presentation which started off fine but became dull and awkward as it ran over by 1.5 hours and most people left while it was in progress. (I am surprised this has not come up more. For those who missed it, it was a 2 hour presentation that lasted 3.5 hours and at points even the presenters were confused about the timing and structure. I could ellaborate in detail but I heard no one at the event say this section was worth while.)

I spent close to $8,000 (sending 3.5 designers) and it was worth a small fraction of that. None of the designers seemed more inspired or better informed than when they left by either conference or the Austin experience.

No question that event planning is extremely time consuming and requires a lot of skill. Maybe the suggestions below will lead to some changes that will add more value:

  1. Get at least one big name speaker: Rashid, Newson, Starck, Ives
  2. Get the Gold/Silver winners to Speak: process, theory, whatever
  3. Get some new input: From people like Yo and other young designers
  4. Try to follow a basic formula of: “Here is something interesting and here is how I do it at my company” It could be about hiring, interviewing, rendering, researching, innovating, invetning, coming up with new forms, creating a compay culture, starting a firm, making contacts with buyers, partnering with factories, anything. If presenters follow this and it will have value.

All good points aaron. I have to agree that the SCAD/Eastman project was very impressive and should be a model for other Education/Profession collaboration projects. It was a shame it did not get much attendance, though I was glad to see a variety of educators there.

That sluggish crash course on Asia was loaded with rich content but I think that was overshadowed by the kinks in logistics and mediation. As a designer who does a lot of business in Asia I stayed for the whole thing in hopes of gaining some new ideas for my work as well as a little affirmation of the things I have experienced. Unfortunately I left feeling a bit like the thought was incomplete.

Another overlooked or misunderstood session was P&G/Lextant’s research methodology. (Taste, Touch … etc.) They were giving a hands on look into deep contextual research which not everyone in design has been exposed to. The draw back is they had an hour to do it and that was just not enough to dig in.

Maybe the answer is fewer, deeper sessions that allow for more discussion and interaction.

I have to disagree that the answer to a better conference is throwing a big name designer on the bill. In the case of a big designer who is there to teach great design, I think it’s inspiring and constructive. On the other hand, a designer who is there to show a slide show of all their awesome and unattainable work is in my opinion a waste of my conference money. I don’t care how many blob sofa’s have their name on them.

I can’t help but feel the sponsors get the short end of the stick with the current format. Sponsors are a huge reason why we get the great venues, food and parties. For the future, I challenge the planning committees to look for ways of involving the sponsors in more collaboration. Core77 had a big hand in the portfolio review and that was cool. The better the payoff for both attendee and sponsor the more sponsors will sign up thus the better the conference. (Or maybe the lower the registration fees!!!)

One totally positive thing I will say about the Austin conference is it was a networking mecca. That is one thing I hope never changes in the conferences to come. I got my first job in design from an IDSA Southern District Conference and will probably get another when the time comes. Also huge kudos to the planning committee on the Design Alley. That was a great idea on getting the conference to converge on a little sample of Austin style. I know it didn’t scratch the surface of Austin’s uniqueness but it was a break from the norm and yet another great way to meet people. San Francisco block party??? anyone? ←—End rant now.

I agree that hearing on of the big name designer speak is hit or miss. I have heard some that were great (like Starck) and one or two that were not. But just being there they increase the profile of the conference. I think that a lot of the young designers in the crowd are interested in hearing from them. I could be wrong.

I also agree that the sponsors must have a tough time showing a ROI.

As a conference sponsor, I can say that Core77 is happy with our participation in the conference. The Portfolio Review was fun, interactive, and provided a great vehicle for connecting with both sides of our audience (portfolio posters and potential employers). It is a great fit for us, and also helps provide a venue for this type of interaction at the conference. In short, a win-win-win.

That said, this is a rare occurance. Most other sponsors, if they are involved in something this closely aligned with their business, become seen as shills pitching infomercial material. Not interesting, unless you are specifically buying what they’re selling. It will be hard for the IDSA to align the sponsors individually with content that makes a good fit.

I don’t know what the right answer is. But the gallery in its current format needs to be re-thought. I went into the gallery when I needed some quiet time - not exactly the kind of feeling a sponsor would want!

Any ideas out there as to how to improve this situation, for the sponsors, the IDSA and the conference attendees?

I’m with you on the gallery, in the past they have been a little more inspirational with more relaxing space. Am I remembering that right? It just wasn’t a place to hang out, most people ended up in the hallway, it might have been that casino carpet in there…