IDSA North Eastern Conference: A Look Back

So, I didn’t see a thread talking about what people thought of the conference, just a “Who is going?” Thread.

I think there some things that should be talked about. As a student, I don’t know how much merit my comments will actually have, but I was extremely disappointed with some of the things that went on.

A lot of people were very excited about Maeda being a speaker, but what about that presentation did he think was going to work? I felt like it was a giant commercial for RISD and a complete waste of my time. Although I have never generally liked the guy in the first place, his TED talks are very inspiring and well thought out. This seemed like he didn’t want to speak at all and asked some kids to talk about nothing on stage so he wouldn’t have to. Does any one else feel the same way?

And the lack of RISD presence and RIT (I believe… correct me if I am wrong) was extremely disappointed to me as a student. The fact that RISD could not have shown up to its own conference almost devalued the experience, and after such a disappointing conference last year it didn’t help validate my time and money being there. I stand behind RITs decision to not participate because of the costs to students, but 90 percent of them not being there was crushing. I am already in debt as it is, and I go to these events to really get a hope of gleaming light into professionalism into the industry, but when I came home I felt horrible.

But don’t get me wrong, I met a lot of awesome people and it was 100000000 times better than last years event, but when I got back home from the 2010 event I was more motivated than I ever was. There was a different atmosphere this year that was full of negative energy. This, again, is just my opinion, and I would like to hear what others have to say about it. Especially the very last lecture from Pratt. I don’t know about anyone else, but I was completely offended by that entire talk. The way that they were talking about that girls farm workers was in such a different light that they should have realized.

On the good side though, lectures like Anthony from Continuum, the QuaDror talk, and almost the Design Meets Business speakers were really awesome. It just wasn’t enough for me to seem like it was worth going. The bad out weighed the good too much. This does not reflect on the conference sponsors, Ximedica was an awesome host and everyone from the other sponsoring companies were awesome to talk to.

What does everyone who went think?

Hey Memphis,

Thanks for starting this thread. I’ve been meaning to get a similar thread started for all the District conferences to get some dialog going… I was waiting for the Western to finish the weekend after next)… I’ll get those started shortly.

So everyone can get a little more context, do you mind identifying who you are, what school you’re attending and when you’re due to graduate? Was last year’s conference your first? I’d also like to hear more about what your expectations are as a student: What specifically are you looking for? What were you looking to take away? Did you get what you came for? What was missing?

I understand anonymity gives some posters the freedom to be more “honest,” but we’re all professionals here (or should be) and I think your comments will carry more weight if we know who you are.

We’re really are looking for honest and fair criticism of IDSA’s events (the good, the bad and yes, the ugly).

Sound fair?


Hey Memphis,

Glad to hear your feedback about the conference. I was your MC and conference organizer. Sorry to hear you felt some speakers did not interest you or rubbed you the wrong way. I suppose that can happen.

I did want to clarify a few facts though. RISD did have a a very strong attendance actually 22-23 people. I can dig up last years attendance numbers, and I am just guessing here, but that’s up 1000% or so for RISD (no surprise, it was in their back yard!). In fact if you count the number of RISD students who view portions of the conference w/o a badge (a request made to IDSA) then it would be more. I would admit they did not hoot and holler when called on by me on stage, but maybe they are a shy bunch.
RIT on the other hand had far fewer than last year. Only 5 this year, which is more than many schools but not a great showing by RIT standards. I did spend some time talking with those students to understand their point of view. Their colleagues lack of attendance, although, was not because the conference was too expensive. The conference cost was about the same as last year. The difference in the cost is the student membership, but that should not affect your decision to attend the conference. The value is in the networking, content, portfolio review and meeting professionals in person. I know of several students who are in talks with companies about being hired and they got those leads at this year’s conference. And again, if the cost were the same, why not come this year? (btw - many students ask for cheaper prices but they don’t understand that the cost to IDSA for the conference venue, speakers, food, etc. is far higher than the discounted student tix at $99, so we actually loose money on students to encourage their attendance).

What I am really happy to report is that the numbers we lost from RIT, we more than made up for in more professional attendees. This benefits the students and the pros alike . I also saw a few recruiters shopping around for talent and setting up meetings, which further highlights the value for those attendees.

As always there is room for improvement. So I agree with you, I want to hear more feedback, the bad stuff we can reduce, and the good stuff we should do more of.

Also, which speakers did you like the most? Which of the four Design4 themes resonated with you most? What would you like to see as next year’s conference theme? Who would you like to see on the national stage? What did you think of the evening’s events?

I’ll be sure the feedback improves next year’s event.

Thanks for getting back guys, it is awesome that we can talk about this.

To try and answer both of you the best I can

@Warren, I will say that I am a Junior at Massart. Last year was my first conference.

@Marco, thanks for the information! Puts a little more in perspective for me in a good way, but I’ll go into more detail about some of the issues I had.

I basically let my wallet take a huge hit to try and gain something from each lecture, but most to the ones I went to didn’t really allow me to take anything away. I am really confused why there isn’t an uproar about Maeda’s “presentation”. To me that is completely insulting. I really think he thought the whole thing was a joke. Is it just me? Does anyone else feel the same way?

The lecture by Anthony Pannozzo was probably the most relatable lecture to me that I saw. It made me think that as a designer, I can pretty much do anything. A really good thing to come out of a lecture with. The Design4 Business was the best section hands down. The other just didn’t match up as equally. The integration of Design and Business is a marriage that I am accepting as time goes on, and it would be really awesome to see more talks like the one from Anthony next year.

I think it was a really awesome idea to have different talks go on at the same time, but if you picked one that didn’t fit snug with you it was a loss. Just to share my own experience, the sustainability talk by Matt Grigsby interested me so I went and got a really good seat for that. I chose the wrong one, and I was stuck there. Not really sure of a good solution to the problem, but hopefully feedback like that will help. Events like that is where I felt like I wasted some of my time there. Matt’s story is something to talk about for sure, but he didn’t have any case studies to back his words, I could barely hear him, and his presentation wasn’t the most exciting thing I have ever seen (Sorry Matt! Being honest here). A mic definitely would have helped.

Its hard to spend that much money to go as a student, even if it is so reduced, for that sort of thing to happen and say it was a worth while experience. I was really expecting for all of the lectures to be as exciting as Mr. Potato Head, not sure if that was an unrealistic expectation. And Marco, I totally agree with you in where the value really is, or should be, or something, but there wasn’t enough good content for me to think that I guess. Last years conference was really terrible, so I might just have a bad taste in my mouth or something.

The portfolio review was better than last year by a ton, I think it would be one of the best things that ever happened to have a workshop or lecture on portfolio building. Having a review is good, yes, but is a review of one type of your work. As students, we have to make a web, multiple versions of prints, and different presentations all for the same project. How the hell can anyone actually expect anyone else to do that? It is a real problem I am personally having at the moment. Somehow people have done it, and done it well, and I would love to hear them talk about it.

To answer the question about the walk abouts, the Ximedica party was freaking awesome. The first night was cool with the cheap beer but I think a lot of people were still sort of breaking the ice.

Did this hit points you guys were looking for?

Thanks for the feedback. I understand your reluctance to identify yourself, but my hope is that you eventually will. I have a lot more respect for poster (students and professional alike) that are confident enough to take ownership of their opinions. In any event, it wasn’t that difficult to figure out who you are based on your e-mail address… but no matter…

Bearing in mind that I didn’t attend the NEDC (i went to the Southern), I have a few general questions and comments to help the discussion go a bit deeper…

First, you get HUGE PROPS for attending this year as a Junior and last year as a Sophomore. If we could convince more students to start attending these conferences as early as you have, it think it would transform how young designers see these events and relate to IDSA in terms to what it means to their careers. You don’t know how many students wait until their Senior year before attending a conference and are kicking themselves because they already feel behind. So the good news is that you’re already ahead of the curve.

Second, it’s a gargantuan feat to put one of these events together and have every presentation appeal to everyone. It’s a real catch-22: Do one single track of presentations and you risk folks walking out because they’re not into it vs. multiple parallel tracks to give attendees more choice, but then they feel cheated because they feel like they’re missing out on something. That’s one reason we’re trying to do a better job video recording the presentations so you can see what you missed afterward. I’d personally like to see this be standard operating procedure at all our conferences, but the challenge is finding volunteers and/or sponsors to support this. Once all the conferences are done, we’ll start posting what we did capture and you tell us if you think it makes a difference.

I understand your frustration with regards to your portfolio. The Southern District conference had such a workshop and it’s probably a good idea to offer something like that at every conference every year, but we’re trying to balance student-based content with presentations that will draw more professionals. Again, another catch-22: too much student stuff and the professionals won’t show up, but it’s the professionals that the students are hoping to meet… So finding a balance is the trick.

I think what it really comes down to is: was going to this conference valuable to you? before you answer the question, I’d like you to think about what, specifically, are you looking for at these conferences? Sure, informative and inspiring content is always a key component to what makes these conferences valuable… particularly if it draws more professionals. But for a student such as yourself, aren’t you looking to get introduced to the professionals who can (a) give you real-world critique and advice on your portfolio, (b) introduce you to other professionals who might be hiring or (c) hire you themselves? I think this is what makes going to these event valuable for students.

The network building you’re doing (you are networking with professional by introducing yourself, asking good questions looking for advice, right?), that’s where the real value is. A year from now, you’re probably not going to remember some presentation you saw, but you will remember hanging out with that dude from the design firm that’s now hiring… right? These events are as much a social mixer as they are a design conference. So for those students who choose to sit it out for a year or two before attending one of these, that give you two year’s head start to get to know you future colleagues and that’s what’s going to help you get your first job. Given two equally matched portfolios, I’d hire the kid I had a chance to meet and hang out with at an event they were willing to invest in. It shows me they’re serious about their career.

At least that’s the value proposition I make to students I talk to. Of course it costs money you don’t think you can afford. I make an investment in my career every year to go to these conferences. But like you said, you’re spending a ton of $ on your education; why not give yourself the best chance to get your first job? Trust me: this will be some of the smartest money you spend in your entire career.

Thanks again for the input and I hope you’ll continue to share your thoughts. As Marco said, we’re not looking to make any money on the students and actually loose money when you attend. But you are our profession’s future and we need talented, motivated young designers to hire and you need us to get that job and valuable experience. So we need each other.



Great feedback. Thanks.

A quick note, we did have a lecture on how to brand your self to appeal to future employers, which is the lecture you asked about on how to build a portfolio. it was from Angela Yeh a seasoned recruiter. It wasn’t on the nuts an bolts of portfolio building since many schools have full semester classes to cover those details.

As Warren mentioned, it is a balance to present a bunch of speakers that appeal to everyone. While you liked the Design 4 Business, many people felt very energized about the social good and green topics. As an event organizer, I want to be sure we present a balance of topics. Not just because I want to appeal to a broad audience of varying career stages, but because I think it’s important for audiences not to get a single point of view. There is always something to be learned from the varied view points, different approaches to design, different focus on goals and outcomes of your efforts - over the years if we present one view, there wouldn’t be anything new to see the following years.

Again, thanks for the feedback!

Great showing and spirit from Mass Art this year. Kudos to you guys! Come again!

@ Marco, I went to that Branding yourself workshop, it was definitely a good way to start the conference as an icebreaker. Wish it was longer, I was only able to talk to about 2 people long enough to get them to stick. It would be really awesome if she could talk about building yourself along with your portfolio that reflects you as a person and your work in a professional way. My biggest struggle is placing my work in a manner that not only looks good, but reflects my personality.

The thing about schools helping students put together their portfolios is that (in the case of massart anyway), we have two professors that have different opinions on how portfolios should look. The only way I have been able to build mine in a way that makes sense is to ask everyone and their mother about what should be included, and use the common aspects as such. The story is really never told, though. It’s hard to condense a project into 3 slides that you spent 8 weeks researching and iterating to send to someone. If there was a seminar on how to tell a good “condensed” story, I think it would be really helpful to a lot of students. Does that make sense?

I also wasn’t trying to imply that it should just be a Design and Business conference, but those were the ones that just were the best in my opinion. I totally agree that there should be a bunch of different topics. I also noticed you avoided the Maeda comments, do you have any thoughts on it?

@ Warren, Oh! I didn’t even realized I didn’t state my name. But yes, I am Christopher Cheney. Junior, Massart, ID. Was definitely not trying to avoid giving out my name, after all it is the email I am using. I can definitely see what you are saying with the cost being worth the social aspect being spent, and I will just have to see in the long run if it was worth it. It is the reason why I went last year also, networking and such.

I definitely appreciate you guys taking the time to talk about this stuff, I hope that more people drop in here and throw a few words down.

Hey Chris, I think all of us can identify with the challenges you’re facing with your portfolio. I know that’s something I still struggle with now. “What is my message? How do I communicate the value I bring to a project? How do I get a client to envision me as part of their team?” It’s an on-going process and the funny thing is: As soon as you get your portfolio all set and ready to go, it will be time to change and revise it again and again.

That’s one of the greatest things about going to these conferences. You will develop relationships with so many different types of designers and professionals–each with their own perspectives. And each will be more than happy to give you their opinions and input on your work. I still do that today with colleagues I’ve know now for over 15-20 years. I now have my portfolio on my iPad and whenever I get a chance I show them to get their feedback. Actually, I wish this would happen more often–seems like professionals are lest apt to share their work with each other than the students are… but I think we miss out when we don’t do this.

The other advantage of all this interaction and sharing is that in time, your colleagues will come to know you for certain types of products or a specific style of work or area of expertise and, probably most importantly, for your personality. That’s where the referrals come from. We’re constantly asking each other, “Hey, do you know somebody who’s really good at… or an expert in…” That’s one thing that’s very difficult to communicate over Core77 that’s so much easier at a physical get-together: Your personality.

On the flip side, we as professionals need to do a better job of going out of our way to draw you guys in. I’ve seen a lot of students go to these events only to hang back and not jump into the discussion. But hey, you’re just kids and it can be a little (or a lot) intimidating, you know? So that’s when I start approaching those students who look like deer in the headlights and introduce myself and ask them what they’re interested in… (They often look at me like I have three heads, but it’s fun…) What motivates me is thinking about what I would have liked to have happen when I was starting out back in the early 90’s… Kinda like righting a cosmic wrong. It’s all good karma, I think.

Anyway, thanks again for voicing your opinions and be willing to put yourself out there. Keep it up. I promise you it will pay back dividends. And if it doesn’t seem to be working, you contact me directly and I’ll introduce you to whomever you want to meet. I’m kinda obnoxious that way.



Overall I had a really good experience at this years NE IDSA event. This was actually my first IDSA conference and I left very inspired and energized. I actually graduated form RISD last year (I was at the event rep. the company I work for) so I can speak to some of the comments above.


Got to agree with you on the Maeda talk, huge let down. I think the Idea may have been interesting, but the way it was executed was in my opinion quite lackluster and I could see how it may have come across badly. The concept of mind mapping was interesting, but nothing was done with it. I really wish John did more to direct the conversation, or wrap all the ideas together.

As for attendance, yes RISD’s may have been lackluster to other schools, but you have to understand there has been zero IDSA presence at RISD for the last two years. There were not even Merit awards winners while I was in school which is something I really wish I could have participated in. While I don’t think IDSA is a requirement of being a successful industrial designer, having attended this year I do see how beneficial it would have been and if I had been aware of this while I was in school I would definitely have attended. That being said I think after this event and having talked to my friends still in the program, you will be seeing a much stronger RISD presence at events to come.


Thanks for setting up and running the event! I had a really good time this year and even though I am a year out of school, I found many of the talks very inspiring.

The highlight for me was the Scott Wilson talk, just great presentation and story, really ignited my inner entrepreneur. I also really enjoyed the talks by Smart, Continuum, Hasbro, and Altitude. However I did find it slightly ironic how Erica and Nathaniel talked of the success of the flip cam and two days later it was dropped by cisco; completely unrelated but still very ironic.

The talks I found less successful were the ones by pilotfish (too long and too much “challenger”), Method (felt more like a ramble), and the Pratt (too much ramble, very superficial).

Overall though great weekend I really hope to attend more events in the future. Talking to my friends still in school, I couldn’t stress how important such an event can be especially at the sophomore and junior levels and I really hope more of them attend next year.


So I thought I would throw my two cents in here. In spirit of transparency (mentioned by Warren) most of you know me, but those that don’t, I am Justin Coble Industrial Design Manager at Mars Chocolate. For the most part I thought this was a very sucessful conference. There were some great speakers, a great venue, and I met a ton of people both students and and professionals. Great job Marco and the rest of your team!!

Like mentioned before the Maeda thing was not that great. It almost came off a bit arrogant and I too felt that it was a bit of a waste of time. I did not really understand what he was trying to do and trying to watch him along with listening to the student was majorly distracting. The one great thing that did come out of that was that he gave a group of students the opportunity to talk and give there point of view to a mixed audiance. Although I may have not agreed with some of them, and some may have needed coaching on public speaking, it really allowed a great group of fresh talent shine. What I had wished I had seen was that he had lead the discussion and bring it together to be a cohesive message. This was a bit of a disappointment.

The themes were great. I got a lot out of all of the Design4 topics. My favorites were Design4 Humans and Design4 Business. Design process, experiences and creating products that make peoples live better is the future of ID and it was really great to see the conference focus on topics like this. These are normally topics we see at the national and it was great to bring them to a smaller stage at the district. The Smart, and Ximedica talk both brought this. I will agree that the Method one was a bit all over the place.

All of the Design4 business talk were great. I think my favorite was the Continuum talk by Anthony Pannozzo “Design has won! So why aren’t designers happy?”. This is one that is very hot right now and is one that all students need to see. The ironic thing about them giving this talk is that there is a running debate here on Core77 about the role of Design Thinking. Also ironically I was replying to this topic giving my strong opinion when Anthony came up on stage.

The Mr Potato Head guy I thought was good on the the fact that he talked about the role of an icon and what that means and how you have to respect it. But on the other hand I really just felt like I was watching a guy that was just trying to say “look at the cool sketches and sh!t that I designed”. I really did not get the meat of business out of his talk. I can relate to working with major icon. I work with M&M’s and M&M’s characters everyday. There is much more than “we just played around with it” involved. I would have loved to hear more about his challenges and what that icon meant to other people.

As for the RISD attendance…I to agree that it seemed a bit weird that they were not showing their presence. I only personally met 2. Being that we were in their backyard I was expecting them to everywhere. I really wanted to see some school pride from them.

To address some of the point from previous posters:

Marco, I went to that Branding yourself workshop, it was definitely a good way to start the conference as an icebreaker. Wish it was longer, I was only able to talk to about 2 people long enough to get them to stick. It would be really awesome if she could talk about building yourself along with your portfolio that reflects you as a person and your work in a professional way. My biggest struggle is placing my work in a manner that not only looks good, but reflects my personality.

The thing about schools helping students put together their portfolios is that (in the case of massart anyway), we have two professors that have different opinions on how portfolios should look. The only way I have been able to build mine in a way that makes sense is to ask everyone and their mother about what should be included, and use the common aspects as such. The story is really never told, though. It’s hard to condense a project into 3 slides that you spent 8 weeks researching and iterating to send to someone. If there was a seminar on how to tell a good “condensed” story, I think it would be really helpful to a lot of students. Does that make sense?

Post your work on the Core77 forums. There are other ways to get feedback. Face to face is best, but we will give you honest feedback here on core 77 and we can help you get ready for the next IDSA conference. I will also add that these conferences are what you make of them. This is the perfect opportunity for you to meet professionals that can give you advice or better yet give you a job. I know myself hung out with a group of students until 3am on saturday night giving them advice on how to find a job, what employers are looking for and gave all of them my card for networking. It is up to you to make those connections.

Sorry for such a long post, but to conclude I think over all it was a great conference. I hope next year is as good if not better.


Anymore feedback on the NE Conf? What about from the OP?

RELY!!! Thats it! No one wants to give feedback?? I as well as others really want to make IDSA better, but we need your feedback to make that happen!! I know more than me as a Professional and I know quite a few students were there. Let’s hear you feedback!!