Over 150 people from the Irish Design sector gathered at the Light House Cinema recently for the Design Leaders Conference. The conference is run by Design Enterprise Skillnet in partnership with ICAD and IDI. At the event, attendees had a chance to consider their roles as design leaders from both a practical and philosophical standpoint. Some of the pressing themes covered at this year’s conference included how to incorporate values and culture into your workplace and the implications of AI on the future of design.
How to incorporate values and culture into your workplace
The unlikely business marriage of Human Resources and Marketing was shown to make perfect sense by Imogen Pudduck and Carla Cringle of FizzPoPBang. Specialising in brand employee engagement, the two former Red Bull employees are on a mission to have people whistling on their way to work. The business case for happy workers was neatly summed up in a Richard Branson quote ‘look after your people, they look after your customers who look after your shareholders’. The benefits of happy, engaged employees can be measured in innovation, productivity and profitability. But great cultures don’t build themselves, Imogen and Carla warned, they don’t just happen. People-plans need to be built alongside business plans. They suggested two questions that design leaders could consider in relation to staff: would I be sad if that person resigned? And, would I rehire this person if I knew then what I know about them now?
Thierry Brunfaut’s reflections on what happens when culture-building and employee engagement are left to chance offered a provocative counterpoint to FizzPopBang’s presentation. An outwardly highly successful design studio that was chaotic behind the scenes, he realised that Base would no longer be sustainable if it continued as it was going. Changing the culture from one of conflict between creative and management, long working hours and lunches eaten at desks to one with more harmony between staff, shared weekly lunches, goal-setting and reflections took six years to implement. A difficult journey, with bumps along the way, has resulted in a sea change in the way directors view their staff members as leaders rather than assistants.
AI and the future of Design
The conference also included presentations on future trends in design and consumption. Charlie Warwick, Senior Strategy Consultant at Kantar Consulting, informed the audience about the third age of consumerism, challenging them to move past innate psychological biases towards short-term thinking and take a much longer-term view. Stop thinking in quarters and start thinking in terms of decades or longer. Millennials and centennials are already changing the consumer landscape, with more emphasis on experiences over products. With insightful examples and case studies, Charlie suggested ways in which designers can turn what could be a crisis into an opportunity.
Concerns about the implications of AI and machine intelligence was a thread running through the afternoon. The panel discussion between Gemma Gallagher, Service & Interaction Designer at Fjord, Kevin McCullagh, Founder of Plan and Thierry Brunfaut, Head of Creation and a Partner at Base Design was chaired by Zanya Dahl, MD Artizan Creative. Panel members had differing viewpoints on the perceived threats AI poses to design. Gemma observed that AI can be creative and generative and can create new things. However, she added that it is different to human creativity. Kevin’s view was that because humans deal in meaning, unlike machines, there is reason for optimism, ‘when a computer beats a chess grandmaster it doesn’t even know that it’s playing chess. Our strengths are making nuanced judgments that are hard to quantify’. Thierry observed that ‘humans can take risks, machines can’t do that. Yet.’
The beginning of new design ideas
For busy design leaders, the decision to take a day out of the office to attend a conference is no small thing. The day away from the desk was repaid with plenty of food for thought on new approaches to problems and plenty of industry insights. The conference was created with the aspiration that attendees would have time to reflect and return to work with renewed focus and energy. Read more insights from the conference over on the Design Enterprise Skillnet website.
For the Design Enterprise Skillnet team, the conference is the foundation for training, seminars and events in the coming year. More than just a day away from work, it’s the beginning of new ideas, connections made and leadership skills developed. It also starts the countdown to the Design Leaders Conference 2019.