A banner emblazoned with Leading Design London stands in front of the lush verdant jungle-like garden under a glass roof inside the Barbican.
The Barbican's fabulous conservatory was our home for two days

As curator for this event my goal was to empower the audience, which I set about doing by first identifying hot topics for design leaders and then selecting the final line-up of speakers. I worked together with these speakers to shape this year’s theme: 'a collective empowerment'.

We had talks across a variety of topics, some practical and others personal. I will be mulling these over for many weeks to come, but here are a few top of the mind takeaways:

You are the problem

Jane Austen seated on stage holding a microphone speaking during a panel discusion.
Jane Austin on stage at Leading Design London 2022

Jane Austin kick-started the conference with this powerful message. She talked about design being part of a jigsaw, and the importance of understanding the full context of your business and strategy. Rather than working in silos, be aware of the role that you play and the impact it has on the rest of the company and industry as a whole.

Tactics v strategy

Both Jane Austin and Sedef Gavas, from the Natural History Museum, talked on the importance of taking time to focus on both immediate tactics and long term strategy. However, they both recognised that throughout this process, your vision may change. Jane said: “you have to let go of the idea of the ‘perfect process’” and Sedef reminded us of the philosopher Heraclitus’s words: “change is the only constant”.

Understanding the business model

One of the speakers on stage in full flow, gesturing with his hands and smiling while presenting.
Ray Ho on stage at Leading Design London 2022

There was a lot of talk about the importance of design leaders aligning with the wider business model. But as Ray Ho reminded us, it is also the designer's role to be a dreamer. He challenged us to think about what positive friction can bring to the table, and the value in the messy space between 'fear' and 'assimilation'.

Confidence and vulnerability

Many speakers spoke about the importance of projecting calm confidence, especially in times of change. However, there was also a lot of talk about the need for vulnerability. We questioned this tension, and asked how you make space for both.

Prioritisation and intent

With so many demands on our time, there were discussions on how we juggle all of these requirements and when we should just drop balls. Intentional leadership was a common theme throughout the two days. But how do we find the time to set intent when we are so busy?

Communication and common languages

A group of panelists lined up on seats on stage, each with a microphone. Behind them is a screen emblazoned with the Leading Design logo on a purple background.
Rebecca Groves hosts the end of day reflection with James Stevens, Alberta Soranzo, Dana Bright and Oliver Eliel

James Stevens from Sky spoke about the importance of presenting back a clear vision of change, so you can take others along on the journey with you. He outlined that understanding and empathy play a clear role in ensuring effective communication.

A speaker on stage holding a clicker and speaking passionately in front of the screen.
Alberta Soranzo on stage at Leading Design London 2022

Alberta Soranzo from Vodafone Business spoke about the importance of understanding cultural norms in different countries, in order to effectively engage with our global teams. We were also reminded about the importance of finding common languages with our cross-functional partners. Holly Habstritt Gaal from DuckDuckGo gave practical advice on adapting the names of design tools, making them more accessible across the organisation.

Our accountability

A dramatic shot of Lisa Welchman standing on stage behind the podium.
Lisa Welchman on stage at Leading Design London 2022

We had an important reminder from Lisa Welchman about our responsibility in making safe and inclusive design decisions. We examined the timeline of innovation and their accompanying safe protocols and governance, giving a practical framework to empower ourselves.

Understanding your leadership style

A dramatic shot of a speaker behind the podium giving her talk.
Nicola Ryan on stage at Leading Design London 2022

We are increasingly becoming aware that there are many flavours of leadership. We directly looked at one example of this in Nicola Ryan’s talk on Quiet Leadership, and how a balance of different leadership styles is really important.

Navigating change

A dramatic shot from below of Chris Pierce on stage presenting in front of a screen that shows the Clearleft logo.
Chris Pearce on stage at Leading Design London 2022

Change comes at different speeds. We heard about the challenges of making change in large organisations, but were reminded of the importance of speed where possible from Chris Pearce....

"It's all about pace and pace setting. Too fast, you lose your team. Too slow, you lose relevance."
Chris Pearce, MD at Clearleft

For those that couldn't make Leading Design London 2022 in person, there is still a chance to get exclusive on-demand access to all the keynotes, short talks and panel discussions with our video access package. Enjoy!