I am genuinely grateful for the trust placed in me to curate and host this special event. Beyond just a gathering of design leaders, the conference unfolded as a transformative journey where attendees were inspired, challenged and found belonging.
"I am not alone"
I was taken aback by how many of the attendees came up to me over the course of two days and said: "that was exactly what I needed. I thought I was the only one facing these issues, and now I know I am not alone". This goes back to the reason Leading Design was set up; design leaders are so often isolated in their roles, being the only ones in their organisations. Spending time together at this conference, they can learn from each other, share stories and feel empowered as part of a wider community.
On day one of the conference, this was dissected in several ways, with Teak Tse from Sky sharing a great framework around how cross functional partners can better work together. In Ovetta Sampson's talk, she explored the notion that, in the future, we will need to evolve into transdisciplinary teams, collaborating with our new robot friends to create the products we want to create.
Leading with authenticity
Emotional intelligence was a big part of day two, with the question around how to show vulnerability as leaders. Julia Whitney gave us some excellent guidance around this, exploring how when a leader works with their emotions intelligently, it benefits their wider team.
Eric Snowden, VP of Design, Digital Media at Adobe, shared with us some real life experiences of being vulnerable in the workplace, and Līga Lētiņa shared how authentic vulnerability can bring teams together when navigating change. Many of our speakers themselves demonstrated this vulnerability, leaving me grateful for the real truth and authenticity shared from the stage.
A seat at the table: design and business
A recurring theme that often emerges is the quest for design to get the respect it deserves. Lauren Pleydell-Pearce led a frank and honest conversation about what it means for a designer to hold a c-level position.
Remya Ramesh's talk touched on the recurring question: how much should design worry about business? Last year, Ray Ho suggested that it's not the role of design to worry about business concerns. However, this perspective was reconsidered this year with Remya questioning how design leaders can navigate change when what's optimal for business may clash with one's own design instincts or values. In Matt Davey's talk, the focus was on the intricacies of the business landscape and how your role fits into that.
The impact of new technologies
I didn't want AI to be a core focus of the conference, as design leaders are facing a whole multitude of challenges. But the reality is, AI has increasingly become part of our day-to-day lives, and who better to address this than Ovetta Sampson, Google's Director of UX Core Machine Learning. It was a call to arms for design leaders to interrogate and engage with new technologies in an ethical way. In her words: "data is the love language of machine learning and AI. Without understanding data, it's going to be really hard to understand how and when to use AI".
Responding to the economic crisis
In stark contrast to last year, the economic crisis was impacting everyone in some way or another. Design leaders have moved from a place of scaling up design teams and increasing headcount, to delivering layoffs and restructures. This presents a whole new skill set, requiring leaders to turn up for their teams in different ways. I'm so grateful to the speakers for giving very practical and personal accounts of how to start addressing this need, and how we can look after ourselves in the process.
Being an outsider is your superpower
Teak Tse explored the idea that being an outsider is a superpower. As a design leader, you are often the ‘other’ in a room which, although difficult and challenging, can be a strength and add value. The essence of design lives in offering a unique perspective, not simply replicating what others are doing, especially when you have a seat at the table and can contribute meaningfully in various settings. This otherness sits in tension with the human need to belong, which I believe this Leading Design community can offer.
Belonging, loneliness and the need for connection
Self care was core to the conversation, with Temi Adeniyi bravely sharing her experience of going through burn out and learning how to identify and prioritise what we value.
Lauren Currie gave a brilliant closing address, calling us to connect with our own stories and grow opportunities for connection and belonging. There was an interesting tension between the idea that design’s role of ‘the outside’ in contrast to our need for a sense of belonging.
Lauren shared this beautiful quote from Margaret Wheatley, which for me sums us perfectly what our Leading Design community is all about...
If you couldn't make it this year but think you could benefit from hearing these talks you can order a 'Videos on-demand' pass.
And to make the most of being in the room with the brilliant people from the Leading Design community grab a super early-bird ticket for Leading Design London 2024. I'd love to see you there!