It’s been just over a month since Leading Design New York and as the dust settles on that incredible event I have been reflecting on what I learnt, and the lasting impact it’s had on me.

Now I can't say too much about the specific details of the conversations at the event. One of the unique and important things about Leading Design is that it's a safe place for design leaders to have honest conversations about their challenges and the realities of their leadership roles.

I would, however, love to share some of my key takeaways from the event, which are probably both obvious and profound.

We’ve missed being together

Given that we hadn't met face-to-face in so long I wasn't too sure how easily conversation would flow. We collaborated with Kat Vellos so that we could have her “Better Than Small Talk” cards available to prompt conversations amongst attendees.

But I needn't have worried. It was just like old times. We laughed, we cried, we toasted the future.

During every coffee, lunch and cocktail break everyone was talking about was how nice it was to be back together.

The conference was absolutely awesome — and all the more impressive and meaningful since it was one of the first events back in the real-world.” Bob Baxley

“The fact that we were able to attend in person was incredible.” Leading Design New York, Attendee

We need to look out for each other

It's been a tough few years, putting it mildly! Not just the global pandemic, but the increase in Asian hate crimes and the ongoing murders and racial discrimination against people of colour.

Whilst lockdowns have been eased, these other issues are still very much a part of life.

In the midst of all this, the conference served as an important pause point. An opportunity for us to gather, to discuss and support each other. The event was described by Rodney Withers (Director, UX, Google) as "a collective healing”. And I couldn't think of a better description for what I saw and felt.

We had a personal and empowering meditation on radical inclusion from Dianne Que. We had talks from Leslie Yang and Hayley Hughes providing frameworks to support all of our teams and stakeholders.

For many of us the shift to online work (which looks increasingly permanent) has made collaboration more difficult. We had a talk from Samatha Warren about how to bring some of the joy of collaborating with our teams into the new world of hybrid working.

"a collective healing" Rodney Withers, Director, UX Google

We need to fill our own cups

As leaders, it's not surprising that we have spent the majority of our time focusing on others: our families, our communities, our teams, our companies. This leaves us little time to look after ourselves.

Even in “normal times” design leaders were often working at 200% capacity. Peter Merholz gave us a framework to show how our time is divided between priorities as we progress through our leadership careers. (And it probably comes as no surprise that these responsibilities often add up to much more than the time we have available.

We also spent some time not just thinking about the work, but also making sure that the work has purpose. Justin Dauer talked us through his process of ensuring fulfilment at work. Alice Quan gave us an overview of the Japanese concept of IKIGAI and how she applies this to her career.

But how do you know if the role that you are doing is the right one for you? Abbey Smalley talked us through a way to critically review this.

And if it's not the right role? Well, we had a very personal and practical presentation from Margaret Lee about how to get out of the career doldrums.

We need to get out of our heads

Even if we’re in the right role we need to make sure that we are focused and energised. We had a passionate call to action from Ovetta Sampson to reconnect with the curiosity and collaboration that she saw when she unexpectedly led a group of young children in a design workshop: to embrace our full imaginations and collaborate whole-heartedly.

Tutti Taygerly reminded us to make space to lead and gave us insights from her new book about how to do just that.

During a fireside conversation Dan Mall spoke about how to find the headspace to reflect on your business.

And we heard from Cap Watkins about the importance of resilience and how to assess how we are doing as leaders.

We need to reconnect with our passion

And finally, it's not all about our day jobs. Bob Baxley, Aarron Walter and Meredith Black told us the story of how they banded together to reconnect with their maker instincts and launch a podcast. Off the stage they also gave a sneak peek into how the podcast gets made with a live recording with swissmiss

Whilst we are still reflecting on the learnings and lessons from New York I am now starting to plan our next Leading Design conference. This time we will be gathering in London in November.

Ideas for the themes are still running through my head. New York involved a lot of reflection. I would like the next time we come together to focus on taking action and looking to the future.

It's not that I expect that in the six months since New York we will suddenly have all the solutions. Far from it. We will probably be meeting with more questions than answers. But as Dianne so beautifully put it in her talk, together we can collectively stumble forward.

If New York was a collective healing, then my aim for London is to be a collective empowering. To provide the space for us to gather, galvanise and set direction for the future.