Takeaways from The 2019 DB|BD Conference

Always enjoy a good tote! On the reverse side is the MIT Press logo.

Always enjoy a good tote! On the reverse side is the MIT Press logo.


Ethics. That was the resounding theme of The Design of Business | The Business of Design conference at MIT this past weekend. It was also what attracted me to the event (beyond rubbing shoulders with my favorite living creatives).

I wasn’t that interested in ethics until I started talking to my friend Emily about what’s wrong with branding. Books like Ruined By Design and podcasts like Your Undivided Attention have also increased my curiosity. As a student, I was never taught ethics. To my knowledge, most design schools skip the topic. So, as I contemplated the purpose of my trip, I thought to myself, “I hope this helps me create more conversations with my students about ethics in design.”

I think it’s too early to measure the success of the conference in that regard. Sure, it was well attended, and there were terrific guests and speakers. It was undoubtedly successful by those measures. However, it will indeed be worthwhile, for me, if it planted seeds that grow into future conversations, ideas, and inventions. I’ve already shared takeaways with my students (read further for the points that resounded with them the most - I shared way more in class). In that sense, the seeds are spreading.

Eight of the many pages of notes I took from DB|BD.

Eight of the many pages of notes I took from DB|BD.

Here are a few of my takeaways:

Do side projects so that you’re not giving away all of your talents to the agency and clients. In other words, make some things for the love of making things, not money.
I’m pretty sure I’m paraphrasing this from a statement made by Jessica Helfand during her round table discussion.

“Do you know what another word for rapid growth is? Cancer.”
Shared by Ken Gordon in a symposium on Ethics while on the topic of scaling.

Think beyond the media/materials we’ve always used. For instance, what happens when you design in three dimensions (VR) or use a 3D printer to make a garment?
I was explicitly inspired by the work of Lisa Strausfeld’s “Cooper Engine” and Modeclix’s 3D printed dresses.

“People are disabled by the built world.” 
“Human bodies are at odds with the built environment.”
Shared Sara Hendren in her presentation, “What can a body do?” I would amend her quote to be “people are disabled by the designed world.” Any time a person encounters design (not only built environments) they are either enabled or disabled. Everything and experience are by design. 

We need to learn to swim together like the fish in Leo Lionni’s book, “Swimmy.”
Shared by Hugh Weber in his presentation, “I have seen the future.” Hugh referenced the loneliness he’s observed as he met with AIGA groups across the country. He was calling us to learn how to be in community together; to swim together as one big fish.

“In the future, people will want the same things they want today. To listen to each other. To care for each other. To help each other.” 
Titus Kaphar in conversation with Roman Mars on how to design for future generations.

Beyond those takeaways (and there are many more), I’d like to give kudos to the organizers for creating a lovely weekend. It was not your typical design conference where I would expect to see a bunch of dudes in plaid. It reminded me of the Social Justice | Social Innovation conference at the University of Cincinnati, DAAP last year. There was diversity among the speakers (age, race, and gender). The topics weren’t only intellectually stimulating, they actually got emotional, touching on deeper issues. Overall, it gives me a lot of optimism for the future of our humble, yet influential field.

If I misquoted anybody, let me know.