A Look Inside This Year’s Record-Breaking Big Design Conference

Dallas is continually being recognized for its wide network of design-driven companies—so much so that the annual conference saw a 15 percent increase in attendance this year, the largest jump in its 12-year history.

Dallas’ annual Big Design conference is drawing increasingly larger crowds.

Version 2019, which occurred Sept. 19-21, pulled in a record crowd of more than 1,400, most of whom are designers attempting to improve how things are done. Conference organizer and Sabre designer Brian Sullivan says aside from the U.S., attendees came from Australia, Brazil, Canada, England, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, New Zealand, Poland, Singapore, and Taiwan. That’s a 15 percent increase in attendance from the prior year – the largest jump in the conference’s 12-year history.

Some of those attending were there to testify to the benefits that design thinking brought to their companies.

“Nothing cuts through the noise like great work,” AT&T Vice President of Design Technology Andrea Sutton says. Sutton kicked off the conference with a keynote discussion on how she promotes design thinking, which emphasizes how people experience things, across AT&T. Sutton told the crowd that in a one-year period, roughly 25,000 AT&T employees were trained in design thinking.

Conference organizer Sullivan says companies are increasingly recognizing Dallas for its network of designers and companies.

From left: Jeff Whitfield, Heather Bennett, Gregory Rutledge, and Srikant (Cheenu) Chari take time for a selfie at Big Design 2019. Whitfield, Rutledge and Chari are part of Dallas’s ProjectUX project. [Photo: Gregory Rutledge]

“The tradeshow [at Big Design] had over 30 vendors from various companies including Walmart, AT&T, Sabre, Intuit, Omniscopy, projekt202, and more,” Sullivan wrote to Dallas Innovates. “In the tradeshow, attendees could play with the latest technology, talk with a hiring manager, drink coffee, learn about projects, review job openings, try on designer clothes, or donate to a toy drive. People make connections or get their first job at the conference.”

Aside from the tradeshow, the lectures allow designers—many of whom are introverts, or who have been working on their own projects—to talk shop, catch up, and learn different strategies and perspectives on problem-solving. Those attending include students, academics and industry professionals, whose work ranges from data collection, to improving how organizations function.

“I attended several presentations and one of the most important things I learned was about diversity and applying it to our design puzzles so we can get different perspectives which will eventually lead to innovation,” says Dharmesh Patel, who is in the Southern Methodist University (user experience) UX design program.

Patel says the talk by Mr. Cooper vice president of management/head of lab Michael Griffith spoke to him most. Griffith’s talk, titled “Pitfalls of Modern Design,” explored the notion that modern design is mired in mediocrity, adding that many people stick to a particular process just because it’s what they’ve always done.

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