TDC 2022: A time to question our whole creative existence

There’s nothing like three days at The Design Conference to bring up all of life’s existential questions. Re senior designer Alysha Menzel shares inspiration she found while immersed in the vortex that was TDC 2022.

By Alysha Menzel, Senior Designer

Jun 2022

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The Design Conference is truly one of a kind. It’s a unique setting where creative stories and work feel much more relatable and intimate than at any other conference I’ve been to. It’s a real peek behind the curtain, where you see that people’s journeys are rarely as perfect as our curated digital selves pretend to be.

This year’s TDC showed me that the creative industry has come a long way, and its eyes are squarely on a better future for us all. Of course, there is still much to be done, but evidence of positive steps forward was everywhere. I heard conversations both on and off the stage that demonstrated how different our industry is starting to feel. There’s a push towards accountability, and people evaluating the drivers behind our design work. There was a collective consciousness that intensified with each speaker and conversation, resoundingly becoming the heartbeat of this year’s TDC. 

An undeniable spirit ran through every moment of this experience. From the ticket sales to the heartfelt closing, it’s clear that this spirit comes from founder, Matthew Haynes. In his infectious energy and ultimate realness, you see the tip of the blood, sweat and tears iceberg that goes into making TDC bigger and brighter every year. A huge thanks goes to Matt for being such an incredible figure within the design industry and making this magic happen. In the spirit of continuing to spread this magic, here are some of my reflections on this year’s conference.

Choose to challenge

A growing discourse that has rumbled through recent TDCs is that we need to challenge the drivers, goals and ways we operate in order to create the good we want to see in the world. So, good is the new cool was again a hot topic, but it was expressed this year with more noise, more urgency and more action. 

Johanna Roca from For The People made us question our core being. Her emphasis was on aligning one’s personal value system with one’s work ethic as being the only acceptable way to work. Jo admitted that it was an extreme privilege to be able to pick the clients you work with, but in any case, we should always question the problems that we are trying to solve. Linda Jukic of Accompany inspired us to challenge what is considered to be the norm or the expectations of others, and to have the courage to pursue our own journey, even if that means you having to pave your own path. 

Almost every speaker at the conference had an underlying theme of stepping up to challenge and change, proving that our industry is making good on that lofty ideal of designing our new future.

Process is a work in progress

The beauty of hearing the stories and learnings of others is that we get a peek behind a veil that we wouldn’t normally be privy to. Here we garner information that allows us to compare our own ways of working and make changes that are beneficial to us, our clients and our society.

For Sonja Källström of Re, process design is powerful because nothing else has as much influence over the quality of what you’re going to create. There are many ways to get from start to finish, but the path you shape will change the outcome and the experience for everyone involved. In a time when many of us have spent prolonged periods at home, Jack Musset of Motherbird reflected on being able to explore creativity by consistently encouraging transient hypofrontality (do yourself a favour and research deeper on this 🤓). Amanda Szylo-Duncan of Interbrand encouraged us to slow down in a world that wants to rush, to be able to ask more questions and get better answers. Jim Fuller from Fable Food Co. shared how inspiration and wonder can come from the least expected places, but it takes both openness and hindsight to recognise it.

The common thread here is that our process needs to be responsive, adaptive and include considered time to wander and explore. And by continuously learning from one another we can only improve the quality and impact of our work.

Empathy is not a dirty word

As creatives, we use it everyday, but we don’t necessarily think about the importance of empathy in relation to creating really good work and teams. Not so long ago, panic-inducing deadlines, crazy hour work days and the loudest voices in the room were our markers of success. Thankfully, this perspective is being challenged and changed. Now empathy, inclusion and compassion are synonymous with the goals of any project, and I’m here for that.

As Sumita Maharaj of Re explained, empathy is not a dirty word, it’s actually the thing that binds us. When we commit to empathy in our daily lives as creatives, we have the power to shape the visual landscape of modern Australia. Mike Tosetto and Zoe Crocker of Never Sit Still shared that empathy can even help you face the difficult reality of re-evaluating your own business. By the seemingly small act of omitting two sentences from their manifesto, the Never Sit Still team made a conscious and impactful change towards a healthier studio culture, where the team weren’t consumed by work.

It’s now cool to care. A much welcomed new era and reboot that was overdue. Watch this space to see the extraordinary work that is going to start flowing out with this new mindset.

To sign off I’d like to quote Matt from his closing talk, that ‘this is not the end, but actually just the start’. The start of our incredible design community striving to be more inclusive, more meaningful and more unified in our goal towards a better future. I also believe everyone’s next step towards that future is getting yourself a ticket to TDC 2023. Because again, in the words of Matt, it’s going to be ****ing huge.

Alysha Menzel

Senior Designer at Re

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