17 Design Thinking Conferences for 2018

I’ve heard great things about design thinking conferences but have never actually attended one. I’m hopeful to attend my first one in 2018 but am unsure which one to choose. Ever since I discovered and fell in love with the world of design thinking, I’ve actively sought ways to continue my journey. I’ve networked with other design thinkers both online and in person. I’ve read every piece of design thinking literature I can get my hands on. I’ve taught & applied design thinking in my job. But I’m still hungry to learn more…

Why do I want to attend a design thinking conference?

In a nutshell, I’m looking to network, learn, be inspired, and have fun in the process. Firstly, nothing beats the power of meeting fellow design thinkers in person. I believe there’s tremendous power in shared-interest communities and the ability to bounce ideas off others in real-time. Second, I’m always on the lookout for the latest trends in design thinking and actively seek to advance my knowledge in the field. The educational seminars, best practices, and innovative ideas that a design thinking conference can provide, would be hugely valuable to myself and the teams that I lead. Finally, I believe it would be a ton of fun. I love to travel to interesting places, learn new skills, and meet cool people; I imagine that design thinking conferences could easily deliver all three.

My key consideration factors for choosing a design thinking conference:

As I research design thinking conferences, I have 5 criterion that are guiding my decision making process.

  1. Language: What is the dominant language used in the seminars, discussions, etc.? (I’m looking for English, or at the very least, English subtitles)
  2. Content/Agenda: Who are the speakers? How rich/diverse/interesting is the agenda? If the conference has been held in the past, how strong was the previous agenda?
  3. Location: Conferences closer to home (for me, this means North America) are certainly attractive from a cost & logistics standpoint. However, I’ve noticed there are design thinking conferences in lots of enticing locations beyond the US; places easy to visit through a business trip or fun enough to include as part of a family vacation.
  4. Length of Time: Assuming a great agenda and attendee base, 2-3 days of dedicated focus is my ideal.
  5. Cost: This includes flights, accommodations, and the cost of the conference itself.

Conferences dedicated to design thinking are harder to find than I expected. 

As I began researching design thinking conferences, I was surprised not to find more conferences dedicated solely to design thinking. I often found design thinking as a component or workshop within a related but different type of conference (e.g. UX, innovation, design, entrepreneurship conferences). While I’ve identified design thinking conferences in 6 of 7 continents, they’re available more by the handful than by the dozens.

My 3-part strategy for creating my initial list of potential DT conferences to attend:

I love to plan in advance and have reached out to peers and searched the web to identify the best design thinking conference for me to attend next year. While there are attractive potential options for the first half of 2018, I’ve found many conferences haven’t solidified dates & locations for 2018 (unsurprisingly as we’re still in 2017). Additionally, agendas & lists of speakers often aren’t published or finalized until much closer to the actual conference date.

My initial strategy for evaluating design thinking conferences includes 1) getting recommendations from peers, 2) finding conferences in 2018 with information already listed, and 3) identifying established conferences that have had great reviews in the past to get a sense of when and where they might occur in 2018.

My Initial Target List of Design Thinking Conferences for 2018

Design Thinking Conferences

IMPORTANT NOTE – Red Font Means Conference Date/Location Needs to Be Confirmed. For newer conferences, this also means confirming whether they are actually happening at all in 2018 

Africa

  • Design Thinking Ghana Conference (DTGC) – (Accra, Ghana – May 2018?)
  • Design Indaba (Cape Town, South Africa – February 21-23, 2018)
    • Not a pure design thinking conference, heavy focus on the holistic creativity/pure design side. However, have heard great reviews from prior sessions. I also love Cape Town!
    • 1, 2, & 3 day passes available / ~$225-$525 USD
    • Feb 2018 Conference Details

Antarctica

  • Not available but coming eventually? I hear there are lots of experiments and innovation projects happening on Antarctica so perhaps it’s only a matter of time before someone converts one of those Antarctica-bound cruise ships from Ushuaia or Punta Arenas, into a design thinking cruise ship conference!

Asia

  • Innovation by Design Conference (Singapore – March 6-8, 2018)
    • An expansion of the ‘Innovation by Design Conference’ held in Singapore the past 2 years. Part of Singapore Design Week. Some great companies & speakers, with a few videos from 2017 available on the site. Participants can submit interest but must then be “invited”.
    • 3 days / $2,500 USD
    • Mar 2018 Conference Details
  • Design Thinking in Action (Hong Kong – October 2018?)
    • Smaller conference with has some interesting speakers. Videos from the 2016 session are posted on their website. Participants can submit interest but must then be “invited”.
    • 2 days / Cost ?
    • Link to Details from 2017 Conference
  • Service Design Hong Kong – (Hong Kong – October 2018?)
    • Conference happens annually during Fall. Some great speakers and interesting topics. In 2017, it happened the same week as DTIA (the conference above), but on different days of the week.
    • 2 days / Cost ?
    • Conference Homepage

Australia

  • Design Thinking 2018 – (Sydney, Australia – June or November 2018?)
  • UX Australia – (Sydney, Australia – August 2018?)

Europe

  •  The Design Thinking Conference – (Amsterdam, Netherlands – October 2018?)
    • A very non-traditional conference, this design thinking conference by DesignThinkers Academy is heavily influenced by the world of theater. There is a heavy focus on learning by doing in this conference. Fantastic & seasoned facilitators (or “actors”/”actresses” as they refer to them).
    • 2 days / $1,000 – $1,300 USD
    • Link to Details from October 2017 Session
  • Future London Academy – (London, England – March 19-23, 2018)
    • This is actually a course, not a conference. It’s also very small in size. However, it would meet many of my objectives of attending a DT conference. Described as a ‘design safari’, the course content feels very thoughtfully curated.
    • 5 days / $2,600 USD
    • March 2018 Course Details
  • Serv Des – (Milan, Italy – June 18-20, 2018)
    • A mix of academic & practical insights for the world of service design. It feels much more academic in nature than other conferences I’ve evaluated.
    • 3 days / $150 – $500 USD
    • June 2018 Conference Details
  • POLISHOPA – (Bydgoszcz, Poland – June 4-7, 2018)
    • They’ve had some interesting speakers in the past. Videos from prior speakers are available on the website.
    • 4 days / Cost ?
    • June 2018 Conference Details
  • Design Thinking (Luxatia) – (Prague, Czech Republic – October 2018?)
  • The UX Conference – (London, England – February 20, 2018)

North America

  • Design Thinking – (Austin, TX – April 23-25, 2018)
    • Fantastic list of speakers, this one has been recommended to me by a handful of people and is one of my top choices if I plan to stay closer to home.
    • 3 days / $550 – $3,700 USD (many different ticket options)
    •  April 2018 Conference Details
  • RGD DesignThinkers – (Toronto, ON – November 2018?)
  • RGD DesignThinkers – (Vancouver, BC – May 29-30, 2018)

South America

  • Interaction South America – (Location TBD – November 2018?) 
    • Interaction and UX design centric conference. Features both Spanish & English speaking presenters. Location in South America changes every year. Conference tends to happen sometime in November.
    • 3 days / $280 – $300 USD
    • Link to 2017 Conference in Floripa Brazil

With a full time job outside the field of design thinking, and limited time/budget, I’m thinking a North American conference might be my best bet for 2018. However, I plan to keep this list handy and up-to-date in case my business travel or vacation plans take me to another continent. If there are other good ones I’m missing for 2018 or updated info for the ones I’ve identified, please let me know!

  1. It’s not a conference, but you could add the world’s biggest event which uses design thinking: the Global Service Jam (and the sister events Global GovJam and Global Sustainability Jam). The #GSJam takes piace in around 100 cities simultaneously, where thousands of participants work on the same challenge, publishing hundreds of new prototypes at the end of the Jam.

    Reply

    1. accidentaldesignthinker November 6, 2017 at 10:02 pm

      Thank you for reaching out and for sharing! I have heard a little bit about Global Service Jam and am interesting in exploring it a bit more. From what I know and have heard thus far, it sounds like a wonderful event!

      Reply

  2. Hi!! Thank you for the list, i’m trying to find design thinking conferences in north america but its been really difficult to find something, everything is in europe. is there anyway you can send me information of other conferences u find?

    Reply

    1. accidentaldesignthinker November 10, 2017 at 3:31 pm

      Hi Victoria! Thank you for reading my article and for your question. I will be updating this article again as I collect new info and the best way to stay connected to latest updates is through my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/theaccidentaldesignthinker/ .

      Where in North America are you most interested in? Most of my NA connections are in the US & Canada. If you are looking for Central or South America, you might want to try asking people in the Facebook Group ‘design thinking para tod@s’.

      Let me know what you’re looking for and I’ll try and help!

      Reply

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