Attending My First Ever Design Thinking Conference

Dreams of Attending a Design Thinking Conference – How this Journey Started.

A few months ago, I would have never dreamt that 2018 would be the year that I’d attend my first-ever design thinking conference. After all, I’m not a designer, a UX/CX pro, or a design thinking expert from one of the mighty design schools. I’m an accidental design thinker, a lifelong marketing professional whom by chance, happened upon the incredible world of design thinking.

I’ve quickly fallen in love with design thinking. I love its potential for unlocking innovation across industries and functions. I love its intrinsic focus on the human mind and spirit. And I’m inspired by the many design thinking practitioners I continue to meet, from newbies to experts.

As with any passion I’ve discovered throughout my life, I’ve become fueled with an uncommon drive to fully immerse (in this case, in the world of design thinking). Online design thinking communities and trainings, in person meet-ups, and on the job design doing have helped to scratch the itch.

But I find myself yearning to explore deeper. To learn from experts. To be exposed to the latest design thinking trends. And to be physically surrounded by people who share my passion for design thinking. I truly believe that this knowledge and these connections will help me make a better impact in the world.

I’d be thrilled to have the opportunity to invest the time to enroll at one of the mighty d.schools, but with a family and a full-time career I already love, going back to school for an extended period of time just isn’t feasible. I needed to find some middle ground.

Hence a new dream entered my mind. The dream of attending my first design thinking conference.


I began to explore a variety of events/schools/classes that could potentially deepen my exploration of design thinking; options that:

  1. Met my DT learning objectives
  2. Were the right length of time
  3. Financially feasible

I became convinced that attending a design thinking conference was the best immediate answer.

But Which Design Thinking Conference Would Be Best for Me?

Design Thinking Conference Perplexed

I set forth a list of evaluation criteria, shared this criteria with a group of seasoned DT practioners, and developed a global list of potential DT conferences to attend.

I was ultimately looking for a 2-3 day design thinking conference that provided a blend of:

  • Formal design thinking training from industry leading experts
  • Opportunities to immediately practice and apply my new-found learnings
  • Speaker panels featuring pan-industry, cross-functional design thinking best practices, that expand my knowledge of DT
  • A deep attendee and speaker panel list, offering opportunities to connect with a large pool of DT enthusiasts & experts

I believed this blend would provide me what I was ultimately looking for – the ability to return to my organization energized, and loaded with confidence in my ability to introduce new design thinking capabilities that drive meaningful change.

Design Thinking Conference ConfidenceI developed an even shorter list of design thinking conferences to attend. However, this would be on my own time and dime. Should I go? Do I really need to go? I’m already pretty slammed at work. And there’s always 2019 or 2020 after all. This was something I could easily just put aside, so I thought.

But I couldn’t get the idea of attending a DT conference out of my mind.

Much like the characters in Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie “Inception”, I too had become “incepted”, incepted with the idea of attending a design thinking conference. I thought of the possibilities, and felt I just couldn’t afford to wait to sign up. My passion for DT was too strong, and the potential immediate benefits were too great for me to delay further.

I continued to research conference agendas, search for conference reviews, and evaluate potential trips/dates.

Holding me back from pulling the trigger was a deeper seeded belief that I didn’t belong at a DT conference, that I wasn’t seasoned enough.

I needed a nudge to get me over the edge. I didn’t have to wait long for that nudge…

Hitting my Bucket List Early in 2018 – Signing Up for My First Design Thinking Conference!

Over the holiday, I received the nudge that I needed. Incredibly, it came from the organizers of ‘Design Thinking 2018’, one of the largest (if not the largest) design thinking conferences in North America and the conference that happened to be at the top of my list based off my evaluation criteria.

Design Thinking 2018

I was offered the incredible opportunity to serve as an official media partner for Design Thinking 2018, and was provided a pass to attend the full conference as a result. I couldn’t have been more excited.

Why Was Design Thinking 2018 At The Top Of My Conferences List?

Design Thinking 2018 uniquely delivers on a number of my evaluation criteria:

  • It’s in Austin, Texas. Austin is one of my favorite cities in the United States. Great food, great music, wonderful local community, and fantastic weather in April. It also happens to be much closer to me than some of the other conferences I was considering, making it perfect to plan a short family vacation around. My family can’t wait as we know we’ll have a blast!


  • Formal design thinking education from industry thought-leaders including IDEO U, Continuum, and LUMA Institute. Day 1 of the conference is filled with workshops including ‘Design Thinking University’, ‘How to Create a Design Thinking Movement’, and ‘Leading for Creativity’. While I want to attend all of them, I’ll need to make a tough decision as Design Thinking University is a full day of training, whereas the other two are half day workshops. I know from personal experience that IDEO U’s online classes are wonderful and it would be wonderful and I’ve heard great things about LUMA Institute as well. But the opportunity to spend a full day participating in expertly facilitated design thinking training from Continuum is an opportunity I keep thinking is one not to be missed. Decisions, decisions…

Design Thinking Conference University1

  • Opportunities to actively practice my design thinking skills with other practioners. Day 2 of Design Thinking 2018 features a “Design Circuit”, an opportunity to rotate through each of the 5 Design Thinking stages in 30 minute intervals. Each stage of the circuit is hosted by DT experts from companies like Marriott, American Express, Steelcase, and DevMynd. I look forward to honing my newly developed DT skills from the Day 1 workshops, as well as the opportunity to gain feedback on some of the design thinking challenges I’m currently facing in my own organization.

Partial list of attendees from last year’s conference; the types of folks I envision meeting

  • Learn about the latest in design thinking trends and best practices. Days 2-3 feature lots of keynote speakers and roundtables from a wide range of industries. The topics are varied and broad, but the one thing they all have in common is that they are focused squarely on design thinking. I plan to hear every speaker. I am looking to get my design thinking fix… I’m going to be a sponge.

Design Thinking Conference Agenda

Design Thinking 2018 Agenda (excerpt from full agenda)

  • Option for site tours at leading design companies in Austin. Day 3 provides the opportunity to actually visit IBM Studios Austin or USAA’s new design studio. Again, decisions… Can only pick one. I’ve been a big fan of IBM’s design thinking methodology and am eager to hear from IBM Design Principal, Joni Saylor and her team. Safe to say that IBM is where I’m headed.

Design Thinking Conference IBM Design Studio

IBM Studios Austin

Is it time yet?

April 23rd-25th can’t come quick enough for me. I am so excited and filled with anticipation. I’ve attended dozens of trade conferences, yet find myself nervous as this will be my first design thinking conference (it will be like the first day of school!)

I can’t wait for this deep immersion into the world of design thinking. I’m eager to see how this conference will change me as a design thinking practioner, and the new worlds it will open through the people I’ll meet and the things I’ll learn. I’m feeling blessed to have this opportunity.

Interested in attending Design Thinking 2018?

I’m pleased to announce that Design Thinking 2018 has provided me a 10% discount offer that I can share with my network. If you are interested in attending and want to leverage the discount, use promo code: 2018DESIGN_TADT

I’ll be doing some prep in advance of the conference and am planning to share my pre-prep gameplan in March. In the meantime, I’ll be counting down the days until my design thinking conference dreams finally come true!

  1. […] 2/18/18 UPDATE:  I’m officially going to Austin! Read more here… […]


  2. […] My anticipation and expectations coming into Design Thinking 2018 were sky high. As the largest conference in the United States dedicated specifically to design thinking, Design Thinking 2018 held the promise of offering strong DT training and the opportunity to meet seasoned practitioners in the field. It certainly did not disappoint! […]


  3. […] past April, I crossed off a big item on my bucket-list by attending my first-ever design thinking conference. I had the opportunity to not only attend Design Thinking 2018 in Austin, but also serve as an […]


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