Founder | Authentic Design
Surya Vanka is the founder of Authentic Design, previously Director of User Experience at Microsoft, a tenured design professor of industrial design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study.
Surya has helped to advance industrial design in its broadest sense across multiple sub-disciplines. He chaired discipline-transforming international conferences for IDSA (IDSA 50th anniversary conference), IxDA (Interaction Week 2019), and DMI (DMI International Conference 2011). He has developed two widely used bodies of industrial design knowledge that have been in use for two decades: “MaterialTool: Compendium of Materials and Processes for Industrial Design” and “ColorTool: International Color Guide.” He created the Design Swarms method and platform which is now used in business, non-profit, and educational institutions worldwide.
Surya helped create the Design Council Double Diamond and the DMI Design Value Framework. At Microsoft, Surya led the corporate design excellence team for over a decade and helped build a global design community of over 1000 designers across multiple centers in the United States, as well as in China, the Czech Republic, Denmark, India, Ireland, Israel, and Japan. He was president of the Seattle Design Festival, the largest citizen-powered design festival in the US, and helped it to grow it from 3,000 to 30,000 participants, and drove a vision of unleashing the design thinker in every Seattle resident to take on civic challenges.
He leads the World Design Organization’s global Chief Design Officer consortium of top industrial design leaders across the world. He also teaches in the iDesign executive education program of the Confederation of Indian Industries.
He has served as president of the board of Design in Public and on the advisory boards of DMI and Seattle Interactive. He serves on international juries such as Singapore Design Mark, Cradle to Cradle, and the India Design Excellence Awards. He is a partner in the Diversify by Design, a coalition of program partners, NGOs, grassroots organizations, corporations, agencies, associations, education institutions, and individuals with a shared goal of breaking down racial inequities throughout design disciplines.
Surya led the Imagine Cup Design Competition, the world’s largest student design competition, and has taught design on every continent except Antarctica. In addition to industry design awards, he has received The Ohio State University Distinguished Design Alumnus Award, Microsoft Engineering Best Practice Award, the Accessibility Achievement Award, and top design speaker awards three times. Surya’s work is featured in forums such as TEDx, Form, Design Council, WIRED, Interactions, BBC, and NPR.
Statement of Candidacy (Chapter Director - Board of Directors | 2023-2024 term)
In my 35 years as an industrial designer, this is the most exciting and turbulent time for our discipline. Industrial design’s origins lie in the mechanization of production a hundred years ago, and although the core has remained much the same, each year we move away from our origin story at a dizzying pace— from industrial societies based on manufacturing towards knowledge societies based on information.
All around us, we see the overlap of industrial design with disciplines like user experience, interaction design, and service design. This moment is a fork in the road for the industrial design discipline and industrial design careers—either to greater relevance or gradual dilution. This is not a time to be bystanders to the tsunami of change shaping our discipline. This is the time for leadership.
I believe that the leadership we need to navigate these times of change cannot be top-down from a few leaders, but comes from the insights, talent, and drive in the strong roots of the membership—the Sections and Chapters of IDSA. I believe in the power of the IDSA community to achieve our collective goals. I believe that when we nurture both the mature and fledgling Chapters and Sections with the appropriate resources and support to help them to thrive, we create the virtuous cycle where the success of one can raise others and move our entire disciple forward.
The pandemic has brought plenty of challenges to creating community and events but has also given us a glimpse into the power of online and hybrid models. This offers opportunities for boldly reimagining the future of Chapters and Sections. I believe that IDSA gains strength when we carefully nurture the diversity of voices that create our community.
I have been involved in IDSA Chapters for over 20 years. Other initiatives, such as the IDSA Women in Design Chapters, are earlier in the maturity cycle and need support. We have to face the fact that the industrial design profession is not diverse, not representative, nor equitable today. The higher up you go in organizations, you see less representation of black and brown designers; women, female-identified, and non-binary designers; and designers with disabilities. I believe IDSA Chapters can help shape a future of an equitable industrial design discipline where everyone prospers.
It will be a priority for me to support those initiatives that help ensure everyone in our community can have a thriving industrial design career, and the opportunity to contribute to building a thriving industrial design discipline. I believe that when we transform ourselves, we transform the discipline. I also believe that when we transform the discipline, we transform ourselves.
This transformation does not happen at the annual conference but at the frequent IDSA Chapter interactions. The IDSA community is tightly knit; but as it expands, I believe that it is important that we are increasingly data-driven so we ensure that all members, Chapters, and Sections are supported equitably; this would be another priority for me.