The team at IDSA headquarters has been hard at work preparing for what we expect to be a wonderful and exciting 2019. These efforts are building on our positive performance in 2018 and combine with strategic adjustments designed to reinvigorate the experience members have with our organization. I, along with the Board of Directors, would like to provide you with the following Membership Update - the first of what I hope will become a regular occurrence during my tenure as your Executive Director. My goal here is to strengthen our collective understanding as to the current and future plans of the Society.
A Quick Look at the Current Landscape
I think we can all agree that the speed at which things evolve has been rapidly increasing year over year. Some of the most successful products, services and businesses today (think iPad, Spotify, Instagram) did not exist 10 years ago. These have fundamentally redefined how people connect, create and consume. Yes, everything around IDSA has been changing, yet we have maintained a relatively quiet and constant pace.
As a result, the needs of our membership have progressed outside of what our current offerings provide. A rift was slowly becoming wider and wider. As an organization, IDSA is not alone here. Even the most laudable professional associations are undergoing massive transformations due to pervasive macro trends that have slowly been undermining everything about the traditional association model. Together they pose a formidable opposition to our growth. These include:
- Battle for time and attention: Split seconds elapse between someone’s decision to invest, participate or engage. People are bombarded with messaging from all sides and across multiple channels each and every day.
- Heightened expectations: People have come to expect hyper-me, hyper-now, hyper-contextual experiences no matter what the context or who is providing it.
- Fragmentation and specialization: A one-size-fits-all solution doesn’t work anymore. In trying to be everything to everyone, it’s easier to become not much to anyone.
- Generational gaps: Our audience spans the entire arc of a professional career—from student through retirement. Subsets within that arc have vastly different experiences, value structures and mental systems that impact how they view even the concept of what being a member of something means.
- Competition: Every single offering IDSA produces has competition now that wasn’t there before. This means that people have many options and will choose to invest their time and money where they think they’ll see the most return.
- Shifting technology: Digital services and rapidly accessible technology has fundamentally changed how people connect, access information and expect to interact.
None of these are unsurmountable, but how we respond to these trends today is different than what we might have done in years prior. Associations have historically been laggers when it comes to staying current with the times … IDSA intends to shake this propensity. We’ve heard directly from you that we need to be more agile, forward thinking and design driven. Our response means that today we are in the midst of a significant shift in our approach to delivering a membership experience that returns meaningful value and offers an enduring place of home for our community of industrial designers across the world.
Our Future Vision
Throughout 2018, as Interim Executive Director, I worked with the Board and IDSA staff collectively to develop an actionable vision and strategic plan. This effort took inspiration from and builds on the momentum, conversations and recommendations of previous Board cohorts from many years prior. I shared our ‘future vision’ with the membership in New Orleans during the annual business meeting/year in review at the International Design Conference in September 2018. Video of this can be seen here.
We are excited to carry this vision into 2019 and beyond. At its core, the future of IDSA is built around a renewed focus on strengthened communities and quality content to return lasting health for the Society and an improved membership value. More specifically:
- Community means creating connections over followers. Create engaging environments and opportunities that allow members to enrich their lives and careers as industrial designers. These are facilitated (primarily) through in person networking and knowledge exchange encounters.
- Content means quality over quantity. We need to work toward developing and delivering meaningful subject matter that (1) is relevant to industrial designers, (2) aides in career advancement and professional development, (3) provides an educated opinion on the current state of industrial design as a profession, business tool and impact agent, and (4) uniquely highlights the talent and successes of our community members.
- Value means experiences over transactions. Value is an individually held calculation that adapts throughout the stages of an industrial designer’s career. Value must be experienced in order to take hold at a deeper level.
Put in even simpler terms: Community + Content = Value.
Changes to Conference Programming
The redesign of the International Design Conference (IDC) 2018 in New Orleans was the first step and realization of IDSA’s new future vision. It marked a decisive shift in IDSA’s approach to events and offered a more dynamic experience for IDSA gatherings. Our next IDC will carry this momentum and take place in Chicago in August 2019.
In November 2018, IDSA made an announcement of the discontinuation of our five District Design Conferences. While this news may have come as a surprise, trust that no one at IDSA takes a change like this lightly. Yes, the DDCs have been a mainstay in our event portfolio for many years, yet even with valuable volunteer support DDCs had become progressively complex in terms of logistics and resources required to produce while maintaining an affordable price point. Post event surveys revealed travel challenges, unmet expectations and overall expense as being significant barriers to participation. In reality, there are better, more agile ways for IDSA to leverage its resources to provide something truly unique and beneficial that brings together our student and professional communities. More on DDCs can be found here.
In fact, professional chapters are already starting to embrace the possibilities of this opportunity by building new events that gather district communities for design celebration and dialog. This is exactly the type of positive action we hoped to see. The team at IDSA headquarters will offer our support through expanded chapter leadership training programs and tool kits that enable to the local chapter teams to perform to their fullest extent.
Similarly, many schools in our network host their own day-long design events aimed at providing students with the tools and resources needed to make the transition into the professional workforce. Some of these have been a regular occurrence for many years … RIT’s Thought At Work and Auburn University’s Design Interaction are two great examples. Here again, we are working with our professional chapters and local education leaders to amplify how IDSA contributes to these events that will establish new connections between the student and professional communities.
Finally, in 2019, IDSA is excited to introduce a new series of event programming we are calling ‘Deep Dives’. These are day-long gatherings where design practitioners can share in ID-relevant content built around a specific subject matter. This new format features a mixture of speaker/presentations, interactive skill-building workshops, off-site experiences and more. The first Deep Dive of 2019 will support our rapidly growing Women in Design community and will be held May 3 in San Francisco. The second Deep Dive will focus on Medical Design and will take place in October in Boston (more info later in the year). In 2020 we will expand the offering to a minimum of 3 Deep Dives per year, with the very real possibility of more as demand grows.
A quick word on SMA’s - The Undergraduate and Graduate Student Merit Award competition will continue and will remain a highlight of our academic programing. Judging for both will now take place entirely online. This will enable several key advancements; most notably it will bring much needed standardization to the overall process and allow for a more rigorous judging evaluation. Read more about SMAs here.
Our history must not define or impede us from making positive steps towards our future. Yes, we need to be mindful of our tremendous legacy, but we must simultaneously maintain the ability to sustain the speed of our surroundings and we should be in a continuous search for more opportunities for awareness, inclusion, progression, success.
Our society is a community of designers who support one another and the Industrial Design profession at the same time. Our composition and value are strengthened by voices from diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives … this must be reflected in every aspect of what we do. Particularly when it comes to the elected positions of our Board of Directors - after all, they are they body that ultimately guides the direction of the society (more on Board nominations and elections this summer).
IDSA is part of a global dialog of designers to whom we can contribute a unique viewpoint, that of Industrial Design. We are a champion for Industrial Design within this design ecosystem and our voice needs to remain steady, true, and trusted. We have always excelled at bringing people together in shared discourse. These connections are likely what most of you reflect on when communicating why the organization is so important. Our pursuit of meaningful, one-on-one connections will always remain.
Change is never easy, but I look forward to this tremendous opportunity ahead of us. I encourage you all to keep IDSA’s local and national leadership teams connected to the conversation so that we can work through this transition together. We are all designers and I would hope that we can view this as a pivotal moment to rethink, from the ground up, how IDSA supports its members and the design community as a whole.
We are on the crest of a mighty wave. It is powerful. It is important. It is necessary. And it is so very exciting!
Chris Livaudais, IDSA
Executive Director - Industrial Designers Society of America