DSI at BWxD14 (part III)

Reflection on BWxD14 by DSI graduate student Davis Hermann

This past weekend, I had an opportunity to attend a design conference called A Better World by Design (BWxD) in Providence, Rhode Island.  The conference was a 3-day, popular event run entirely by students at either Brown or RISD.  The event was quite large, with hundreds of attendees and dozens of speakers and workshops.  I was amazed by the scale of the event, especially given that the organizers are students.  The theme this year was Wayfinding – a great topic – but most of the conference events were geared towards the interests of the presenters rather than the overall theme.

I had a variety of responses to the speakers, but one huge bonus of watching so many presentations back to back is that I had a chance to see what was and wasn’t working in a very concentrated, comparable way.  Some speakers had beautiful slides, while others used slides that were purely utilitarian and content-driven.  One thing they all shared is that every presenter relied primarily on images and simple graphics rather than densely-worded slides or ones with complicated visual representations.  Rather, all the presenters were able to supplement simple slides with the necessary context to keep their narrative going.

Some presenters stayed very conceptual, while others dove deep into the specifics of the methods and actions used for individual projects.  This was another important aspect of the conference for me – seeing the gradient between narratives that stayed high level and those that reached a degree of granularity.  My favorite presentations generally slid all the way across that spectrum, but others, like a presentation about energy, human carrying capacity, and spirituality, never mentioned a single action or method.

Ultimately, the key to capturing my attention was building a basic structure of an argument to explain why you did what you did, how you did it, and what the impact was.  There is room for high-level thinking in this structure, but I think these are the fundamental touchpoints for anyone presenting project-based work, which almost everyone was.  The impact piece was where many presenters lost me.  Some presenters avoided the question of measuring impact altogether, while many more relied on subjective, descriptive language to characterize the impact of their work.  I’m realizing that one thing we do in our graduate program very well is insist on building impact measurement into the design process.

This entry was posted on Thursday, October 2nd, 2014 at 10:45 am.