Industry conferences; are they a thing or a dinosaur?

Design your "Scenius"

The Design Conference | Brisbane | June 2022

Industry conferences; are they a thing, or a dinosaur? The Pandemic lens bumps up against an experience we all know and love, are they in or out? In a time where we are aware of the costs of attending a conference; the time, the convenience, expense, the amount of carbon chewed up to relocate for three days is a real consideration. Compared to attitudes pre pandemic times, a conference is a privilege, what makes the benefits rise is the experience and the multi-sensory attention you can’t get from a video link.  

My take outs (The Skinny) of revisiting the conference space in Brisbane include…

  • We need to understand the privilege of attending big events. It's about people sharing their hearts, minds and work. Forget star presenters – real ideas, real points of view, real connection is premium.  Conference presenting focused on creating a great and deep experience is vital. Pick your conference carefully.
  • Conferences are a unique opportunity to capture collected ideas, create a forum for great ideas to sync, inspire change – you need effective conference organisers to get that.
  • Conferences of the future centre the user around the experience; the true power of the conference is everyone gathered, not just the speakers.
  • Diversity is mandatory – depth in gender, race and experience creates deeper insight, knowledge and expertise.
  • Access is essential – everyone needs the space to connect, share ideas, and create memories. Goodbye exclusive Green Room parties.
  • Optimising the spaces in-between matters at any good conference. Regular and quality breaks for all to meet, share ideas and connect. Bumping into a speaker, catching up with creatives from across Australia, talking about ideas raised during the session. You can't get that deep experience watching it at home.
  • Creativity continues to be a meeting of incredible talent, luck and being possessed to develop unique creative practices. People focused whilst not being afraid to explore the more profound questions.
  • An all-Australian line-up made me understand the depth of the local offer – goodbye to the Colonial idea – that overseas is bigger and better.
  • If you can afford it, plan your time make the conference experience part of your development. The spirit of gathering with others helps connect you with your practice and shape what matters to you.  Unlocking work that has the potential to create opportunity and connection.


Weeks out from Brisbane, I feel what makes the experience useful is to actively capture your top line ideas and take outs, and apply this thinking into how you can help your practice grow.


Jump on the internet and search for the word "Scenius" and "Brian Eno.” You will find a clip dating back to 2008, where Eno succinctly defines that he is not a genius; he's Scenius. It's obscure but hold on. He says that his effort and thinking is the product of being in a rich and diverse community, not the result of divine intervention.

Ideas and information are abundant today. Across every channel, there's a barrage of personalities and experts with points, tips and how-to’s at your convenience and comfort. It's carbon-friendly too! Compare the digital alternative to being a content centred event, you need add up all the effort and energy for a person to relocate temporarily, multiplied by the 700 people in the room with you… a big conference is significant carbon, cost and time experience – what would have to be true for the conference experience to be worthwhile?

A big people attended conference is truly a luxury of the times and I can see a future where the delivery of live conferences will change. I can't see them going away; I can only see the conference experience eclipsing what we know. The Design Conference in Brisbane is truly focused on what’s next.

Is it about me or us?

The recent pandemic induced disruption across the last two years has caused significant unrest for many of us. The upside has to be the space it created to rethink and reset.

During the last 30 years I’ve taken the conference experience for granted. I came to The Design Conference 2022 (TCD) completely willing to sit in the dark with 700 people, whilst listening to incredible stories over two days. Not since design school and seeing Neville Brody in the 1990s in Sydney was I deeply captivated by the energy, mood and environment for change that this room created. The Country acknowledgement had me wonder where the Turrbul and Jagera people gathered and corroboree? A few weeks beyond our corroboree, what are the stories, ideas and insights I can share with people who couldn't share the experience?  

Conferences are an amazing snapshot of our community. How can we rise above the moment, capture the ideas, mood and sentiments, and make these insights a point of reference for development and change?  

The format of the conference has to have diverse representation at its core. 

A diverse range of people underpins Matt Haynes and his team at The Design Conference. I loved seeing women across all sectors in the creative practice take the stage and sharing what it is like to be a woman in the design world. White, middle-aged men have dominated our sector for the entirety of my career, and it's sobering to realise and back this change. Sorry guys, there were exceptions; the female speakers seemed to answer the conference brief, whereas men tended to show off. Seeing the stage shared by women and men – like Gabbi and Mark from Block Branding in Perth allowed a wonderfully balanced conversation. 

How can we influence events to offer a diversity of people and ideas in our community?

Can real stories take the stage? 

How can you offer more than a dark room? How can the participants get more profound inspiration and connection? Matt designed the programme to be more than just a work showcase. Each day offered participants and speakers opportunities to make deeper connections with a series of side events that dropped the formality of the big stage. 

The audience is the most powerful force at any event. How can this collected group be inspired to shape their idea and output, in the room, in the shared conference spaces, and back out into the world?

This year, each speaker was tasked to talk about their vulnerabilities within their practice and the shared challenges they met. What's it like to be the only woman in a project? What's it like to be a woman of colour working in design? What is it like to be consistently taken for granted by men? What's it like to be more than a pretty face? What can design for good look like? What's it like to make design in Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide or Hobart? What's it like to rise above male bullshit and shine? What does it take to be present and listen? Wow, it's sobering. Many speakers explored how much luck and persistence influences them. Financial stress, mental health, physical injury, and countless funny memes owned the stage too. There was lots of amazing work, however being in-the-moment storytelling remains.

How can we task contributors / presenters to challenge their ideas and go beyond the output, seek the thinking? 

The Design Conference in Brisbane is a wonderful opportunity to discover your Scenius and participate in a unique and deep creative community experience. See you there in 2023. 


Scenius   |   The Design Conference

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