Speaking at the Leading Design Conference, New York ‘22

Justin Dauer on 2022-03-21

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak at the Leading Design conference in New York—my first in-person talk since last August’s UXPA International opening keynote (and only the second one, period, over the past two pandemic years).

Held at the Florence Gould Hall in Manhattan, this LeadingDesignConf event marked my first time as a part of their program. With an overall conference theme of Reconnection, I gave my talk “Our Imperatives: Connection & Fulfillment”—delivered for only the second time. This iteration would be refined to better connect with design leaders reconnecting with themselves (and their teams, and their teams’ work) during these tumultuous times. Culling 45 minutes of material down to 20 for my slot was a non-trivial feat, but it helped bring the salient points to a heightened level of focus.

Rediscovering what’s been missed

The lovely Florence Gould Hall during quieter times (pic 1: with Abbey Smalley, Margaret Lee, Ovetta Sampson, Peter Merholz, Alice Quan, Jeremy Keith // pic 2: intermission // pic 3: sound check, minutes before my talk)

The Leading Design speaker lineup is a humbling group to be a part of. You’ve got a keynote or two and a book release under your belt? Well, each of the other 7 people sitting across the table from you at the speakers’ dinner have accomplished five times that. Imposter syndrome was my +1 at the opening night reception.

The dialogues with the other speakers were constant, organic, and passionate throughout the few days we were together—and in quite a few cases, are still active and ongoing a few weeks later. After the past couple years, we, and those in attendance, were hungry to reconnect on what fuels us and the evolving issues we’ve all faced as design leaders. That energy was palpable in every conversation I had, and beyond a doubt, felt invigorating and essential.

About 15 seconds into my talk—“The briefest of introductions, if I may…” (Photo credit: Ayano Hisa)
Q&A with Jeremy Keith, Abbey Smalley, and Tutti Taygerly (Photo credit: Ayano Hisa)

The presentations themselves afforded a level of candor in personal narrative unlike any event I’ve been a part of thus far. We laughed, we cried (both quite literally), we were inspired — all, together. I can’t say enough about the vulnerability and courage of my fellow speakers, sharing their stories to move all of us — forward.

The masterful grouping of talks by the event organizers became evident over the two days we took the stage. Common themes by each day—given greater depth via unique and diverse perspectives—demonstrated that we’re navigating many of the same challenges. Dialogues with attendees reinforced that notion: leading amongst so much dramatic and consistent flux has made the need for connection to be an absolute imperative.

Engaging with the audience, beneath the purple stage lights (Photo credit: Ayano Hisa)

The level of thought given to every nuance of this conference—from inclusiveness and safety, to privacy of discussed material and questions asked, to thoughtfulness of conference gear, to quality of the coffee via the on-premises baristas, to the well-conceived accompanying online program—were simply top-notch. Macro and micro. The event organizers and team: equally thoughtful and tremendous to work with.

I wish I could’ve grabbed a cup with my old friend Andy Budd as well, but this would mark the first Leading Design he would not be a part of after stepping away for new adventures. Until the next Soho House drinks, then 🍻

The next Leading Design event is the Cotswolds Women’s Retreat, happening from April 26–29th.