What did I learn at the DesignUp Conference 2018?

DesignUp wasn’t the first conference that I had attended. When you become part of the Indian startup ecosystem, meetups, events, and conferences are something you’ll often find yourself attending every other weekend. Some attend to learn and meet people, while some to network and grow their business. But it was definitely the first time that I had attended a conference that was not just brilliant in terms of attendees, speakers, and the way it was organized, but brilliant in terms of its values — the ideas, the vision, and the belief.

DesignUp 2018 attendees during the welcome address — celebrating in every sense.

To be honest, before applying for the DesignUp Scholarship Program, I was more excited about the “scholarship” than I was about “design”. I have always been excited about scholarships. But in those three days that I spent in Bangalore, I spoke to people from all parts of India (quite literally), learned from people who were solving some of the most complex problems, and had conversations with some of the most diverse set of people. Adobe, Atlassian, Airbnb, Google, and designers from some of the most inspiring companies were a conversation away from me.

No matter how many notes I could have taken, or the sessions I could have recorded, I don’t think there is any way that I can reflect and justify what I experienced at the DesignUp 2018. Here I’m listing 5 things that I learned at DesignUp 2018 as a DesignUp Scholar.

DesignUp 2018 Conference Day 1

It always takes a village to raise a child: Haven’t we all heard this? But I witnessed it in the true sense at DesignUp. Partners, speakers, volunteers, attendees, ground staff, technicians — it felt like everyone involved was invested in making it a success. And in all its possibility, the event was one. When you are trying to put together something that hundreds of people trust, you cannot completely avoid mishaps. But what each one of us, for those three days, chose to believe was the spirit of DesignUp. It wasn’t a one-man show. It never is.

Designers can never “just do their jobs”: The day I reached Bangalore, the first person I met in the lobby was trying to implement design solutions in remote hospitals. Daniel Burka, ex-Google Ventures, left something that thousands of people dream about to work at Resolve to Save Lives. Today he is working to save 100 million lives and prevent epidemics by scaling up proven strategies on a global level. We may all have our own definitions of what a designer should do, or their role in an organization — design products, manage user experience, build design systems, craftsmanship etc. But there is always more to a designer’s job. One day they are thinking as users and how they will use the product, the next day as engineers to understand how to build it. From experience to interface, and from creation to innovation, you cannot define the role of a designer. The only definition I’d agree with is that designers solve problems. Period.

Jay Dutta, the co-founder of DesignUp, announcing the DesignUp + DesignIndaba Challenge 2019

Collaboration can change the world: When Saritha Thomas, founder of People’s Power Collective was on stage, I knew her story was one that would change something within all of us — in those few minutes of her talk, I learned the true value of strong communities. I was in awe of what she was doing with communities that may have never used a smartphone. When one side of the world is talking about AI, Machine Learning, and other technologies, here she was truly enabling change through meaningful ideas. Fast forward to the closing of the event when the collaboration between DesignUp and DesignIndaba was announced — to help Saritha take PPC to the next level and make a bigger impact. Isn’t it inspiring and amazing how these collaborations literally can change so many things? I can’t wait to see how the DU + DI Challenge unfolds. More details here.

You create your own space in this world: This is for all the introverts who often find it hard to attend conferences and meetups. But the one thing that I learned was that it’s all about putting yourself out there — through our experiences, our ideas, and our work. It’s okay to be awkward, it’s okay to not have anything to contribute to every conversation, it’s okay to not fit in. I haven’t studied design. And, of whatever little I know, I only know what the internet has taught me. In a room full of designers where everyone was talking so passionately about design and their work, I often found myself “not fitting in”. But, I always had a chance to listen. I didn’t speak much on the first day, except at the writing workshop where I felt I could contribute. But at the end of three days, I had made some amazing friends. I had spoken to so many attendees and knew so much more. I was more inspired than ever to always give things a chance.

Goodness always compounds: DesignUp is one of the largest conferences in South East Asia. It is listed amongst “the world’s most exciting events”. The waitlist often starts months before the conference. It is attended by people from across India and South East Asia. What’s so different? Definitely the people! There were people who were selflessly working round the clock to make it a great experience for each other. Every morning for the three days they came in with more energy, positivity, and excitement. The organizers had set the bar high for themselves and then lived up to it! In the brief chat that I had with the JDallcaps, founder of DesignUp, I found him to be one of the most humble people I’d ever have met. When DU co-founder Narayan, should have been the one celebrating at the after-party, I found him managing arrangements behind the scenes. The volunteers were busy ensuring that each attendee had the best experience. It’s not unreasonable to imagine what DesignUp would do in the coming years to continue inspiring — the goodness always compounds.

DesignUp 2018 team of volunteers and speakers

I am so grateful to have experienced those three days at DesignUp 2018, more so as a scholar. Thanks to the DesignUp Team who are committed to creating more opportunities, giving more opportunities, and truly living up to the vision of DesignUp — a conference, a community, a cause.

About the Author

It is too easy to make me happy! I write about things I read, learn, my life and everything in between. Love small towns and big dreams.

About Us

DesignUp started with the idea of raising the design agenda within tech companies and tech-led businesses. To make tech, businesses, products and services thoughtful, human and humane, by Design.

DesignUp is volunteer-driven and community led. There are no full time salaried employees—we all have our day jobs. For us, DesignUp is a passion and unifying force.

Core Team

DesignUp’s core team includes Abhishu, Anindita, Baisam, Dharmesh, Jay, Lucky, Manu, Nikita, Nitesh, Narayan, Prabin, Saloni, Sima, Supriya & Tuhina.

Advisory Board

DesignUp Advisory board, constituted in 2018, has Katja Forbes, Vandana Abraham and V Shivakumar on the team.


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