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Our top takeaways from The Design Conference

Attending The Design Conference in Brisbane and interviewing the speakers for our Design Talks series was an experience full of insights, laughs — and surprises. Here are our top takeaways, and why they weren’t what we expected.


The Design Conference (TDC) is an annual three-day design conference set in Brisbane, Australia, pulling together an eclectic mix of speakers from all types of creative disciplines: graphic designers, motion artists, wordsmiths, thinkers, tinkerers, agency owners, and thought leaders, all together in one place sharing their inspiring work, along with the ups and downs they encountered along the way.

We were lucky enough to attend and gain even more insight through interviewing all the speakers just as they came off stage, learning more about their perspectives on creative industries, now and in the future for our new Youtube series Design Talks.

Here are some of our favorites, courtesy of the Canva Design team.

Beau Penton | Brand Designer

Mike Tosetto and Zoe Crocker from leading motion design studio Never Sit Still brought up the moment they finally listened to their instincts, wishing they’d done so sooner rather than waiting for a project to go south to then realize there were problems. Andy Wright, CEO of Streamtime and founder of Never Not Creative also talked about how we should be looking to leaders to show empathy and listen rather than pushing teams to work at all costs — and to put the team ahead of the client.

The importance of including our users and customers in the creative journey and giving the audience a platform to use their voice was also discussed.

Jane Duru from R/GA went in-depth on a couple of projects that included a more diverse range of people that greater reflected the audience they were talking with.

“Why draw like everyone, when no-one draws like you?” was a message independent artist and illustrator Karen Singh received early on from a fellow artist on Deviantart. It’s easy to get caught up in the cycle of comparisons: “They’re doing that like this, so this must be the way”. We’re an industry built off originality and creativity — so don’t look over and feel the need to be someone else. Back yourself. Be the difference. Be the change.

Nick Belshaw | Design Educator

When I was asked to attend TDC to interview some of my design heroes, I was both elated and terrified. Inevitably, a sense that “I'm not worthy” began to creep in.

Well, it wasn’t just me: imposter syndrome, creative self-doubt, and burnout are all too common in the creative industries and rarely discussed in a meaningful way. This is exactly what makes TDC so different from other conferences. Matt Haynes, the conference organizer, is like a towering fountain of positivity. “Be vulnerable” is the only brief he insists upon his speakers.

Here are some of the highlights for me:

Jo Roca, For The People: I’ve known Jo for a long time and was fascinated to hear about her love/hate relationship with the world of branding. Like many of us, she continues to struggle with the fact that design is often so intrinsically linked to consumerism. She asked us to consider whether branding can serve a purpose beyond just “manufacturing desire” for a target audience. This question has undoubtedly led to her current passion, and the title of her talk: Place Branding and the Politics of Belonging.

Jack Mussett, Motherbird: Jack opened with the quirky admission that he’s been described as ‘drier than a Cruskit’, which set the tone for the rest of his talk — a thought-provoking and hilarious account of the science and psychology of creativity. He admitted his advice, “get out and get lost” has been extremely hard to achieve in recent years amid global lockdowns and the endless cycle of bad news.

Some other nuggets of wisdom from various speakers included Mark Braddock and Gabbi Fountain from Block encouraging designers to “be annoyingly resilient”, and to “fire clients often” when dealing with toxic relationships. Gareth O’Brien from BUCK’s firm belief in collaboration and nurturing new talent, proclaiming: “Someone else’s idea is usually better than yours.” And lastly, Liana Rossi from Ogilvy discussed what it felt like to be labeled ‘surprisingly professional’ by an old colleague in a backhanded compliment as she unpacked what professionalism in our industry really means.

Jess Buchanan | Design Educator

TDC opened my eyes to how a large event can actually foster both warmth and connection between speakers and audience. All the speakers were high-achieving talented people, but there were no pedestals in sight.

And what did I learn listening to these stories and journeys?

  • Almost every creative has experienced significant imposter syndrome during their career.

It was easy to forget these were some of Australia’s most eminent creatives when almost everyone spoke about how they second-guessed themselves, but dived in and tried even while battling monumental imposter syndrome. I heard this again and again.

  • Success is never a straight line from A to B and it requires you to live outside your comfort zone.

I enjoyed hearing what was often a wild journey from A to B for many designers and studios. Ant Donovon from Frost spoke about how he got rejected from a low-key early career design job due to not having enough experience, only to then land an Art Director job at Black and White Magazine only a few days later. He was brave enough to take it while still running the inner monologue from the recent job rejection.

  • Creative block — yes it exists, but there is an answer!

The unanimous answer from leading creatives is if creative block strikes… walk around the block! Every single person we asked suggested walking away from what you’re doing to get some perspective. Allow time for those ideas to simmer, percolate and cross-reference themselves in your mind so they can emerge in all-new fresh combinations your desk-bound brain wasn’t seeing.

Matt Leach | Design Educator

I’ve been attending and working on TDC since 2015 and I’ve seen it grow and mature into one of the best design events in Australia. But it’s not the caliber of the speakers or their talks on the main stage that make it great. Nor is it the workshops, or the extra things that surround the conference. What makes TDC different is the people who attend.

The audience, speakers, organizing team, and sponsors — everyone has devoted the time to the conference, to be there, fully. They’ve given up work, study, and normal life to completely immerse themselves in design and each other. And, it shows.

This is all credit to Matt Haynes, founder, evangelist, and chief organizer of TDC. His willingness to show his passion and vulnerability is infectious. He asks this of the speakers and is not afraid to have the contentious, awkward, and open discussions needed if we are to push this industry forward.

So, what impacts me every year is not necessarily the keynotes. It’s the conversations in the hallway, catch-ups over coffee ahead of the next talk, and deep discussions in the hotel bar before bed. This is why it’s rare to find first-timers at the event because once you’ve been, you’re part of the family and we know you’ll be back next year.

There were so many more gems. We can’t wait to share them with you in our new Design Talks series, where we interview some of Australia’s foremost creatives and industry leaders about the future of design, the first of which is now available on our YouTube channel.