This past March, SD Design Trek took students and early-UX career professionals on a three-day showcase of design companies in San Diego to gain a firsthand look at what the local design community has to offer. The March 4 kickoff and showcase took place just down the hall from the Design Lab, in Atkinson Hall’s Auditorium.
The event commenced with the words of keynote speaker, Amish Desai, who graduated from UCSD in 2003 with a Cognitive Science HCI degree and currently serves as the VP of Experiences at Moonshot. “[The talk] was about being design minded, in terms of design being much more than a craft and is actually a driver for business growth,” he says. “The idea is to instill some lessons I learned in the last 17 years as to why the importance of design is not just beautiful things but is also about doing experiments and making, driving cultural changes, creating experiences, analytics, and having business rigor.”
At the conclusion of Desai’s talk, the design showcase began. Participants were invited to mingle and network with design representatives from 16 different companies from a variety of fields, such as social enterprise, brand building, and education.
ResMed, a medical equipment company, represented the rise of design thinking tools in healthcare. “In healthcare, traditionally, design hasn’t been used and it’s been more functional,” says ResMed UX Design Manager Dawn Ta. “But with the increase in popularity of user experience and user-centered design, there’s a lot more empathy being introduced into the healthcare system, which is really important for creating solutions that will actually solve for patient needs.”
While UX(user experience) is traditionally thought of as being applied to products, it is also equally important when designing services. “Service design is all about finding the root cause of what is the pain point for a user, and solving it,” expresses Grace Rieger, SD Service Jam Co-Chair and Design Lab member. “It’s not about a physical product.” The company visited the design showcase to teach participants about the process of the service design industry and how they could be involved in it.
The design industry has evolved rapidly in recent years. One sector of the design community, user experience, or UX, has been at the forefront of this growth. A few UX designers at the event easily noted the different ways they have seen this field change.
“I think the San Diego design community is a sleeping giant,” says Lisa Klein-Simon, Product Design Manager at Seismic. “It’s sort of been quiet, I think, in the past, but it’s on the verge of waking up and there seems to be a lot of interesting people coming to this area to do design.”
Chris Gielow, leader of the local organization UX Speakeasy, also commented on the emerging nature of local design opportunities. “I’ve been in San Diego [for] about 12,15 years. When I first joined UX Speakeasy, I think there were about 12 people at a local event; now we have over 2800 members,” says Gielow. “I think the Bay Area, for a long time, has been where everybody’s migrated north, and I think now, San Diego has a strong case to make for bringing these tech companies locally to San Diego to take advantage of the incredible talent pool, the incredible schools that exist here in San Diego, and we’re starting to see that.”
Ta was quick to also point out the tight-knit aspect of the community. “I would describe the San Diego design community as family. Everybody’s welcoming, they’re all warm, it’s like seeing a distant cousin I haven’t seen in a while whenever I come to one of these events,” she says. “I think everyone’s really passionate about user experience, design, and that’s really great and comforting because some people are Designer 1 at their company or they work with a lot of engineers or marketing so when they come together with other designers, it just feels like home.”
Events like SD Design Trek help to bridge the gap between design professionals and design novices. Students can start making connections, find potential internships and jobs, and begin to see that there is a future for them in San Diego design. There is no doubt that the design community will continue to expand, and these students will be the next drivers of this growth.
“For me, I’ve got a great career in Design. I always have people asking me how I got into it,” says Teena Singh, Co-Driver of Design Trek and Customer Liaison at ServiceNow. “[Design Trek] is a great way to introduce design to students, and show them that there are opportunities. It’s a great way to give back to the community.”
Sypraseuth Vandy, Creator and Co-driver of the SD Design Trek, commented on the overall experience of the event. “Design Trek 2020 was a massive growth year for us, being in its third iteration. The number of attendees grew by 79% and sponsors by 21% over last year. It is humbling to see the community come together year after year to support early-career and transitioning designers. Trekkies have viewed the event as a unique opportunity to network and see the actual practices of UX design from the perspective of industry professionals. This was never something I had exposure to when I entered the industry and has been truly rewarding to see attendees crave this kind of experience. Throughout the trek, several attendees expressed strong interest in volunteering next year to contribute their design craft early and help shape the event. Although SD Design Trek is primarily driven by our industry design leaders and organizations, we are especially grateful to involve past Trekkies who have volunteered their time to elevate this year’s event.”
Through the active participation of local design platforms and organizations like the Design Lab, SD Design Trek is helping shape the city’s growing design industry. It exposes emerging designers to the scope of their field and its opportunities in the region. It also helps document the sector’s evolution into a critical part of the San Diego region’s DNA.