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From student to professional: Attending DesignThinkers for 16 years

Victor Szeto RGD leading a roundtable at DesignThinkers Toronto

It’s too easy to live and work in your bubble, whether you're conscious of it or not. DesignThinkers is a tangible way to break out of it.

- Victor Szeto RGD

Victor Szeto RGD, Creative Director at Green Living Enterprises, first attended DesignThinkers 16 years ago. With many conferences under his belt, Victor shares about his favourite talks over the years and what you should keep in mind if you’re attending your first conference.


You’ve been attending DesignThinkers for 16 years now! Where were you in your career when you first started attending?

I want to say that my first DesignThinkers would’ve been while attending design school at York/Sheridan, but I still have my old notebooks and it only dates back to 2006. I know I skipped a year or two attending, so maybe I was still in school or shortly after I graduated? In any case, it was fun to look back at all the themes throughout the years and all the effort into changing it up every time.

The design industry and the profession has changed a lot in the last decade and a half. How have you seen these changes reflected over the years at the conference?

The most noticeable difference for me is the range of micro-design disciplines the industry entails. Some of them are technically/software-based, but the ones I follow most are changes in the impact that design has on social change, behaviour and the planet. Given how politics have also gone bonkers over the last decade, I’ve noticed how design and politics have been intertwined more than ever. Going to design school, it never occurred to me how design could be a form of activism, but I see how it gets weaved in more and more over the years and I think it’s important that we recognize the significance of the work we do.

Do you have a favourite memory/speaker/session from DesignThinkers?

My favourite occurrences are when I have no preconceived notions of the speaker or session, and I leave feeling inspired and activated. A few that stood out for me in no particular order:

  • Nancy Duarte from 2008 (changed my opinion about Powerpoint!)
  • Jake and Pum Lefebure of Design Army from 2012
  • Andrew Zolty of BREAKFAST from 2014
  • Albert Shum of Microsoft from 2016
  • Jessica Bellamy of GRIDS from 2018
  • The various sessions where I got to introduce and/or interact with the speakers between 2019-2021

What keeps you coming back year after year?

It’s too easy to live and work in your bubble, whether you’re conscious of it or not. DesignThinkers is a tangible way to break out of it. For me, it’s like a forced break from the daily work grind without it counting towards vacation days, I’m listening to industry experts who I may not have otherwise met or heard of, and I get to geek out on specific topics with my people that I don’t typically get to geek out on in the office! The other big reason I keep coming back is to be inspired by speakers who are passionate about their projects and how it affects and shapes the world we’re living in.

What would you say to someone considering attending for the first time?

It’s easy and understandable to become overwhelmed by the volume of choices and sessions. Doing a little background research on the topics and speakers will help make decisions easier, but also go with an open mind and a have-fun attitude. Some of the best sessions I’ve been to were completely random selections where I had no expectations at all.

What are you most looking forward to at this year’s conference?

The last two years were a wonder in accessibility as everything went virtual, the content was spread out over two weeks and geography wasn’t a barrier. This time, I’m looking forward to concentrating all of that back to two days, and connecting with the people who I was only able to see on screen in real life!

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