What do you get when you bring leading industrial designers together for a four-day conference on the future of design in America? Engaging lectures, thought-provoking ideas, and a physically exhausting schedule of presentations followed by a packed schedule of daily networking events, otherwise known as parties.

Typically, I wouldn’t admit that a conference was fun, as that is a sure fire way to never be let out the office again, but after attending my first Industrial Design Society of America conference, held at the Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel, I have to say it was the most entertaining and interesting convention I’ve gone to in a very long time.

Engineers typically look at industrial design (ID) as the sexy back end of product development. The ID folks get to make things pretty while engineers have the less glamorous task of sorting out what is put inside, or the guts of the product, if you will. But truthfully, it is the collaboration, or marriage of technology and design, that really makes a product successful.

One of the most popular topics at the conference was the User Experience Factor, or UX factor to those in the field. It was fascinating to hear lectures on how a design that is directly suited to the end user can literally save lives. This, of course, is most prevalent in the medical industry, where something as simple as the placement of a button can have a profound impact. That’s why it’s important to have UX folks involved in ID. Often called human factor experts, they look at how a product will be used in a real-life scenario, and help mitigate certain human error risks. So, those little buttons we take for granted and never give a second thought to, are actually well thought out and methodically tested and calculated to never interfere in our daily activity. I suppose that’s exactly what the designers have in mind, no interference or thought from the user.

Another great conference offering was a talk given by Dr. Ted Acworth, the founder and CEO of Artaic, a company that has single-handedly changed the way mosaic tiles can be customized, built and sold to the masses. To be honest, I had never given much thought to mosaic tiles, but the idea is quite brilliant. Acworth designed a robot that is able to customize mosaic tiles on a massive scale, which is truly remarkable. It allows designers, builders, and consumers an opportunity to create something totally unique to a space without the need for a specialized mosaic artist. This idea of mass customization is certain to gain momentum as technology is accelerated, and eventually we will be able to customize everything in our lives.

The highlight of the conference, at least for me, was a keynote address by futurist and artist Syd Mead. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, think of the movies Blade Runner, Tron, 2010: A Space Odyssey, or any movie in the Aliens series. Mead was the visual futurist, conceptual artist, and/or production designer on all of those films. He gave a great lecture on his extensive career and talked about how he came up with the concepts and ideas in them. As a film school graduate, you can imagine what an honor it was for me to meet such a legend and hear him speak about his dynamic and influential career.

I have to say, I can’t wait to attend this conference again next year. Not just because there was a cool party every night, although that is part of it, and not only for the great networking. There is a real evolution happening in Industrial Design, and it’s exciting to hear where that industry is heading and where the future trends are going. For more information on IDSA national and local chapters, check out