[Guest Blogger] Organizing Design Conference for Youth



October last year, I went to the first education fair focusing on design here at Toronto Convention Center. The conference is called Explore Design, and indeed I saw so many aspiring future designers exploring exciting opportunities in Design field. There were about 4000 high school students attended the event, and many colleges and universities with design programs showcased at the event. Here's a blog post on the event with pictures and videos on CanUX last year. So, what does it take to organize such a high energy and inspiring conference? I had the pleasure of inviting the Chief Experience Officer of the conference, Shauna Levy, to answer couple of key questions I have in mind regarding organizing such large design conference for youth.

What’s your goal of organizing the Explore Design conference? Why focus on youth?

We have been working in the design world for over 10 years now and have seen the industry grow. Not too long ago we learned that 75,000 people are employed in Toronto in the design sector. And in fact, Toronto has the 3rd largest design workforce in North America after New York and Boston. With the growth of its importance and the workforce, we realized that there was also a need for educated people within these disciplines and quickly learned that there were many schools offering design programs. At the same time, we also learned that there are many high school students out there who are creative or artistic and don’t often know that they can pursue a lucrative career that also allows them to take advantage of their talent (and in most cases, passion). And so, we came up with EXPLORE DESIGN – a design education fair for senior high school students. Here, students can learn about their post-secondary design education options in areas such as interior design, fashion design, architecture, graphic design, video/film, digital, furniture,  industrial and automotive design and many more…

The display floor of last year’s conference is very impressive with lots of creative space designs. What are some design considerations/inspirations for you and your team to create an experience, which attracts middle and high school students?

It was important for us to create an experience that high school students could relate to. There are other university or college fairs out there but it was really important for us to create an intimate environment that really communicated with students – in particular, students who are creative or art-minded. For example, there was an on-site student lounge featuring a DJ, bean bag chairs and low tables; there was a “pod” on the show floor that held the “design for the greater good” seminar series, a “drop-in” series that addressed sustainable design and design with conscience.

What are some feedback you got from students and presenters who attended last year’s conference?

Students’ responses were overwhelmingly positive. About 93% of attending students were already interested in studying one of the design disciplines. Presenters and keynote speakers were overwhelmed by the students’ enthusiasm and knowledge of design. For Explore Design 2008 that’s coming up in October, the number of participating design schools will also be at least double of that of last year. We have some super exciting keynote speakers and seminars planned that will be announced in May.

You are quite experienced organizing large design related shows. For example, you organized the Interior Design Show 2008 at the Direct Energy Center recently. What’s the hardest part in organizing events involved thousands of people?

Details. Our events are never simple, but that’s what makes them so exciting for the visitor. The higher the experience, usually, the more the details. But that never scares me away from an idea. If the idea is good, we’ll figure out how to make it happen…beautifully and magically.

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