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What We Learned From Attending The Design Forward Summit in San Diego

Article by David Lowe

I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend the 2nd Design Forward Summit. The San Diego-born movement brings together multi-disciplinary design, business and civic leaders for a dynamic, interactive summit committed to strengthening local and global communities through human-centered design.

The summit kicked off at Broadway Pier and I managed to catch Sebastian Terry from 100 Things talk about his vision and mission for his brand. One of the most extraordinary stories was an Australian man who had been bitten by a tick and then become quadriplegic. Sebastian received a request from the man to run a half marathon. The only issue was that the guy couldn’t walk. So his request to Sebastian: “push me!” And so Sebastian and co pushed the man 13 miles to the finish line. Brilliant!

The next day at Liberty Station was the main event — a packed day of speakers. I listened to Phil Gilbert from IBM, Don Norman from USCD, Jared Erondu from Lattice, Bobby Ghoshal from Candid Co, Matt Cole from Cubic Transportation Systems, Michael Ditullo, Mauro Porcini and Mark Tomaszewicz from Bulldog Drummond. Here were the key themes to come out of the day:

1). San Diego Is A Canvas Waiting To Be Painted

By inviting the best designers to come to San Diego and allowing them to express themselves freely, the city can become the design capital of the world. Hey, I lived in Austin and if they can proclaim that they are “The Live Music Capital of the World”, there is no reason why San Diego can’t become a world leader in this space. As long as bureaucrats and “old white money” stays out of the equation, designers will be attracted to the city and will make it a hotspot for design.

2). Take The Mistakes And Make Them Great

San Diego is a beautiful city. However, there have been some horrendous mistakes in the field of design. Exhibit A: Qualcomm Stadium and the surrounding parking lot. One of the speakers at Design Forward showed a presentation slide showing an aerial photo of the development and then said the San Diego Chargers leaving the city could be one of the best things to ever happen to the city. I am in complete agreement. There was no care put into the design of the stadium. Suddenly, there is a tremendous opportunity to create something beautiful for the community and right what is wrong.

3). The Border Region Will Explode

A lot of people in San Diego believe the news and assume that Tijuana is how it was in 2010 — cartel controlled, dangerous and to be avoided at all costs. Few have actually gone across the border into “TJ” and seen it with their own eyes. If they bothered to do this, they would see that the city is growing at an alarming rate. Micro-breweries are appearing everywhere, entrepreneurship is developing and some of the restaurants rival anything in the US. The general consensus in San Diego is that the further south you go towards Mexico, the lower the value of the land. Yet, in a few years, I foresee this area becoming extremely active and the place to live and do business. With cross-border initiatives, there will be an exchange of ideas and a way to improve relations between the two countries. This stance was echoed at Design Forward. One of the speakers talked about how conscious design can create beautiful areas close to the border and improve the standard of living there. Other Californian cities do not have the luxury of being so close to another nation to do business and learn about that culture.

4). We Need To Think Like Larger Cities To Become A More Influential City

By looking at cities like London and the way they have introduced the Oyster card system for transport on subway buses and trains, we can create a transport system that we are proud of. I liked the way Matt Cole talked about the future and what we need to do to get there. Cubic’s NextCity vision can be seen in the video below:

5). We Need To Keep Talented People In San Diego

One of my highlights from the event was at the beginning of the afternoon session on the Main Stage. Don Norman went straight off script and asked Bobby Ghoshal why he had left San Diego to go to New York. He then invited him to come back and make the city he loved even better. It felt a little awkward to the interviewee but it was what a lot of people in the audience were thinking. Why does San Diego consistently lose talent and how can we keep this talent here? If we make San Diego a design, startup, culinary and well, hub for everything, people will simply want to stay instead of searching for and finding it elsewhere.

Here are some more photos from the event:

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