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| ask Go to idsa for the full interview.



Surya Vanka, spark plug and chair of an upcoming global design conference in Seattle, wants to ignite a new industrial revolution. Interviewed by jaime gillin Photographed by nate watters

Surya Vanka, former director of user experience at Microsoft, moved to Seattle 15 years ago, drawn to the city’s natural beauty and inherent “sense of possibility.” Those qualities also make it the ideal host city for the Industrial Designers Society of America’s 50th annual global conference, “Future of the Future,” happening August 19–22. As the conference chair, Vanka is spreading a Seattle-centric gospel of good design. “Many cities are reinventing themselves to be relevant to the 21st century, but no other city is in the midst of such a design-led renaissance as Seattle,” he says. “It is the perfect crucible for reinventing design for this century.” Why did you leave the corporate world and devote yourself to shaping this conference? Creating the IDSA conference is a labor of love. I’m convinced there is an urgent need to bring together the best design minds from around the world to learn from one another and define their sense of purpose. My ambition is to catalyze a broad dialogue across the global design community. What’s distinctive about this conference? It’s about sharing great ideas as well as creating great ideas together. We’ll hold thematic days—on the future of design education, the rise of the third industrial revolution, design for social impact, and the future of design leadership— and “design swarms,” opportunities to collaborate with others through a mix of charrettes and hackathons. There is a lovely African saying that captures the spirit of this conference: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Surya Vanka, photographed outside Seattle’s EMP Museum, left a career at Microsoft to shape “Future of the Future,” the IDSA conference coming to Seattle later this summer.



Why is Seattle the right place to discuss these topics right now? Design is becoming an important part of the rise of Asia, and this city is a nexus between the East and West. We now live in a softwarepowered world, and Seattle has been the garage where the digital world is created. The entire world is deeply concerned about the climate crisis, too, and Seattle has long held nature in reverence, and it’s one of the centers of green design. Once considered a sleepy town isolated on the Pacific Rim, Seattle is now the cauldron where arts, architecture, creativity, music, digital worlds, biotechnology, maker culture, multiculturalism, entrepreneurial energy, and citizen engagement are coming together. It’s the irreverent, energetic frontier spirit that led to Seattle’s formation that will propel the bold reinvention of design today. How has industrial design evolved as a discipline over recent years—and where do you see it going? Even a decade or two ago, industrial design meant creating beautifully styled and comfortable mass-manufactured products. But its challenges have since moved to designing the entire experience: the systems, the software, and the services that such products are just one part of. The scope of design work continues to expand, and it now includes organizations, policies, and governance. In the past, we understood good design to be good business. In the future, we will agree that good design is good citizenship. h

Profile for GRAY

GRAY No. 22  

The DESIGN MAGAZINE for the Pacific Northwest.

GRAY No. 22  

The DESIGN MAGAZINE for the Pacific Northwest.

Profile for graymag