Design Leadership Days, September 18–20, 2019
Fremont Foundry, 154 North 35th St., Seattle, WA 98103

Design Leadership Days Agenda

Get ready for some game-changing inspiration, insights and networking. Scroll to view the full agenda or view by day:

Wednesday, September 18, 2019
Thursday, September 19, 2019
Friday, September 20, 2019

Wednesday, September 18


6:00–10:00 PM
Welcome Reception by InVision

at Fremont Foundry

Join us for a lively night of enticing food, fun and entertainment as we kick things off with a rooftop reception at the Fremont Foundry. Get to know your fellow design leaders and industry influencers while enjoying good company, laughs, a few surprises and sweeping views of North Seattle.

featuring a special performance by moldover


What Bach was to the keyboard and Hendrix was to the guitar, Moldover is to the controller. Dubbed “The Godfather of Controllerism,” Moldover is a self-producing artist and instrument designer who is jolting new life into physical media with “Playable Packaging.” He’s sparking collaborations with his custom “Jamboxes,” and drawing wave after wave of followers with an open-source approach to sharing his methods and madness. Learn more about Moldover’s music and design.

Thursday, September 19


7:30–8:30 AM

Carl Smith Bureau of Digital

Carl Smith
Bureau of Digital

8:45–9:00 AM
Welcome & Opening Remarks

Stephen Gates InVision

Stephen Gates


9:00–9:45 AM
The Crazy Ones: How to Make Design Core to Every Business

We are in a time when creatives have the opportunity to affect business in ways we haven’t seen since the Industrial Revolution, yet too many of us are not taking advantage of this opportunity. As the Head of Design Transformation at InVision, Stephen Gates works with 97% of the world’s Fortune 100 brands to help them elevate the impact of design in their organizations and will share the challenges, insights and solutions he has implemented and seen in the world’s best creative teams.

Alastair Simpson Atlassian

Alastair Simpson


10:00–10:45 AM
Real Talk About Design Leadership

Many designers aspire to move into leadership positions at some point in their careers. They want to become a fearless design leader. I am often asked by these potential design managers: What is it really like to be a design leader? Give me the real talk!  

The honest truth is that the reality of design leadership is often very different from the perception. Alastair Simpson (Head of Design, Atlassian Cloud) has run big and small design teams both in-house and agency-side. He now runs a globally distributed team of 70 designers at Atlassian and will share a few things nobody told him (but he wished they had) about design leadership. 

Lynsey Thornton Shopify

Lynsey Thornton


11:00–11:20 AM
Growth: The Bull in the China Shop

You've just reorg'd your team and it's perfect. You've just fixed your team's cultural issues. You've just launched the perfect design process. And just like that, growth comes along and breaks it. How rude.

Vivian Sarratt Google

Vivian Sarratt


11:30 AM–12:15 PM
Better Together: How Cross-Functional Collaboration Creates Better Products

It’s no secret that designers and product managers have a complicated relationship. While both are working towards the same common goal, creating excellent products for their users, they seemingly always encounter bumps in the road that hinder this process. Join Vivian Sarratt as she explores different ways to make this intricate relationship work for you rather than against you, whether you’re in-house or at an agency.


12:15–2:00 PM



2:00–2:45 PM
Moldover: The Musical Antihero

Known as the Godfather of Controllerism, Matt Moldover patterned his earliest music after rock, pop and metal, teaching himself the recording arts in a basement full of second-hand instruments and a four-track tape machine. Intent on merging a love of playing in ensembles with electronic composition, he wove his way through a series of live-electronic bands, then ventured out as a solo artist. Frustrated with the lack of readily-available electronic instruments, he began hacking hardware, eventually building new controllers from scratch. Get a front-row seat to this mad science, and experience the future of technology and music.

Andrew La Monica

Andrew La Monica


3:00–3:45 PM
Influence & Persuasion for Design Leadership

At a time when design can significantly affect business and make swinging cultural changes, influence and persuasion skills have become critical for career success. Leadership is less about top-down giving orders and more about individual influence, creating consensus and delivering exceptional results regardless of reporting structures.

Drawing on proven psychological research and first-hand experience, Andrew will share practical techniques that can be immediately put to use. You will leave this session with more confidence in your persuasive abilities and a toolkit to positively influence in all directions.

This interactive session will cover:

  • Characteristics of effective leadership

  • Best practices for personal development

  • Strategies for one-on-one persuasion

  • Building trust and getting buy-in

  • Overcoming intergroup challenges

  • Frameworks for influencing executives

Mariah Hay Pluralsight

Mariah Hay


4:00–4:45 PM
First Do No Harm: Ethics in Digital Product Design

We know that ability is equally distributed among humans, but opportunity is not. As the need for skilled technologists grows, so must our ability to empower individuals with accessible tech training. The data that can be gathered about an individual’s learning patterns can help inform the ultimate personalized educational experience, accelerating the cycle from novice to master, or it could be weaponized—used to judge an individual and block opportunities for jobs and advancement.

As we design experiences and systems, we become the ethical stewards of the impact we could have on millions of lives. It’s up to us to make the right, and often hard, decisions. Hear from Mariah Hay, Head of Practices at Pluralsight, about her experience designing product for tech education, the choices her teams have made to avoid weaponization and how human-centered design can inform the ethical underpinnings of our missions, our companies and our bottom lines.

Key Takeaways:

  • What are ethics and how do they show up in professional industries

  • Concerning behaviors of modern tech companies, and decisions made by technologists like us

  • What it looks like to use human-centered design to drive ethical decision making in practices—and three things you can take back to your teams to get started


4:45–5:00 PM
Thank You & Announcements

Friday, September 20


7:30–8:30 AM


8:55–9:00 AM

Dr. Sherry Walling ZenFounder

Dr. Sherry Walling


9:00–9:45 AM
The Secret Weapon You Can't Afford to Waste

You're a creative. And you lead other creatives.  You're the one with elegantly executable ideas spilling out of your ears, right? And you're brilliant on a tight schedule, meeting deadlines with grace and ease. It is your job to keep a bunch of other people happy—clients, team members, bosses…those other creatives. What's that, you'd like to have a personal life?

I'm guessing you’ve heard of burnout. It's all over the HuffPost Twitter feed. Sounds like you might be at risk given all the demands on your time and your brain. Despite being common, burnout is much more than a self-help fad. The way that burnout can affect your brain has major implications for your creativity, productivity, relationships and overall physical and mental health.

But don't worry…you aren't doomed to feeling fried, jaded and apathetic. Forty years of research has helped to clarify some key burnout prevention strategies. In this keynote presentation, Dr. Walling will give you ideas and strategies to help you keep your creative edge, professional cool and personal sanity.

Richard Banfield InVision

Richard Banfield


10:00–10:45 AM
Organization Underpants

It's time we had a talk about the birds and the bees. What happens in the dark recesses of a design organization isn't pretty. This talk takes a peek into the places that nobody talks about, but can't be ignored. We'll unpack the way successful teams plan and execute design projects, integrate with other teams and prioritize what needs to be done. Based on hundreds of interviews with design and product organizations from around the world, Richard will air the dirty laundry and expose the best practices of the top design leaders.

Boyuan Gao Project Inkblot

Boyuan Gao
Project Inkblot

Jahan Mantin Project Inkblot

Jahan Mantin
Project Inkblot


11:00 AM–12:15 PM
Design for Diversity™: Diversity as a Design Process

In this multi-media and energizing talk, Jahan Mantin and Boyuan Gao introduce the key principles of Design for Diversity™ (D4D), a powerful framework that illuminates blind spots around cultural and racial biases within your team’s workflows, decision making and design processes, before they are embedded into the end product or service. D4D also illuminates opportunities for greater business and social impact.


12:15–2:00 PM

Brandy Porter Vox Media

Brandy Porter
Vox Media


2:00–2:45 PM
Containing the Chaos: Helping Teams Through Rapid Change with Transparency, Context & Creativity

Growth is hard, but healthy businesses grow! Adding new humans, ambitious goals, evolved processes and more cross-functional relationships can get chaotic. Through communication, collaboration and imagination, leaders can help foster resilient teams that are confident and high-performing, even through demanding change.

After leading several teams through major growth and change, Brandy leans on her successes (and her failures) to offer ways of building transparency and context without overwhelm, ideas for building strong relationships and methods for finding peace with the chaos.

Robert Sfeir Huge, Inc.

Robert Sfeir
Huge, Inc.


3:00–3:45 PM
Delivery at Scale

Managing complex product delivery across many verticals introduces challenges that can result in costly project delays and failures. Design thinking at a large scale is often ignored, and yet it’s the one approach that can save your product and project from pain and suffering.

In this session, Robert will explore the differences between scaling delivery, the process of managing execution dependencies while anchored around the “why,” design, and product thinking, and scaling a framework—like scrum and others, and the impediments scaling frameworks present.

He will discuss the opportunities and processes that larger teams should consider in order to maintain a cohesive plan anchored on the “why” of a product, as well as techniques that allow you to evaluate how you currently deliver, while recognizing where you can quickly improve to increase your chances of success.

Aaron Draplin Draplin Design Co.

Aaron Draplin
Draplin Design Co.


4:00–4:45 PM
Things That Don't Have a Thing to Do with Graphic Design

As a graphic designer, I'm lucky to make things for all kinds of things. But more and more, I'm realizing the profound impact it has on the things in the rest of my life. Things in my backyard. Things that hold things. Things for my nephew. And things on one of the saddest days of my life. That's a lot of things. Plus, we'll update you on all the things we've been up to, aside from all those other things. Tons of new things!


  • Bigger isn't always better

  • Not everything in graphic design is about a paycheck

  • You can live your life creatively, on all fronts


4:45–5:00 PM
Closing & Thank You

Thank You to Our Wonderful Partners: